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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 »

Mayoral Candidates Talk Neighborhood Safety, Cops, Gang Intervention & More

December 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



On Thursday night LA mayoral candidates allowed themselves to be grilled for nearly two hours on issues
of neighborhood safety and violence prevention by four LA journalists.

Three of the four main candidates—LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, LA City Councilmember, Jan Perry and attorney and former radio host, Kevin James—submitted to questions by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, the LA Times’ Jim Newton, Pilar Marrero from La Opinion, Stanley Willford from Our Weekly, and Nicole Chang from Korea Daily, who posed her questions via SKYPE. (Warren Olney from KCRW was originally scheduled to attend, but had to bow out.)

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave opening remarks then tossed out the first topic of the night when he said that one of the most important issues for him was whether or not the candidates intended to continue to support GRYD, the city’s gang violence prevention and intervention program that is presently housed in the mayor’s office.

Moderator Frank Stoltze made the question one step more specific and asked if the candidates would keep at least the current funding for the GRYD program and maintain the job of heading GRYD as a deputy mayor position.

Wendy Greuel said YES and YES, and followed up by saying that she planned to try to talk existing GRYD head, Guillermo Cespedes, into staying. (Cespedes was in the audience.)

Jan Perry also said YES, and talked about the need to address the trauma faced by kids in the city’s most violence-haunted communities. Kevin James was another YES, but stayed with his theme of the night, which seemed to be “Yes, but…. those City Hall insiders are doing a dreadful job, and can’t balance the budget,” or words to that effect.

In addition, James said that he thought there should be less use of former gang members as gang interventionists, that he would bring in respected community members that kids could look up to and relate to.

At this, the cadres of gang interventionists and community activists in the audience began visibly frowning.

Eric Garcetti had a conflict that night, and so was a No Show but sent his answer to Beck’s and Stoltz’s questions through civil rights attorney, Connie Rice, of the Advancement Project, who related that Garcetti would keep GRYD but move it out of the mayor’s office and, instead, establish it as a commission.

Rice made it clear that she thought the commission idea was a lousy one. In response to her follow-up questioning, all the candidates dutifully thought the idea lousy too.

“This is not something for a commission filled by part time people who have other jobs,” said James, and everyone nodded.

(WLA agrees.)

Other questions ranged from how many LAPD officers each candidate would pledge to keep (Greuel went for the full 10,000 while everyone else hedged), what they thought about gang injunctions and the gang database, and how they would lower crime in Koreatown.

By night’s end, the consensus of many of the gang interventionists and other local activists in the room seemed to be that Perry best understood the concerns of the city’s most violence plagued communities, but that they also liked Greuel, and thought her capible, yet felt that she needed to show up at a few more crime scenes and meetings in the ‘hood to gain credibility. Most thought Kevin James seemed sincere, and had interesting opinions on some topics, but was clueless on others and probably didn’t have a chance anyway.

(Since Garcetti wasn’t there he didn’t factor into the reviews.)

All I spoke with said they appreciated the fact that the candidates had been willing to hang out for more than two hours while these topics of high concern got laid on the table.

The forum was sponsored by the Advancement Project, the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Liberty Hill, the LAPPL, The Riordan Foundation, and a pile of others.


NEW REPORT LOOKS AT THE AFFECT OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA ON AMERICA’S KIDS

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney General’s Task for on Children Exposed to Violence presented its sobering report Defending Childhood.

After the first of the year, we’ll be looking much further into what we ought to be taking away from the report’s findings.

In the meantime, California Endowment Pres. Robert Ross writes for the Huffington Post about the importance of what the report has discovered.

Here’s a clip:

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….At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights took a hard look at school discipline policies and investigated how extreme rules using suspensions push students away from school and toward a life of crime. At the other end of the street, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released the findings of a year-long study, reporting on the latest research about the impact of trauma on children’s lives.

Taken together, the two issues sound an alarm for the ways our schools and neighborhoods push kids away from the things we all want and deserve — a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a chance at the American Dream. While all this may seem less immediate than the fiscal cliff, it is every bit as urgent.

Childhood exposure to violence is a national epidemic. Every year, two out of every three of our children — 46 million — can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year. It’s not hard to figure out the negative effects on society. The Task Force on Children’s Exposure to Violence describes something we all intuitively know: that witnessing traumatic events disrupts our ability to function in a healthy way, make good decisions, and move forward in our lives. For kids, the impact of trauma is even more pronounced.

