Campaigning for Re-Election on Our Dime?

Garcetti Logo Signs

If you live in LA, you’re probably aware that the City is using all kinds of media to get the message out about water conservation. And if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may also know that Mayor Garcetti is gearing up for his 2017 re-election effort. Why am I leading off with these two apparently unrelated items? Well, because actually it seems they are related. Even though they shouldn’t be.

I was standing at a bus stop where the bench displayed one of the water conservation ads. The first time I saw it I didn’t pay much attention. It was just another public service announcement, and I’d already gotten the message about cutting my water use. But after looking at it a few times, something caught my eye. Like most PSAs, it carried a few logos to let you know who was behind it. And one of them belonged to our Mayor.

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

Poster for Save the Drop campaign

You’re probably asking, So what? Shouldn’t the Mayor be throwing his weight behind this campaign? No argument there. It’s an important initiative. The thing that struck me was that the logo used here was remarkably similar to the one Garcetti used when he was campaigning for mayor in 2013, which is almost exactly the one that he’s using for his re-election bid.

Announcement from Garcetti's 2013 campaign

Announcement from Garcetti’s 2013 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti's 2017 campaign

Screen shot from web site for Garcetti’s 2017 campaign

If you live in LA, you must’ve seen it by now. A blue square containing the Mayor’s name in crisp, white, sans-serif type. There are a few different versions. The text varies slightly depending on when and where it appears. It’s a nice piece of design. It could suggest a clear blue sky, or crystal clear water, or a kind of zen serenity, or almost any other abstract positive association, which is one of the key concepts behind political advertising. It suits Garcetti perfectly. He’s a master salesman, and he’s spent several years refining his own brand. The hip, smart, 21st century guy who’s leading us all toward a brighter future.

All that’s fine. I congratulate the Mayor on his marketing savvy. But he should not be using a logo designed for his campaign on a PSA paid for by our tax dollars. Aside from the issue of using public money to support a private brand, this also confuses the City’s efforts to educate the public with the Mayor’s efforts to get himself re-elected. And this goes beyond the water conservation campaign. If you look at the City’s web page for the Mayor’s office, it displays the same logo.

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor's Office

Screen shot from the home page for the Mayor’s Office

And the same goes for e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office relating to public business. I realized in the course of writing this post that I had been confusing e-mails sent by the Mayor’s Office with e-mails sent by the Garcetti campaign. The headings are different, but the inclusion of the same logo on both makes it seem like they emanate from the same source.

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent by the Mayor regarding his State of the City speech

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti's re-election campaign

E-mail sent announcing Garcetti’s re-election campaign

And this is really a problem. Eric Garcetti is the Mayor, that is, he’s an individual who’s been elected to serve in that capacity. But he is not the Mayor’s Office. That’s a separate entity which has been occupied by many people over time. To use the same graphic for communications from a politician seeking re-election and an office that exists to serve the people of Los Angeles creates a dangerous confusion.

If Garcetti is unhappy with the traditional seal for the Mayor’s office, he should ask City staff to redesign it, but it should be completely distinct from the logo he’s using for his re-election campaign. The Mayor’s communications regarding official business need to be clearly differentiated from his efforts to win another term. Sure, most politicians use their office for self-promotion of one kind or another, but we shouldn’t be subsidizing the practice. The Mayor needs to remove any graphics related to his campaign from all media used by the City to conduct official business. And he needs to do it now.

We Need to Talk about Water

DSC02222

Recently I posted on Mayor Garcetti’s call for Angelenos to reduce water consumption by twenty percent. As a follow up, I’d like to draw your attention to an article posted by Jack Humphreville on CityWatch. The thrust of the article is that the Mayor’s creation of a Water Cabinet is an attempt to create policy without input from citizens.

Humphreville makes some excellent points. Certainly, given Garcetti’s record, we should be concerned about whether the City will shape its water policy in an open and transparent manner. There’s no question that the DWP will be raising rates significantly in coming years. To some degree this is necessary. Our water infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and we also need to invest in groundwater clean-up. But citizens must be involved in this discussion. A link to Humphreville’s article is below. It’s well worth reading.

Can We Afford the Mayor’s Mandate?

And here’s the link to the Mayor’s Executive Directive 5, which lays out all the measures he wants Angelenos to take to address the water shortage. Many of these steps are reasonable and necessary. It’s the creation of the Water Cabinet that’s worrisome. In LA, too many decisions are already made by insiders, behind closed doors. The Mayor often talks about how we all need to be involved in shaping the city’s future. I wish I could believe he really meant it.

Executive Directive 5

When the Well Runs Dry

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

Last week Mayor Garcetti asked Los Angeles residents to cut their water usage by twenty percent. Even though he was basically echoing the governor’s message to all Californians, this was an important step. Angelenos have slowly been climbing on board the conservation bandwagon, but we need to do more.

Over eighty percent of the water we use in Los Angeles comes from outside the city’s boundaries. The only way LA has been able to grow as large as it has is by siphoning water from the Owens Valley and the Colorado River. But due to the current drought, these sources are drying up. In addition, many of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are contaminated, and cleaning them up will be a long, costly endeavor. Here’s a sobering article from the American Society of Civil Engineers web site.

