Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Is Sunland-Tujunga a Homeless Center?

Recycling Center One Block From Sunland Park
There's a lot of talk that our Sunland Park homeless problem is caused by church/volunteer groups sharing food with the down and out. That's an issue across the nation and is often a case made by those with animus towards the evangelical Christian and/or Catholic adherents. That's another story, but let's take a look at it.

Using common sense, indeed, if some organization provided meals morning, noon and night on a daily basis, out of the parks, indeed you could say that draws a certain amount of folks. Not just homeless, but at-risk youth and others would come out for food. Fair enough.

But what we see locally is once a week/once a month and sporadic. Usually it's tied to some kind of event/holiday. 

So what brings homeless to the park? Same thing that brings most people to the parks, really. It's a quiet place to sit down, out of the hustle and bustle of other public locations, you can nap under a tree, there's room to wander around and it's pretty. 

But let me submit further to you what I believe is one of the prime contributors, if not the prime contributor, to homeless in Sunand Park is. 

One block from the park at the corner of Floralita Ave and Foothill Blvd is a recycling center (located behind a gas station). These recycling centers draw HUGE numbers of homeless who root cans, bottles and other recyclables out of local trash (in violation of the law) and bring them to these recycling centers in order to earn some cash. 

Recycling Center, behind Mobil Staion
I am certain that many of these homeless, once they cash out and purchase some libation or other intoxicant at any number of nearby legal and illegal outlets, just saunter over to the park for a lovely rest of the day and perhaps, a night's sleep. There is no question that recycling draws out homeless, there are issues at a large shopping center in NoHo with this, more than any little rag-tag group of Christians or anyone making a few sandwiches and sharing them. 

Several years back, the California State Legislature mandated that recycling centers be set up within specific distance of any place that sells bottled and canned beverages. - i.e. supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations. Let's get the recycling centers out of residential and commercial areas and put them in industrial areas where they belong. And let's enforce the law on trash picking. Just this morning, I saw two homeless people on my block pulling junk out of my neighbor's cans and putting them in a shopping cart. 

The concern among many that a "homeless fair" in the park is not about being "haters" (or hatters?) or a peanut gallery or whatever nonsense the status quo crowd wants to toss out there. It's about creating a permanent image of the park as a homeless service center when there are plenty of other locations nearby that would be more suitable. The fact that this was imposed on us by an out-of-town, new Councilman and that our local leaders were not willing to stand up to him is a sad commentary on our town. It is particularly telling when the City of Los Angeles has a policy of "regionalization" of the homeless. That is, getting the homeless out of Downtown LA and Skid Row where powerful developers want to gentrify the area, and shipping them to key locations in Sunland-Tujunga, Sun Valley, Van Nuys, South Central, East LA and other areas that are generally lower income and politically impotent. 

At what point do we stand up for ourselves to the city, and to the locals who enable the city's nonsense in exchange for a few shiny things from the Councilman of the week?

Michael Higby Appears on AM 870 The Answer this Sunday

Sunday morning I'll be featured on a segment of Sunday Morning Newsmakers with Larry Marino on AM 870 The Answer, starting at 9:00 a.m., PDT.

We'll be discussing the City Council's recent vote to lift the ban on murals on buildings in Los Angeles.

You can listen to the program on the radio at 870 AM, on the internet at the station's site or via the iHeartRadio app for Andorid, iPhone or BlackBerry.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Get Your Lawsuit Here! Read The Complete Snowball West Verdugo Hills Filing

Now you can read it for yourself and it is - fascinating reading! The complete lawsuit filing by Snowball West, developers of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, against the City of Los Angeles and former Councilman Richard Alarcon, for the efforts to designate all, some or part of the golf course as a historic landmark, since the site was once used for as an internment camp for the Japanese during World War II.

Snowball is not at all happy about how things went down and a big part of it is that the historic effort was initially sold by Alarcon as a way to block the controversial development. This was declared by Alarcon's deputy, Gerald Gutaban, at a Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council meeting and later in press reports about Alarcon's plan.

