Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The Los Angeles City Council will take up a long-stewing measure today to allow EBT cards (electronic food stamps) users to shop fresh at local farmers markets, swiping cards as one does a credit card in a smartphone-compatible mobile POS system like Square.

If the City Council passes the ordinance as expected, it will create a new law to require certified farmers markets vendors to prove to the Bureau of Street Services that they are set up to accept EBT cards as payment.

The Bureau of Street Services manages the closure of streets for farmers markets and approves new markets and vendors.

Enforcement on any violations will be managed by the Department of Building and Safety. Complete guidelines will be published Feb. 1.

The ordinance will take effect as soon as it is passed. None of the reports quantified the number of permits to process, or the estimated number of EBT users who live close enough to a farmers market to patronize local vendors.

This post was edited for clarity on Mon. Jan. 16, 2017.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


The New York Times' Neal Boudette wrote on Tuesday about how the big carmakers are adjusting to the threat of ride hail making individual car ownership obsolete.

Among the interesting bits were examples of Los Angeles-area people going mostly carless (from my view the last and final test among U.S. cities), that automakers are now considering the first and last mile (to the bus or train station and back) that mostly occupies public transit analysts, and that a shift away from individual car ownership could be a financial relief for automakers, who expend massive capital to produce new cars. Boudette breaks out that math:

Automakers are generally betting that sales of vehicles to fleet services will offset any decline in sales to individual consumers. Boston Consulting Group predicts that 44,000 cars will be sold to ride-sharing fleets in North America in 2021, more than making up for an expected net decline in consumer sales of about 8,000 vehicles. 

The bigger impact might be on how the automotive industry — not just carmakers, but also fleet service operators, parts makers and the like — makes its money in years to come. 

According to the consulting firm PwC, the global automotive industry generates about $400 billion a year in profits; about 41 percent of that — or about $164 billion — comes from new vehicle sales. 

By 2030, PwC forecasts that even as overall automotive profits grow to about $600 billion, only about 29 percent of that will come from new vehicle sales. By then, PwC predicts that “mobility services’’ — including ride-hailing and other types of last-mile transportation services — will represent 20 percent of the automotive industry’s profits. 

Ford is among the automakers angling to be in position if that shift occurs.
“We are on the cusp of a revolution,” Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive, said at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Cars, he said, “are no longer our entire game.”


If you skim the LA City Council's recent meetings, you might believe that it took action on sidewalk repair, finally deciding who exactly is responsible in one cohesive policy. No. All the 15 members of the council did on Dec. 13 is receive another report from a subcommittee and officially file that report.

This is an issue that has gone on and on. I wrote about this all the way back in my Patch days in 2010. There were two versions of the article - one for Encino and one for Chatsworth. The Patch people killed the Chatsworth one, the more comprehensive one, and for some reason pulled the timeline that ran with both. Pathetically, it does not require much updating after six years.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


I only just read this unnecessary piece about the Gatto family in the Los Feliz Ledger yesterday, though it was published Oct. 27. The title misleadingly suggests it's a look back at unresolved elements of the investigation and not a big MacGuffin of a lurid look into a struggling family.

No one can make the paper reevaluate or pull the article. There is unfortunately no unified standard of journalistic ethics for all media outlets to follow. I keep the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics in mind when in doubt, and try to share any thorny issues with editors. I know, from my own Ledger days, that the paper's Publisher-Editor Allison Cohen would not much heed them anyways, having used her position to rail against Griffith Park preservationists and the imperfect, but mostly sincere and committed, local business improvement district. I was unfortunately a party to both, having my reporting twisted with heavy editing to unfairly slam individuals among those two groups.

But here it is anyways, in full. The section relevant to the writing about the Gattos falls under the obligation to minimize harm in the process of reporting:

As it turns out, I don't need to call Cohen out. A reader did it brilliantly. To Cohen's credit, she received the criticism directly and then posted the letter to the comment space of the article. Nicely said, Ellen Barry:

I read the article about Mr. Gatto’s unsolved murder today and was saddened to see that the Ledger decided to invade the family’s privacy in their grief by airing dirty laundry about estrangement among his children.
Your paper need not stoop to National Enquirer levels to inform us about what is newsworthy: the fact that the murder remains unsolved. Even though the probate issues are publicly filed, it is none of our business that the family is grappling with this additional strain as they grieve their father’s loss. I don’t have any need to know what he thought of his daughter’s relationship, nor how much money he left, or its disposition. Shame on you for trying to “spice up” a story with little heft by adding in gossipy details about his family’s life. After all, none of the family members are suspects in the murder, and they are entitled to hash out their grievances privately. And shame on the family friend for gossiping as well. I can only imagine his widow’s distress. You owe her an apology. 
Ellen Barry
Silver Lake

Friday, November 4, 2016


A South Bay project that didn't pass muster with the City Planning Commission got approved anyways, with an odd web of donation money, some of it large sums moving through working class households. Those households' residents' own knowledge of the donations was scant, when asked by the LA Times' excellent diggers Emily Alpert-Reyes and David Zahniser (MASSIVE hat tip) on a round of door knocks.