LA to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

Not only do we need to conserve water in the present, we need to plan for water usage in the future. The City should take a hard look at current requirements for new projects, and ask if there are ways to build structures that are more efficient. In general, we need to look at how future development will impact our water resources. The City needs to consider the cumulative impact of proposed projects on our dwindling supply.

Restaurants in particular should come under special scrutiny, since they consume a great deal of water in their day to day operations. There are a number of ways they can reduce their consumption. Replacing water cooled refrigeration units with air cooled units is a good start. They should also be required to use low volume spray nozzles for washing food. Composting waste instead of using a garbage disposal will also reduce water consumption. I know running a restaurant is difficult, and all these things cost money. Possibly the City could require new restaurants to take these steps, but allow existing restaurants to make the changes over time. And in the long term, adopting these practices will actually save restaurant owners money.

The Department of Water and Power building is a classic modern structure from the sixties, designed by Albert C. Martin & Associates. One of the key elements of the design is the reflecting pool that borders the site. It’s not just beautiful, it’s functional, having been integrated into the system that cools the offices. But it also plays an important symbolic role. Surrounding the Department of Water and Power with an expansive reflecting pool makes a statement about how an area with limited water resources was transformed into a major city, known for its lush green lawns and sparkling swimming pools.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the Los Angeles we’re living in today.

DSC07338

The Changing Face of Hollywood

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Hollywood is hot. Developers are jumping in with both feet. A number of projects have gone up in the last few years, and many more are in the works. My feelings about the building boom vary greatly, mostly depending on the quality of the individual projects. Some of them will definitely benefit the community, some I can tolerate, and others should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Just recently Kilroy Realty unveiled their plans for a project on Vine, south of Sunset. Over all, I’m inclined to support it. As many people have pointed out, almost anything would be better than what occupies the site now. It’s an underutilized parcel, and Kilroy’s idea of turning it into a media campus makes perfect sense for the area.

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

But I do have a couple of reservations….

First, traffic.

Anyone who’s lived in Hollywood for a while can tell you that traffic is steadily getting worse. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Hollywood area lost over 10,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. So even though there are fewer people living in the community, more of them are driving. It seems probable that this is because the low-income residents who were forced out by rising rents have been replaced by more affluent residents who are more likely to own cars. The Kilroy project will be continuing this trend, since the residential units are geared toward people who have money to spend.

For those of you who don’t live in the area, here are a few photos of the northbound traffic on Vine on a Wednesday evening around 7:00 pm. These were taken at the corner of Vine and De Longpre, right across from the project site.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Same perspective as previous shot.  Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

Same perspective as previous shot. Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

This project will definitely be putting more cars on the road. What really concerns me is that it’s just one of many projects being considered for the Hollywood area. My point is that the City of LA needs to do a cumulative traffic study to plan for all this growth. The City argues they don’t have the money, which is ridiculous. They don’t have a problem throwing away millions of dollars on legal fees to defend projects that never should have seen the light of day, but they won’t spend a relatively modest sum to plan for a sustainable future. If Garcetti wants to push for big growth in Hollywood, he needs to start by springing for a cumulative traffic study that will help to lay the groundwork.

Second, the residential component of the Kilroy project is definitely catering to the crowd that makes six figure salaries. Again, it’s not so much that I have a problem with this specific project, but the vast majority of the residential units that have been built in the area over the past ten years are geared towards the rich. You can’t move into places like the W, Blvd. 6200 or the Avenue unless you have money to burn. This push to make Hollywood a playground for the wealthy is driving rents up throughout the community. It’s not just the low-income working class families that are being forced out. The artists, musicians and writers who used to live in Hollywood are having to look for less expensive places. The desperate drive for gentrification is great for bringing in the trust fund kids who want to party, but it’s pushing out a lot of the people who really enriched the local culture.

Over all, Kilroy seems to be making an effort to respect the community. This project is planned more or less within the current zoning laws, though the residential tower does go a little high. They’re including a fair amount of open space. It makes sense that they’re catering to media/entertainment companies, and, according to the LA Times story, there is a demand for office space in Hollywood.

So my problem isn’t with this project itself, but the trend that it’s a part of. Hollywood is becoming more expensive and more congested. The mayor doesn’t care. He’s got a mansion in Hancock Park and a driver that takes him wherever he wants to go, both of which are paid for by the taxpayers. So naturally Garcetti wouldn’t be concerned about housing prices and traffic, since he doesn’t have to deal with those problems.

Unfortunately, the rest of us do.

If you want to take a look at the LA Times article on the Kilroy project, the link is below.

Kilroy Unveil Plans for Complex in Hollywood

Let Them Eat Cake

Last week the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to raise fares. The cost of a monthly pass will go up from $75 to one $100, a thirty percent increase. The cost of a day pass will from $5 to $7, a forty percent increase. This is an outrageous example of a clueless elite making decisions with no regard for the needs of the population they’re serving. Citing the MTA’s own data, the LA Times reports that over 90 percent of riders are low income, and 80 percent make an average of less than $20,000 a year.

