Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Save our City through a labor-neighbor alliance

The account of the Bastille Day SLAP protest event in the LA Times, was a humorous put down. Its focus was the odd-balls among the 150-200 people who Ron Kaye, former Daily News editor, mobilized for the event.

Nevertheless, the article could not fully dismiss the positive impulses of most of those who attended the Save our City rally. They are definitely pushing in the right direction, although the organizers should not imply that city employees are part of the problem. Civil servants should not be confused with the city's decision makers or municipal unions. The staff and some of the officers or the latter are, for the most part, now allied with elected officials, not LA residents. This situation, however, has been different and could change.

This broad brush critique of city employees is also wrong because there is a natural alliance between the providers and consumers of municipal services. This labor-neighbor alliance should be cultivated, and the Daily News historically made a tactical mistake by blaming city employees for the unfortunate policies and budget priorities of elected officials and high level departmental managers.

The Daily News, and now SLAP, also overlook the possibility that municipal unions could again copy the model provided by the UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles). This teachers union takes bold stands on LAUSD education policy and budget issues. It demonstrates that this union is an advocate for the city’s residents, not a partner with Admiral Brewer, the School Board, and the business interests supporting them (e.g. the Broad Foundation) in order to shape education policies, programs, and the LAUSD’s massive school construction and real estate projects.

If this labor-neighbor approach were emulated at the municipal level, then city employees would become the principled and principal allies of Los Angeles residents.

Furthermore, city employees are not the cause of City Hall’s annual budget crisis and resulting service cuts responsible for LA’s shoddy infrastructure. That blame leads straight to elected officials, particularly Antonio Villaraigosa and Jack Weiss. They, and their colleagues, consistently make the LAPD their highest budget priority, a perfect bookend to their other priority, lax permit reviews combined with tax and fee breaks for major real estate projects.

Stated another way, local officials have been dealt a bad hand (reduced money from the State of California and the Federal Government resulting from tax breaks, and aggressive programs, respectively, for prison construction and foreign wars) which they play poorly. Cannibalizing scarce resources to hire still more cops, despite long-term declines in crime rates, only makes traffic congestion, air and water pollution, spotty code enforcement, and other inadequate municipal services, worse.

So, let’s help develop a labor-neighbor alliance for city government which parallels the one which exists for the LAUSD students, parents, and the UTLA.


http://www.latimes.com/news/local/politics/cal/la-me-protest15-2008jul15,0,6657228.story

From the Los Angeles Times

Protesters gear up to 'save' Los Angeles

About 100 neighborhood activists show up at City Hall to demand better public schools, more powerful neighborhood councils, stronger ethics laws and pay cuts for politicians.

By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2008

They were mad at Home Depot. They were mad about the Southwest Museum. They were mad at the Department of Water and Power and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

And on Monday, more than 100 neighborhood activists showed up at City Hall to vent that anger, the first major effort by the "Saving Los Angeles Project," conceived in large part by Ron Kaye, former editor of Los Angeles Daily News.

The protest fell on Bastille Day, which marks the day in 1789 that the French stormed the Bastille prison and launched the French Revolution. Still, Monday's festival atmosphere was a little bit L.A.-palooza, with perennial City Hall gadfly Zuma Dogg in a sombrero, Councilman Dennis Zine carrying a huge shield with the letter Z on it and parent activist and writer Sandra Tsing Loh dressed somewhat like the Statue of Liberty as she criticized LAUSD bureaucracy.

"There are sort of little fires coming off my crown to show how angry I am," Loh told the crowd.

Relying on talk radio and his Internet blog, Kaye has been working to assemble a movement for weeks, putting together a tentative series of demands that include better public schools, more powerful neighborhood councils, stronger ethics laws and a 25% cut in pay for politicians and their aides.

Kaye said he is not interested in running for office but instead wants to end a "culture of corruption" that he said has ensnared the city's political leaders.

"They do the bidding of narrow interests -- developers, contractors, public employee unions and most of all, the whole political apparatus: the lobbyists, the political operatives, the PR people," said Kaye, standing a few feet from his longtime friend and former co-worker Doug Dowie, a former public relations executive who was convicted on charges involving the overbilling of the city by more than $500,000.

Dowie, who has filed an appeal of his conviction, said he understands if the scandal involving him and his former employer, Fleishman-Hillard Inc., played a role in some of the frustration residents feel toward city government. The firm was accused by City Controller Laura Chick of overbilling the city by $4.2 million four years ago.

Meanwhile, Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said he was encouraged that participants mentioned schools and public safety. "It's good to see so many people supporting the centerpiece of the mayor's agenda," said Szabo.

Many protesters were upset with development issues, such as a planned Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga, a 229-home project proposed for the Verdugo Hills Golf Course and a 1,950-home subdivision being reviewed in San Pedro. One woman carried a sign that read "Proud to Be a NIMBY."

The rally drew a few political leaders, including Chick and DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras. As Patsaouras listened to the speakers, a Calabasas resident approached another DWP official to demand that the utility stop putting fluoride in its water.

The event was also attended by Steve Barr, chief executive of the charter school group Green Dot, who urged the crowd to take the movement to some of the neighborhoods that have the greatest need, such as Watts and South Los Angeles.

Some took a philosophical view of the event, which combined political rhetoric with street theater.

"They have some wacky people, and they have some good, hard-working people," said James Rojas, who heads the Latino Urban Forum, as he watched the protesters. "That's the way democracy is. You take the good with the bad."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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