Children exposed to violence are less able to concentrate in class. Their brains are consumed with processing the toxic stress in their lives and are not free to process the important things of childhood, like academic learning and developing critical interpersonal and life management skills.


EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m still absorbing the wealth of information from Wednesday and Thursday’s California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Conference. More on that in the weeks to come.

Posted in City Controller, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, LAPD, law enforcement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Welcome to 2012: Deeper HACLA Probes, MT Challenges Citizens United & More

January 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


CITY CONTROLLER WENDY GREUEL GOES AFTER FREE-SPENDING HOUSING AUTHORITY’S HIDDEN NON-PROFIT MONEY SOURCES

KCET’s local news show So-Cal Connected has done a killer job digging into the appalling spending excess mess running rife through the Los Angeles Housing Authority—HACLA.

However at first, City Controller Wendy Greuel was a little slower off the mark than we’d have liked in investigating HACLA aggressively (as the LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson points out here). But now the Controller has shifted into high gear—as evidenced by her announcement Tuesday that she has expanded her probe of HACLA to include the Housing Authority’s non-profit ventures, which she notes produced a tidy $15 million a year in net income—money that HACLA execs evidently thought was their own personal expense fund to raid at will for $2000 staff lunches, rampant high ticket travel junkets, endless limo use, personal gifts, “employee incentives” in the form of ipods and ipads, and more—all with seemingly no accountability.

Now Greuel aims to go deeper, her office said in Tuesday’s statement:

In a letter to HACLA’s interim President and CEO Doug Guthrie, Greuel indicated that her probe will expand to the enterprise activities run by the Authority that together produce a profit of more than $15 million a year. These activities include rental income for the 2,500 units owned and managed by HACLA’s nonprofits as well as the activities of the LOMOD Corporations and their subcontractors, which oversee the administration of HUD contracts.

This second phase of Greuel’s audit of HACLA follows last month’s announcement which revealed that HACLA officials were involved in wasteful spending, double dipping and irresponsible expenditures coupled with news of a $1.2 million payout to recently ousted Housing Authority CEO Rudolf Montiel.

NOTE: The video above, courtesy of Ron Kaye, show’s HACLA’s second ousted directer in a row, Ken Simmons, offering a retch-producing explanation of how all that lunch and limo money taken out of the agency’s non-profit earnings wasn’t, like, really stealing from the taxpayers or anything….

Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, dude.

Go Wendy!


THE STATE OF MONTANA’S SUPREMES CHALLENGE SCOTUS’S INFAMOUS 2010 “CITIZEN’S UNITED” RULING ON CAMPAIGN SPENDING

See, this is yet one more reason to love Big Sky country:

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal has an article on the matter but it’s hidden behind their pay wall, so go here to get it from Google News.

Here’s how the article by Jess Bravin opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 striking down federal limits on corporate and union political spending doesn’t apply to similar state laws, the Montana Supreme Court has found, renewing a legal debate over how sweeping the high court intended its ruling to be.

In a decision released late Friday, the Montana court held that the state’s Corrupt Practices Act, a century-old voter initiative banning corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates or parties, complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The justices voted 5-4 in Citizens United that corporations and unions had First Amendment rights to spend as they wished to favor or oppose candidates, regardless of the government’s view that such expenditures could corrupt elections for Congress and the presidency.

That last part about corrupting elections was what the Montana Supreme Court disagreed with. Corporate spending had, in fact, corrupted elections in the state, the MT Supremes ruled. And they had a list of instances to prove the point.

Their ruling will, of course, likely be appealed—to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eugene Volokh has moreand he predicts that SCOTUS will agree to hear the case, then reverse the MT ruling.


AS THE NEW YEAR DAWNS, A LIST OF STATES TALK ABOUT THE HIGH COST OF THE PRISON BOOM

Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law and Policy has compiled a list of articles from around the country in which the states’ newspapers talk about the need for sentencing and corrections reforms.

Below, for example, is a snippet of what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has to say:

Stepping away from a lock-em-up philosophy might have been the equivalent of political suicide in the 1990s, but that’s hardly the case today. Many leading conservatives — including Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and many others — support an approach that de-emphasizes prison for non-violent offenders.