Zahniser provided some of the story behind the story in this Oct. 31 KPCC AirTalk episode, a roundup of the ever-contentious topic of development in LA that also included The Reef, a downtown LA bohemoth. It's 15 minutes well worth the listen to get an overview of local planning and land use.

My favorite part of Emily and Dave's Times piece is the open (emphasis added):

No one is registered to vote at the run-down house on 223rd Street. The living room window has been broken for months. A grit-covered pickup sits in the dirt front yard with a flat tire. 
Yet dozens of donations to local politicians — totaling more than $40,000 — have come from four of the people who have lived there over the last eight years. 
Victor Blanco, a repairman originally from El Salvador, gave the most: 22 donations totaling $20,300 since 2008, according to contribution reports. More than half that money went to U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles) while she was pursuing local, state and federal office, according to contribution reports. 
Asked about those donations, Blanco could not explain why he gave Hahn so much money. 
“I do not remember,” he said, standing in the driveway of the home, located in West Carson. 
Blanco is among more than 100 campaign contributors with a direct or indirect connection to Samuel Leung, a Torrance-based developer who was lobbying public officials to approve a 352-unit apartment complex, a Times investigation has found. 
Those donors gave more than $600,000 to support Hahn, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other L.A.-area politicians between 2008 and 2015, as Leung was seeking city approval for the $72-million development in L.A.’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood, north of the Port of Los Angeles, The Times found. 
The fundraising effort is a case study in the myriad ways money can flow to City Hall when developers seek changes to local planning rules. The pattern of donations from unlikely sources, some of whom profess to have no knowledge of contributions made in their name, suggests an effort to bypass campaign finance laws designed to make political giving transparent to the public. 
At one critical point, Garcetti invoked a mayoral prerogative — which he has used only twice — to reduce the number of council votes required to approve the project. In several cases, elected officials received the money as they were poised to make key decisions about the development, known as Sea Breeze.

The district attorney will now investigate.

After covering planning and land use since 2010 and somewhat refereeing the LA development fight in freelancing for The Real Deal since July of this year, I am unfortunately not surprised by this story. I'm only surprised that somebody in another branch of government is actually doing something about it.

Monday, October 17, 2016


The City Council decided on Sept. 20 that it would sell a Boyle Heights non-profit the building in which it had been operating, for an undisclosed price. The property on 1st St. in the gentrification-resistant neighborhood sits just across the LA River from the Arts District, at the eastern edge of Downtown Los Angeles.

The non-profit, Self-Help Graphics & Art, had been leasing the property from the city.

What kind of community benefit does Self-Help provide in order to get discounted (free?) property in this market? What arrangement existed between Self-Help and Mayor Garcetti? Why wasn't the sale price shown in the council packet - the bundle of relevant documents attached to City Council meeting agendas - or spoken during the actual meeting? Is it typical for the city to give property to a non-profit it is already paying - with grant Department of Cultural Affairs money - to produce arts workshops and events? Most recently Self-Help was granted $17,940 for a series of workshops between mid-2015 and mid-2016. Contracts available in the city's database extend back to 2002, some with specific deliverables while, some, like a 2012 contract to "administrate visual arts" for $7900, are a bit more vague.

My request for the sale price of the building is pending.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


To have a healthy economy and a consistent tax base, a city needs respected companies to site within its borders, hiring and paying employees whose spending boosts the local economy. To do this, companies of course must expect reasonable policies, equal application of those policies, and affordable taxes. 

Leave it to the City of Los Angeles to overcharge marquee businesses whose names are valuable brands in validating LA as an important business center.

Marriott Hotels was overcharged nearly $900,000 in taxes, not counting interest, last year. The hotel chain, apart from itself being a major employer whose employees pay rents and mortgages in this high housing market, and make retail, restaurant, and gas station purchases to further fill city coffers, houses visitors to the city, who make the same purchases to boost retail receipts. 

Marriott filed a claim in November of last year and was only just approved for a refund on its transient occupancy tax, a percentage tax applied to the nightly room rate, on Sept. 27.

Tom's Shoes, which practices sustainable manufacturing and allows the environment- and labor-conscious to express their values with a "dollar vote", and keeps its headquarters in Del Rey just off north of Jefferson Blvd., was overcharged $221, 374.10 for the city's standard Business Tax, not counting interest. Tom's, too, had its refund approved Sept. 27. 

City documents did not reveal a deadline for the refunds.