Supervisor Gloria Molina

Supervisor Gloria Molina

The Board projects a $36,000,000 deficit next year. They say that if they don’t raise fares they’ll be forced to lay off 1,000 workers or cut 1,000,000 hours of service. I don’t buy it. These are scare tactics. Gloria Molina, the one member to vote against the fare hike, offered a motion to investigate ways to cut the budget in order to stave off the increase. She couldn’t even get someone to second the motion. For more info on the meeting and the rate hike, you can access the MTA’s newsletter by clicking here.

It’s true that other cities have higher fares, because other cities have a more economically diverse ridership. In New York and San Francisco, a large number of well-paid professionals use mass transit for their daily commute. Not so in LA. The people who use public transit here are mostly on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Charging them $300 more a year to ride the busses and trains in many cases literally means taking food out of their mouths.

For me personally, shelling out $25 more a month is not a huge sacrifice. I prefer to take public transit, and I don’t mind paying a little more. And up until now, I was pleased to see the MTA aggressively expanding the transit network. But now that I see the price tag, my feeling is that they’ve been grossly irresponsible. They embarked on these ambitious plans knowing full well that it would put the MTA in the red, and knowing full well they were going to use that as leverage to raise rates. They’ve obviously forgotten who they’re serving.

Eight of the Board’s thirteen members are either serving on the LA City Council or the LA County Board of Supervisors. All of these people make around $180,000 a year. In addition, most of them use cars and drivers that are paid for by taxpayers. Why is it that decisions about MTA fares are made by people who only take the subway when they’re touting some new program or taking part in a ceremony? None of them rides the bus to work. Obviously Molina is the only one who has any concept of who it is she was elected to serve. She’s the only one who seems to care that for a family living below the poverty line, carving $25 a month out of your budget is a real sacrifice. This is going to hurt a lot of families, and the pampered elitists sitting on the MTA Board don’t care.

Mayor Eric Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti

And speaking of pampered elitists, let’s talk about Eric Garcetti. It should be obvious by now that Garcetti doesn’t give a damn about anyone who hasn’t made a campaign contribution. He has a bold vision for an exciting new LA, full of skyscrapers and wine bars, boutique hotels and high-end clubs. And he’ll bend over backwards to keep his wealthy developer buddies happy, handing out tax breaks and giving them great deals on city-owned land. But he can’t even support affordable fares for the vast majority of MTA riders who really need them.

How did this guy get elected?

How Safe Is Your Home?

Quake Graphic 3

I have to say I’m impressed by Mayor Garcetti’s earthquake safety plan. The idea of rating buildings according to how well they’d weather a quake, and making that information available to the public, is pretty smart. It’s been suggested that LA should a adopt a mandatory retrofit program for soft story buildings, which is what San Francisco has done. The problem, of course, is that property owners are freaked out by the potential cost. Renters aren’t happy either, since San Francisco’s law allows landlords to pass the cost along to tenants over a twenty year period.

But soft story buildings need to be upgraded. Failing to do so could mean a massive death toll when the next major quake strikes LA. So how do you get property owners and renters to support a costly retrofit program? By rating buildings according to how safe they are. Garcetti’s plan will make the public aware of how serious the threat is. People will probably be much more willing to support retrofitting once they realize that their property or their life could be at stake.

The only drawback is that this will take time. Garcetti’s earthquake czar, Lucy Jones, has emphasized that this isn’t going to happen right away. The work of creating a rating system and then actually evaluating all the buildings at risk will probably take two or three years. Let’s hope we have that much time.

But this is a good first step. I’m impressed that Garcetti is leading the way on this. I’ll be even more impressed if he makes it happen.

For more details, here’s the story from the LA Times.

Garcetti Wants Buildings Graded for Earthquake Safety

You Can Fight City Hall

DSC01449Okay. I’m in shock right now. I just read that the City Planning Commission approved the Millennium Hollywood project. I attended the meeting on Thursday, listened to the developers, the attorneys, union reps and residents talk about the project for hours. I left some time after two, feeling certain that the Commission would not approve the plan in its current form.

That shows you how naive I am. I just read the LA Times article stating that the Commission voted unanimously to approve this insane assault on the Hollywood landscape. At the meeting on Thursday I was thrilled to hear a representative from Eric Garcetti’s office say that the councilman had decided he couldn’t back the development in its current form. Now I’m thinking this was just political posturing, since Garcetti’s running for mayor and he knows how angry people are about the project.

I came up with the title for this post after I left the meeting, thinking the Commission was going to withhold approval. After reading the Times article, I debated changing it, since my initial reaction was that the city does what it wants no matter how many people show up to protest. But I believe we can still win this fight. The project has many problems, the biggest of which is that Millennium’s proposal does not actually outline what it is they’re going to build. They can’t even say how many residential units, how much office space, what kind of retail they’re proposing. They just want the city to grant them carte blanche to build whatever they want to. As many people pointed out at Thursday’s meeting, this clearly does not meet the California Environmental Quality Act’s requirements.

We’ve lost the battle, but we can still win the war. The link to the Times article is below. If you have the stomach to read it.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-garcetti-hollywood-20130329,0,363474.story