Somewhere along the way, the historic effort was divorced from the nearly decade old save the golf course campaign for reasons that are not quite clear. Speculation includes motivation such as not wanting to offend the Japanese community which was now already engaged, to reducing the risk for the City of avoiding this very kind of lawsuit to the effort no longer being needed by Alarcon, who proffered the solution a scant few weeks before the conclusion of his race for the State Assembly (he lost), a speculation at least made by the plaintiffs in their case.

Just this past Wednesday evening, it was stated during a report at the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council Meeting that the historic effort had nothing to do with preserving the site from development; something the record just does not support. The plaintiff's filing also makes this very clear.

Read the entire document here.

The worm continues to turn!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Behind Pothole Politics is a $3 Billion Bill!

Smile, boys!
Facebook pages were chock full of pictures of our Mayor and newest Council Members donning work vests and hard hats, filling pot holes as part of "Operation Neighborhood Council Blitz," where Neighborhood Council members were given some sense of "empowerment" in tabulating and submitting lists of potholes for repair consideration.

Potholes are a really good issue for politicians to go after because it's something simple to understand, creates great pictures for television and the papers and the idea of filling potholes generally offends no one.

Indeed, our own Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council's video production company was on the scene where Mayor Garcetti gave a stand-up, impromptu speech on the effort of the day. Later, the Mayor "kicked it" with street services workers recounting the various neighborhoods they had visited filling potholes. 

We all appreciate any potholes that can be filled. LA is legend for them. In fact, after San Jose, LA has the worst graded condition streets of any city in the nation by international road condition standards.

The problem is when it's yet another photo opp with something worse lurking behind the corner.

That something worse is a currently on life support plan for the City to place a $3 billion - and yes that's billion with a B - bond measure on the ballot, one that is intended to repair our local streets, but we all know what happens with bond measures and blank checks. 

That filling potholes and maintaining city streets is not such an essential municipal function that the cost for such should be borne out of the city general fund from all the taxes and fees we are already paying is incredible. What are they spending this money on? Anyone who followed the Mayoral race knows that a huge piece of the City's debt comes from higher than industry average pay rates offered to the unions that support politicians and gold plated pensions the leadership of these unions have been able to get from elected officials. 

Jack Humphreville, a local business (he owns the Recycler Paper!) and an impassioned local advocate who is adept at rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in city government goes into deeper detail about the bond measure in this piece at The Fox and Hounds blog. Jack offers up what should be very strict rules and reforms IF such a bond measure is even to go through. 

Get ready to open up your checkbook!

The Arrogance of Power

You BETTER not
be silly!
Participants in our Facebook group (have you joined?) have been actively discussing the arrogance of power locally, and throughout the City of Los Angeles. For too long, anyone who asks a question, has an opposite view of how things should be done or just doesn't agree have been bullied, harassed, ridiculed and slandered in a calculated manner to chill speech and remove any challenge to the status quo.

Joseph Mailander, writing in an already highly noted piece at LA CityWatch (one of the City's go to online zines on municipal matters) chronicles such abuse and how the chickens are coming home to roost as a result of this arrogant behavior.

Among Mailander's observations:

President Herb Wesson and Councilmember Paul Krekorian were yucking it up in an LA City Council meeting, before an audience of 200 people and broadcast for all, at the expense of a harmless, disempowered, persistent City Hall critic, Arnold Sachs. 
Sachs’s offense in Krekorian’s eyes involved the bizarre rush-to-judgment that attended the forming of an historic site on property owned by the Verdugo Hills Golf Course. Sachs was not directly involved in the dispute, but as a civic watchdog he had dared to think it unusual that Council was suddenly rushing to pass a motion on a preservation issue—going against the recommendation of the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission and even changing it on the fly—just as the motion’s key political drivers, Councilmembers Richard Alarcon and Ed Reyes were leaving office. 
Now the City faces a twenty million dollar lawsuit from a developer who has dared to wonder some of the same things that the disempowered Sachs’ was wondering.

