LAPD Turns to Media Suppression

Photo by Brian Feinzimer for LAist.

More bad news.  There were early reports that members of the media were held by the LAPD during the protests over the removal of the Echo Park Lake homeless encampment.  It’s now clear that at least four reporters and an unknown number of legal observers were detained by the LAPD.  Two reporters were actually taken to jail before being released.  The journalists who were detained identified themselves as members of the press when they were taken into custody.  Actually, it seems like that’s the reason they were taken into custody.  The LA Times offered this account by reporter James Queally….

Eventually the two officers detaining him called over a sergeant, and Queally again said that he was a working reporter. The sergeant told him that it didn’t matter, Queally said.

“He was less than interested with the fact that I was press,” Queally said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? We really doing this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this is the policy tonight.’”

So the sergeant knew that Queally was a reporter, and stated that his detention was in line with the “policy” the LAPD was following that night.  It would be really interesting to know who established this “policy”.  Was it LAPD Chief Michel Moore?  Was it Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, in whose district the police were operating?  Was it Mayor Eric Garcetti?  The LAPD’s actions were clearly restricting free speech, preventing the press from doing their job.  We need to know who formulated this policy, which is clearly an effort to suppress the media.

It is interesting that two Councilmembers, Kevin De Leon and Mike Bonin, both criticized the LAPD’s detention of journalists.  Nithya Raman posted a statement on Twitter decrying the use of force in ejecting the Echo Park homeless community, but didn’t mention the treatment of the press.  I couldn’t find any other comments by Councilmembers on this issue. 

A link to Saturday’s LA Times’ story is below.  Apparently the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU have both come out with strong statements. 

We shouldn’t let this slide.  This week’s meeting of the LA Police Commission has been cancelled, but this needs to come up at the next meeting.  When journalists who are clearly identified as journalists are detained by law enforcement without having committed a crime, it means the government is trying to shut the media down. 

Reporters, Legal Observers Cry Foul after Being Caught Up in LAPD’s Mass Arrests at Echo Park Protest

Should Bank of America Share the Blame for California’s EDD Payment Scandal?

Graph showing California unemployment numbers from CalMatters

There’s been widespread reporting on the thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims filed with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).  Less has been written about Bank of America’s (BofA) role in the scandal.  For years the State has contracted with BofA to handle payments via debit cards.  Now questions are being asked about whether the bank failed to implement adequate security measures. 

Unemployed Californians with legitimate claims are facing severe hardships because they haven’t been able to access unemployment payments.  In this story CalMatters asks what went wrong, and why wasn’t fraud detected sooner.

How Bank of America Helped Fuel California’s Unemployment Meltdown

Happy New Year?

Artists painting murals during the protests in Hollywood this year.

Seems like everyone agrees that 2020 was the year from hell. We had a deadly pandemic spreading like wildifre across the globe. In the US we had the incredibly weird and stressful presidential election.

And here in LA? Where do I start?

While the homeless population has been growing for years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in LA County shot up by 12% in 2020. The City of LA saw an even larger increase of 16%. There were months of protests in the streets against police violence. Though not many people seem to have noticed, it’s been an unusually dry year, which should be cause for alarm since our water resources are continuing to decline.

And then there were the numerous indictments filed by the Department of Justice against current and former LA City officials. The charges included bribery, extortion and money laundering. I count five guilty pleas so far, but it’s hard to keep track. Then there are former Councilmember Jose Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Ray Chan who claim innocence. They’ll go on trial later this year. The saddest aspect of all this is that these prosecutions come as no surprise to thousands of Angelenos who have been following local politics. The acts described in the indictments sound like business as usual at City Hall. And don’t get me started on what’s been happening at the City Attorney’s office under Mike Feuer.

All of us are hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020, and really that’s setting the bar pretty low. Yeah, it would be great if Covid-19 went away and we could get back to some kind of normal. But other than that, how much will change? Most of the problems I listed above have been with us a long time in one form or another. Will the new leadership in Washington bring about a new era of peace and equality? Don’t bet on it. Will our elected officials finally agree on a way to successfully address homelessness? Nothing they’ve done so far inspires much confidence. Will LA City Hall become more transparent, open and honest? Don’t make me laugh.

But in spite of my extreme cynicism, I’m not giving up, and neither should you. This year we’ve seen legions of healthcare workers and others make huge sacrifices to care for people infected with Covid-19. In LA we saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest injustice. And even if the culture at LA City Hall is hopelessly corrupt, there are numerous community groups working hard to address homelessness, hunger and poverty.