Texas was among the first states to change course. In 2007, facing the need to spend $540 million to build new prisons expected to cost another $1.5 billion to run, the state decided to spend a fraction of the anticipated prison costs on alternative programs for non-violent offenders. Since the change, both the crime rate and the incarceration rate have declined.

In 2010, South Carolina adopted a reform package after lawmakers found that prisons were packed with repeat and non-violent offenders. The changes, projected to save up to $175 million in prison construction costs and $66 million in operating costs over five years, are designed to improve public safety. North Carolina also adopted sweeping legislation last year that will reduce spending on corrections with the goal of increasing public safety through programs that should cut repeat offenses.

[Georgia Gov. Nathan] Deal said changes enacted in other states will give Georgia models to consider. And so far, he said, he is hearing positive responses from lawmakers of all stripes. “As members of the General Assembly continue to see demands placed on them to appropriate more money for incarceration and see the numbers of inmates continue to rise substantially every year,” Deal said, “I think they’re certainly willing to embrace these changes.”

Yoooo-hooo, California lawmakers..…?! Why are you letting all these other more conservative state legislators move ahead of you, while you crouch behind your collective desks with your fingers in your ears, humming—hoping no one will notice?

I got news: We’ve noticed.


NOTE: PART 4 OF WLA’S DANGEROUS JAILS REPORT BY MATT FLEISCHER WILL APPEAR NEXT WEEK.

In the meantime, many, many thanks to those of you from the LASD—both actively working and recently retired—who have been giving us excellent tips, fact-checking help, guidance and encouragement as we continue to report. Please keep it coming.

Posted in City Controller, HACLA, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »

Controller Wendy Gets Down With LA Women for Some Candid Chatting

August 5th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, July 28, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel hosted
the fourth of what she calls her Women’s Dialogues. This “Dialogue” took place downtown in the City Council chambers, and involved a bunch of surprisingly forthright (and often funny) conversation.

Each one of these women’s gatherings is themed. Last Thursday the theme was Women and the Law, and it featured Attorney General Kamala Harris, along with Rachel Moran, the Dean of the UCLA School of Law (who was reportedly on Jerry Brown’s short list for the California Supreme Court), Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, plus three heavy hitter women attorneys—Carla Christofferson of O’Melveny & Myers, Los Angeles office, Kaylynn L. Kim, Terra Imperium Global Advisors, and Areva Martin of Martin & Martin.

The whole notion of organizing these women’s chat sessions is not unique to Greuel. Former Controller Laura Chick began the practice with her own similar gender-specific events.

But Greuel has continued it with gusto, reaching out to women in various professions for get-togethers in which a panel of powerhouse females from a particular profession answer questions lobbed by Wendy, and by the wide variety of women who have come to participate as audience members.

The women in last Thursday’s audience included lawyers (of course), LAPD officers, staffers from the mayor’s and the city attorney’s offices, a gaggle of couple of extremely bright pre-law undergrads from USC, and at least one other judge.

indeed, the women leaders in the room were, by no means, limited to the panel; I ran into former LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon (recently turned Court Commissioner) who told me how really glad she was to able to make it to the event, a sentiment that most I talked to echoed.

A big part of the appeal was the candidness of the Q’s and A’s, a process that Greuel was unusually skilled at facilitating. For example, in addition to the expected “How did you get where you are and what obstacles did you face?” questions, at some point she asked the panelists how they dealt with the “are you tough enough” issue—noting (and I am paraphrasing here) that if a woman was perceived as being the wrong kind of tough she got labeled…..the B- word.

When necessary Greuel pushed her panelists until she got good answers. Yet very little pushing was required. The panelists themselves worked hard to be candid. Carla Christofferson the very pregnant, 44-year old bombshell blond who is the managing partner from O’Melveny said with a deadpan expression that when men begin questioning her toughness, “…the fact that can tell them I bow hunt and kill things, gives me an advantage.” Then Christofferson added in a more serious tone, “We all have things in our personal narrative that we can use, that can help us.”

At one point the exchange got informatively girly as the women talked about the intricacies of their wardrobe and accessory choices. Most advocated for less tamped down styles that flaunted some kind of personal expression. For example, Ariva Martin wore a blazingly yellow dress and said she favored red footwear. UCLA dean Rachel Moran, had on large, very pretty and decidedly unbusiness-y rhinestone earrings and Judge Sanchez-Gordon wore platform heels that were on the refreshingly racy side.