Mailander also briefly discusses the case of former MayorSam blogger and civic activist, Zuma Dogg, who became an unflappable critic of City Hall and infallible source of inside information when new City rules regarding the Venice Beach boardwalk essentially killed the until then apolitical Dogg's business of selling memorabilia from his local cable TV show. Dogg reached out to the Council, expecting a reasonable and quick resolution of the matter, but was shocked when he found the near disdain the Council has for local citizens. Dogg then engaged on a six year well researched, performance art filled jihad against the City which eventually lead to a federal judgement on behalf of Dogg and his associates. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Details of Golf Course Developer Lawsuit Emerge

Idyllic day at Verdugo Hills Golf Course, Photo by Joseph Mailander

Our contributor, Joseph Mailander, visited Sunland-Tujunga Friday, did some digging and unearthed some details on the lawsuit that Snowball West, owners of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, has filed against the City of Los Angeles over it's designation of a small piece of the property as a "historic landmark."

You may remember that last fall, Alarcon presented to the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council a strategy to block development of 229 homes on the site, by declaring the property, which was used during World War II as a detention camp for Japanese-Americans and others, a "historic landmark."

This was at the height of Alarcon's campaign for the State Assembly; a race he later lost.

At some point during the process for historic designation, the stated intent of the effort changed; not to block development, but to provide some historic mitigation to the Japanese community, and acquire some sort of recognition and memorial at the site.  As Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council board member Krystee Clark told the Glendale News-Press, "Well, it's not really about the golf course," she said. "It's about making sure the area is preserved in a way that satisfies the Japanese American community."

The following is courtesy of Joseph Mailander:

The suit that the owners of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course have brought against the City of Los Angeles is mostly pointed at Alarcon's actions in his final days as a Council Member
It notes how Alarcon introduced the motion to designate the site as a Japanese monument on October 12, 2012..."25 days before the General Election and without notice to Snowball."
It references an LA Times report noting that Alarcon had hoped to "save the Verdugo Hills Golf Course from residential development by adding it to the list of historic and cultural monuments"--something Alarcon's office and others were denying when they found later that this might constitute deprivation of due process
It alleges that Alarcon refused to talk about the designation with Snowball. [BTW, it notes how the community within the development is to be privately gated.] It claims that Alarcon in bringing the motion to Council on June 21, surprised the developer, because the PLUM Committee had asked for a working Committee to work on a solution 60 days subsequent to June 11, 2013--but brought the matter before Council before his term ended, a scant ten days later. 
It alleges that in Alarcon's "rush to prevent, delay, and impact" the Project, "no research was conducted, no reports or maps were consulted, and no findings were made to determine the boundaries of the detention station or exactly where the use was previously located on the property. It alleges the box drawn around the oaks was "nearly arbitrary." 
It suggests Alarcon's motivation was originally to please voters in running for his Assembly race, which he did not win. 

It requests a jury trial and names the sum of $20 million as compensatory damages.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Another Day in Sunland Park Foreshadows the LA to Come

Two postings in our The Foothills. Observed Facebook Group (which if you're on Facebook, care about Sunland-Tujunga and are not a sock puppet or troublemaker you are welcome to join) caught our attention.

One, a very telling photo by Video Louis Elovitz, taken Thursday at Sunland Park (site of the recent Sunland-Tujunga National Night Out, anti-crime education event) that most are finding quite disturbing. That the situation has escalated as such without any real outrage from our city officials is disgusting.

"Thursday in the Park," by Video Louis Elovitz
Next up, quite the good analysis on why our homeless situation in Los Angeles has reached the tipping point; where millions are spent, folks are paid handsomely to serve the homeless yet no results are yielded, indeed it's getting worse for both the community and the homeless. Joseph Mailander talks with Loren Franck, director of West Side Homeless Outreach, Inc. who has been serving the homeless for nearly half a decade. "I do not have a Lexus in my parking spot. I’m not a part of that machine. One problem that we have is that these big well established agencies are really businesses. They’re non-profits, but they’re really businesses,"Franck tells Mailander. Read the rest of this excellent interview at LA CityWatch.