LA will never be perfect, but it could be a lot better. We can make it better. We can give our time as volunteers. We can give our money to non-profits with a proven track record of helping people. Even just staying informed and staying engaged can make a difference. If you’re not registered to vote, then get registered. And then next time we have an election, take the time to vote. Find a news source you trust, and then subscribe to it, because supporting journalism, especially local journalism, is crucial.

The new year will not be any better than the old year unless we make it better. We can’t just sit back passively and hope everything will turn out all right. We have to get involved and stay involved.

Reality Check: LA’s Water Resources Are Shrinking

With everything else going on this year, you could be forgiven if you haven’t thought much about LA’s dwindling water supply. But it’s important for all of us to remember that all of the water resources LA depends on are declining. After a number of dry years, we had a couple of really wet ones, and many people thought our troubles were over. Unfortunately, a couple seasons of unusually high precipitation didn’t wipe out our water deficit. To get a sense of the scary reality we’re facing, take a look at this map which shows the areas of California that are currently experiencing unusually dry conditions.

Drought Map CA Nov 2020

As you can see, almost the entire State, with the exception of coastal Southern California, is dealing with dry, in some cases exceptionally dry conditions. This is, of course, one of the main reasons why Northern California was ravaged by a record number of fires this year. But to really understand the scope of the problem, take a look at this map of the whole US.

Drought Map US Nov 2020

As you can see, it’s not just California. Much of the Western United States is extremely dry. Climatologists are in pretty much universal agreement that climate change is a primary factor, but it isn’t the only factor. One of the major reasons we’re in this situation is that the Western US has been recklessly depleting its water resources for decades.

All you have to do is take a look at the Colorado River. Seven western states depend on the Colorado for water. Unfortunately, the combined annual allocations for these states amounts to more water than the total annual flow. This means there’s a structural water deficit. We’re using more water than the River actually contains. Over the past several years, the levels at Lake Mead have repeatedly fallen to precariously low levels. Here’s a photo from November 2018 that illustrates the problem.

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The white band around the perimeter shows the difference between how high the water used to rise and how low it’s fallen in recent years. Lake Mead is considered full when the water level reaches 1,229 feet. Right now it’s at 1,081 feet, which is 6 feet above 1,075, the point at which the first round of reductions in allocations kicks in. Because the level has fallen dangerously low a number of times in recent years, the western states that get water from the Colorado River have worked hard to develop a drought contingency plan. If the levels continue to decline, which is likely, the plan provides an orderly framework for allocation reductions. This is an important step, but it’s not a solution. Here’s a quote from Jeffrey Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District….

The drought contingency plan is, in many respects, just a tourniquet; we’re basically bleeding out on the Colorado River.

The interview this was taken from was published in the June, 2019 issue of The Planning Report. If you have a few minutes, it’s worth reading, because Kightlinger lays the problem out clearly.

MWD Achieves Consensus on Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan

But it’s not just the decline of the Colorado we need to worry about. To repeat. All of the water resources LA depends on are declining. A look at the maps above should make it clear that deliveries from the State Water Project will likely be reduced. We can’t depend on the LA Aqueduct the way we used to. And much of the groundwater LA has access to is contaminated. Remediation efforts will take many years, if not decades.

State and local leaders seem to think that if we build another tunnel or move more quickly on water recycling projects we’ll come out okay. They’re wrong. For the last century, Californians have clung to the myth that this is the Golden State and that we can keep growing forever. We can’t. There are very real limits that we have to accept, and fundamental facts we can’t ignore. We have a finite supply of water. That supply is shrinking. If we don’t accept that fact, we’re heading for disaster.

Where Are We Heading?

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Screenshot from video posted on LA Times web site.

Last night there were protests in Downtown over the killing of George Floyd, with violent clashes between police and protesters. The unrest continued today. The Mayor of LA has imposed a curfew. West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are doing the same. And I just read the National Guard is on its way.

The scary thing is, all of this seems familiar. I was on the phone earlier with a friend in New York. She’s from Los Angeles, and was one of the journalists who covered the 1992 unrest for the LA Times. We both agreed that all this feels very much like the days of chaos that followed the verdict in the Rodney King beating.

In a way I feel like we’re back in the same place. That nothing has changed. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like things have actually gotten much worse. For the last several years Los Angeles has been sliding closer and closer to the edge. There are over 36,000 homeless people in the City of LA and 59,000 countywide. People are struggling to pay rent and bills in a gig economy that offers zero stability. We’ve spent many millions on new transit infrastructure, and now Metro is getting ready to spend millions more because contractors botched the job the first time around. And we’re learning more and more about the pay-to-play culture at LA City Hall, with four guilty pleas so far in the ongoing corruption investigation, and more on the way.