“And see,” said one woman afterward, “what you should or shouldn’t wear to be taken seriously is the kind of thing that every woman I know thinks about but nobody ever talks about.”

Another thing that no one mentioned overtly was the fact that, since Wendy Greuel has declared herself to running for mayor when Villaraigosa terms out, the good will that she is gathering by organizing women’s events like this one cannot help but be to her advantage.

Yet watching Controller Wendy Greuel’s delight in getting smart women to talk to each other about the some of the rarely mentioned textures of their respective lives strongly suggested that any political advantages Greuel happens to gain from these sessions is very well earned.


You can watch the Women in Law dialogue at City View here. (Look to your right and choose the top Women’s Dialogue Series.)

Posted in City Controller, gender | No Comments »

Wendy Greuel Audit Finds LA Housing *Forgot* to Collect Millions of $$

December 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In a belt-tightening fiscal climate, where the City of LA has a $350 million short fall in its budget, it is a bit dismaying to learn that the Los Angeles Housing Department somehow failed to even try to collect $48 million in fees and rent owed to the LAHD, and thus to the city.

This is according to an audit of the LAHD released on Tuesday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.

We are thankful that the controller did the audit and uncovered yet one more hole in LA’s monetary pockets.

Just as weirdly, Greuel found that the LAHD has multi-millions it has collected that is sitting in a bank account, unused.

This is from the Controller’s statement:

“The Housing Department does a very good job helping to build housing, they’re not good at collecting money. Referring only 29% of fees for collection is simply unacceptable,” said City Controller Greuel. “I’ve talked about the need for improved collections many times, while the City will never achieve a 100% collection rate, City Departments must do a better job of sending these delinquent accounts to agencies more equipped to collect the outstanding funds.”

How in the world does this sort of thing happen?

Perhaps if those working at the LAHD were directly affect by the collection, or lack thereof, of millions of dollars in fees,—let’s say if the LAHD folks had their salaries dependent on some reasonable percentage of the money getting rounded up—maybe then the whole fee collection thingy would feel a bit more urgent.

I’m just saying.

Note: This past summer Greuel found that other city departments were failing to collect hundreds millions of dollars.

In any case: GO CONTROLLER WENDY!

Posted in City Controller | 2 Comments »

City Controller Audits What LA Has Done With the Stimulous $$

September 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday, City Controller Wendy Greuel released findings on her audit
of how the City of Los Angeles has used its $111 million in stimulus dollars, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.

Specifically Wendy Greuel looked at how many jobs have been created by the two agencies who got the most funds.

What she found passes well beyond horrifying and enters the realm of profound laughability. (It’s either that, or one begins sobbing.)

For $111 million dollars we got ourselves….55 jobs.

No, wait, I take that back. We got 54.46 jobs.

This is from her press release:

DPW has received $70.65 million and created or retained 45.46 jobs, though they are expected to create 238 jobs overall (the fraction of a job created or retained correlates to the number of actual hours works).

LADOT has been awarded $40.8 million and created or retained 9 jobs, though they are expected to create 26 jobs overall.

Overall, the Departments have received $111 million in federal stimulus funds out of the $594 million the City has been awarded so far and created or retained 54.46 jobs.

With a 12 percent unemployment rate in the city, this is not encouraging.

The LA Times has done some further reporting on the subject and quotes the city’s CAO as saying loads of jobs have been created.

Here’s a clip:

The reports conclude that two agencies – Public Works and Transportation — have moved too slowly in spending the money, in part because of the time it takes to secure approval of government contracts. The two agencies plan to create or retain 264 jobs once all the money is spent, according to the reports.

Greuel said that with unemployment above 12%, city officials should move more urgently to spend the money and reduce red tape. “The process needs to be changed to make sure we get these projects out as quickly as possible,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa referred questions to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget official. Santana would not comment on the audit but offered his own set of figures for stimulus spending citywide, which were sharply different from Greuel’s.

“I haven’t seen her numbers,” he said. “I can tell you what I do know, which is that, in what we’ve spent so far, those dollars created 936 jobs in the month of June. And we’ve only spent 13% of what we’ve received,” he said. Santana said his numbers apply to every agency in the city, not just the two examined by the controller.

Posted in City Controller, Economy | 2 Comments »