It seems as if our local officials might want to take a gander at an insightful article, written many years ago by James Q. Wilson and George KellingThe Broken Window Theory. Basically Wilson and Kelling posit that if small infractions such as the homeless sleeping in parks, leaving trash around, getting rid of graffiti, fixing broken windows in buildings - all quality of life issues - are addressed it can actually prevent larger crimes. In the 90s, both New York's Mayor Rudy Giuliani and LA's Mayor Richard Riordan, devotees of the theory, put these practices to work and both cities saw significant drops in crime and improvement in quality of life.

Contrast this with a recent report that the LAPD has changed gears to give up on enforcing a whole boatload of small time but gateway violations such as driving without a license, camping on the beach, using a fake ID to buy alcohol, drinking in public, gambling, defecating in public, trespassing and not having your dog vaccinated for rabies. This seems like just a horrible opposite direction to go that will, combined with the state's recent prison re-alignment strategies in which criminal offenders are being released to the streets years ahead of their sentences expiring, get us right back to those high crime rates and miserable times of the 1970s and 80s.

I guess y'all better buy helmets!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

There's a Lawsuit? Shocking!!

The word today that the developers of the Verdugo Hills Golf Course, Snowball Investments, plan to file suit against the City of Los Angeles for the City's designation of a small patch of the property as a "historic landmark" seemed to shock a few folks in town as Captain Renault in Casablanca was shocked there was gambling going on at Humphrey Bogart's cafe.

You will remember that earlier the City had made the designation of a small oak grove as historic given the site's history of serving as a detention camp during the Japanese internment. Initially, the effort to seek the historic designation was sold by the office of then Council Member Richard Alarcon to block development.

Later, we found out that was not the case; that the only reason to seek the status was to serve the Japanese community. As Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council board member Krystee Clark told the Glendale News-Press, "Well, it's not really about the golf course," she said. "It's about making sure the area is preserved in a way that satisfies the Japanese American community."

Getting back to today's "news," it's really no surprise on two fronts. Let's start on the common sense train. Snowball West stands to make a lot of money from building 229 homes in our canyon.  Money makes people do funny things. The developers have spent nearly a decade fighting to build their project. That's lots of money in lawyers, specialists, consultants, property taxes, maintenance, interest on loans, etc, etc. without having made one dime on their multi-million investment. One could not imagine they would back down from anything that would get in the way of that.

Putting common sense aside, look at this: the development's attorney, Fred Gaines (also the Mayor of Calabasas) telegraphed as much that the developer would take action when he told the City Council on June 25th "We have in our previous testimony launched our protest to this action." Gaines told the News-Press' Daniel Siegel "he was disappointed in the city's process, which he felt kept the developer in the dark." All the more indication that the developer was enumerating wrongs against them for potential action.

My associate, Joseph Mailander, spoke with Council Member Felipe Fuentes' office today. Fuentes issued the following statement:  "I am supportive of finding a balanced way to honor the region and its history. My staff has been attending working group meetings in our efforts to help with this process. I have just learned today about the lawsuit so I can't comment, however I remain committed to finding a solution that doesn't involve the courts." 

Parsing that statement we can glean that the Council Member wants to move forward the development of 229 homes while offering some sort of token recognition to the Tuna Canyon Detention Center's history. That would all be worked out in some settlement agreement. 

So what do we learn today? Nothing really. This is all part of the game. We're in no different position than we were when the community was gamed by a lame duck elected official, torn asunder by bizarre spin and further down the field than we were a year ago. Most folks in our community - and the surrounding communities - are fully aware that developing this property would be disastrous to our environment, our way of life, the very essence of this special community. And it's been put at severe risk by grifting and ineptitude by our City. 

There may be time left to save the golf course. But we're in the final two minutes. We need a whole new game plan and a whole new team to even have a chance to win. Hopefully someone out there has the answer.