There are major problems across LA County, but the City of LA is the poster child for dysfunction. Most of our leaders are crooked, and the ones that aren’t don’t have the backbone to challenge the status quo. Our Mayor tells us that building luxury skyscrapers will help solve the housing crisis, and even the City Councilmembers who know better cast their votes to approve the latest high-end high-rise. Our Mayor tells us we’re getting people out of cars and onto trains, while traffic gets worse and transit ridership continues to plunge. Our Mayor tells us we’re creating a sustainable LA, while our urban forest is dying and the majority of our recyclables still get dumped in landfills.

But, of course, it’s not just LA. California is in trouble. The US is in trouble. George Floyd’s killing may have sparked the protests, but people have been frustrated and angry for a long time. I wish I could say I think things will get better, but I don’t. At least not any time soon.

I can still hear the sirens screaming by out in the streets. As of Saturday night, here’s what’s going on in LA.

L.A. Police Face More Mass Demonstrations After Friday’s Violence from LA Sentinel

National Guard deploying to L.A. as looting, vandalism, violence worsens from LA Times

“El momento más pesado”: alcalde de Los Ángeles extiende toque de queda a toda la ciudad from La Opinion

And here’s a view of the larger picture.

George Floyd: protests and unrest coast to coast as US cities impose curfews from The Guardian

Local News Is Dying

 

Newspapers SM

Obviously, the impacts of the pandemic we’re experiencing have gone far beyond just threats to human health. It’s devastated numerous industries, and in many cases we can’t even predict the long-term effects.

Local newspapers are getting hammered by the outbreak. As businesses have been shuttered, they’ve stopped spending on advertising, and this has been catastrophic for newspapers small and large. The loss of revenue has forced the LA Times to close down three local papers it published, the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Canada Valley Sun. No doubt we’ll see more closures in the not-too-distant future.

Publications that report local news have been declining for years, and as that has happened, Americans are less and less aware of what’s going on in the cities they live in. Did you know that the City of LA was facing annual budget shortfalls of $200 million to $400 million before the pandemic even hit? Did you know transit ridership in LA County has been declining for years and is down about 20% since 2013, in spite of the fact that taxpayers have spent billions to build new rail lines? Did you know that the State requires cities to recycle 50% of their solid waste, but that the RecycLA program hasn’t even hit 35%? If you didn’t know these things, it may be because you’re relying on TV or social media to get your information, instead of experienced journalists who know how to report hard news.

Local news is crucial to keeping people informed. If you don’t know what your elected representatives are up to, there’s no way you can make an informed decision when you go to the polls.

The LA Times has done an excellent breakdown of this frightening situation. I urge you to read it. And then, if you don’t already subscribe to a local paper, get on-line and sign up.

Coronavirus Crisis Hastens the Collapse of Local Newspapers. Here’s Why It Matters

The Death of the Newsstand

Boyle Heights Newsstand from LA Times 2002

Photo from LA Times by Irfan Khan

Today the LA Times ran a story on a newsstand in Boyle Heights that will probably be closing this year. Like so many other casualties of the rise of digital media, newsstands are a dying breed. While you can still find a few here and there in LA, most are long gone. In my own neighborhood, Universal News, (used to be on Las Palmas) has been closed for years, and World Book & News (1652 Cahuenga) has drastically reduced its stock. I know the odds are that one day it will close down, too.

While I hate to see newsstands disappear, I know that change is inevitable. As advances in print technology in an earlier era gave rise to newsstands and made them a part of the fabric of our cities, advances in digital technology have now marginalized newspapers and magazines.

In theory, print news and digital news should be the same. In reality, the shift has led to a huge change in the way the news is reported and consumed. The internet allows us instant access to news outlets all over the world, which seems like an incredible opportunity, but the promise is different from the reality. It allows us to search for the news we want to read, often to the exclusion of news that we should read. And while we now have what seems like an infinite number of sources to choose from, I feel like that allows most of us to subscribe to the sites that tell us what we want to hear.

One of the most damaging casualties of the rise of digital media is the loss of local reporting. Twenty years ago in LA, both the Times and the Daily News had beat reporters covering City Hall and the various city departments. They knew the landscape, they had the connections, and they kept the public apprised of what our elected officials were doing. Now, with both papers having slashed staff over the years, reporting on City Hall is sporadic, and our electeds have found they can pull all sorts of stunts with very little public scrutiny.

Here’s the link to the story about the newsstand in Boyle Heights. A small piece of LA history that’s about to disappear.

Spanish Language Newsstand Braces for the End

Public Education Is Everybody’s Business

Beutner

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been in the spotlight a lot this year. First there was a contentious teachers’ strike that shut down LA schools for six days, and resulted in a 6% pay raise for teachers. Then there was the hastily thrown together ballot measure that would have imposed a parcel tax to address the District’s long term funding problems. It failed, but there’s talk of another measure in 2020.

LAUSD is struggling. During the strike and leading up to the vote on the ballot measure people weren’t shy about offering their opinions on the subject. Some people see the District as dysfunctional, and many in that camp lay the blame on the School Board. Others say the District is getting hammered by larger societal changes that it has no control over. I think there’s some truth in both arguments.

You can certainly point to a number of mistakes the District has made. The botched rollout of two highly touted tech initiatives, iPads for all students and a new student accounting system, both under former Superintendent John Deasy, were costly and embarrassing failures. Recent revelations regarding serious problems within LAUSD’s Office of the Inspector General haven’t improved the District’s image.

But at the same time, LAUSD is facing problems that are crippling school districts across California. The biggest threat may be declining enrollment due to lower birth rates and a drop in immigration.  Because schools are funded based on student attendance, this means shrinking revenues. At the same time, pension obligations are ballooning, making it increasingly difficult to balance the budget. And since many of the District’s schools were built decades ago, maintenance costs are becoming unsustainable.

So when Austin Beutner took over as Superintendent last year, he certainly had his work cut out for him. I’m not Beutner’s biggest fan, but I do respect him for taking the job. Honestly, I don’t think anyone else wanted it. The District’s financial difficulties are so severe that, if they’re not resolved, the situation could result in a State takeover.

Recently the LA Downtown News ran an interview with Beutner where he talks about the challenges ahead. It’s worth reading. The Superintendent’s agenda is nothing radical. In fact, it’s just common sense.

“I think I have a pretty good understanding, and I think the people here do, of what works: an experienced school leader with the budget they need,” [Beutner] said. “A high-quality teacher in the classroom, colleagues to help support the social-emotional needs of the child. It’s not a secret.”

A lot of Angelenos may think that, because they don’t currently have kids enrolled in LAUSD, they don’t need to worry about the District’s future. Anybody who believes that is dead wrong. If we’re not giving kids the reading and math skills they need, if we’re not teaching them about this country’s history, if we’re not making them aware of what’s going on in the world around them, this city will only sink further into chaos and dysfunction. It may be a cliché, but it’s absolutely true: These kids are our future.

Myths, Math and Austin Beutner

Communities Speak Out against 4:00 am Bar Bill

Dntn Alcohol Castro Spk 2 1905

Miriam Castro, of Mujeres Transformando la Comunidad, speaks out against SB 58.

Today at City Hall people from communities all over LA spoke out against a bill that would extend hours of alcohol service in a number of California cities. The legislature is currently considering SB 58, authored by State Senator Scott Wiener, which would allow cities to push the closing time for bars and nightclubs to 4:00 am. A broad coalition of community and public health groups are pushing back, warning that passage of the bill would mean a significant increase in health and safety harms.

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Councilmember Paul Koretz talks about the billions of dollars lost due to alcohol-related harms.

Councilmember Paul Koretz started the event off by listing the staggering cost that California already pays for problems related to alcohol consumption, including billions spent for medical and mental health care, as well as expenses related to law enforcement. He was followed by Miriam Castro, of Mujeres Transformando la Comunidad, who emphasized the negative impacts that alcohol has on communities. Pueblo y Salud Program Director Brenda Villanueva made the point that prices for Uber and Lyft rise steeply in the early morning hours and public transit mostly shuts down, meaning that people leaving bars after 4:00 am might well decide to drive home. This also means that cities not covered by the new law could end up dealing with late night drunk drivers from neighboring cities, i.e. someone getting out of a club in Hollywood and driving through Burbank on their way home.

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The press showed up to cover the event.

Senator Wiener has framed the bill as a pilot program that could be ended if crime and DUIs rise, but the reality is that once cities extend hours of alcohol service it’s highly unlikely that closing times would be rolled back. The beverage and hospitality industries would be lobbying hard to stop cities from returning to a 2:00 am closing time. And it seems odd to call this a “pilot program” when the cities included account for well over ten percent of the State’s population. (The bill would cover Cathedral City, Coachella, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Francisco, and
West Hollywood.)

If you want to take a look at the bill yourself, here’s the link.

SB-58: Alcoholic Beverages, Hours of Sale

And if you want to talk to your State rep about this, you can follow this link for contact info.

Find Your Rep

Dntn Alcohol Signs 2 1905