Thursday, August 14, 2008

How Los Angeles is really governed

Those who have toiled at City Hall or had extensive dealings with it, should realize the following:

First, the ideology guiding the governance of the City of Los Angeles is neo-liberalism, not New Deal liberalism, as some people imagine because most City officials are Democrats. This is exactly same neo-liberal approach which now prevails at the Federal and State levels. It also is shared by this country's two ruling political parties. As far as I can tell, everyone who holds office in Los Angeles or has even an outside chance of getting elected, holds the same outlook.

(To the extent that liberalism ever existed at the local level, it was in the 1930s when the City of LA built public housing.)

Neo-liberalism means, in theory and practice, tilting government to promote the private sector. This translates to increased use of regressive taxes (user fees, sales taxes, property taxes) to redistribute wealth and income upwards. It also means reduced regulation of goods and services, as well as lax enforcement of whatever codes remain. Building and Safety's performance in Los Angeles is really no difference than the FDA in Washington. Pay to play is the name of the game.

Neo-liberalism also means cronyism. In Washington the current favorites might be Blackwater and Halliburton, but will shift to other companies once Obama is likely elected. In Sacramento it is companies like DMJM, and in Los Angeles, it is Tutor-Saliba. It also entails enormous subsidies for certain insiders, like Eli Broad and Anshutz Entertainment.

Finally, neo-liberalism means spending an increasing amount of governmental revenue on spying, surveillance, and maintaining "law and order." At the Federal level, this means about 1,000 foreign military installations, a trillion dollar plus annual military budget, invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, as far as we know, intercepting every domestic phone call and email. At the State level it has meant pall-mall prison construction, the only part of State government which has expanded. At the City level it has meant continuous expansion of the LAPD, at the expense of other municipal services since the Bradley administration.

At all three levels of government, the latter component of neo-liberalism is sold through fear and scapegoating, usually of terrorism and various immigrant groups. For the most part these are just ruses to justify government policies and programs to promote inequality in wealth and income, increasing cronyism, increasing regressive taxes, reduced regulation and code enforcement, and increasing social and political control.

This is a grim description of governance in the United States, including Los Angeles, but I hope that realism can open up some eyes, at least to the ruses which are used to bamboozle many community activists. After all, the decline in the quality of life which we experience daily has everything to do with the way the City, State, and Federal Government are so poorly run. They are inextricably linked, and those concerned about small scams at City Hall might also consider the local consequences of spending $3 trillion on an energy war in Iraq or even shipping $65,000,000,000 in U.S. military hardware to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Kuwait.

Monday, August 11, 2008

How come LA's officials ask so little for their favors?

It is amazing how little the large developers have to pay to City of Los Angeles elected officials in order get enormous tax breaks and benefits. You would think they could at least model themselves after U.S. friendly third world dictators, like Indonesia's Sukarno, and ask for the standard kick back rate of 10 percent.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Anschutz Entertainment kicked in $19,000 to the Mayor's election campaign for a second term after they received $270,000,000 is tax breaks for the LA Live entertainment complex. Not too away, at the north end of the downtown, a $10,000 contribution to the Mayor from the Related Companies was not a bad investment for a $120,000,000 City subsidy to Eli Broad's pet Grand Avenue project.

There is a unstated moral to this story, however. The next time someone complains that Los Angeles is in financial straights because of employee salaries, you might call their attention to the details below. These subsidies, by the way, follow on the heels of similar subsidies under previous Mayors and City Councils to commercial projects like Hollywood and Highland, which received about $70,000,000.

Villaraigosa raises $1.6 million for 2009 reelection campaign

By Phil Wallon and David Zahneiser, Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2008,0,6752447.stor

By Phil Willon and David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa raised $1.6 million for his 2009 reelection campaign in the first half of the year, a sizable bundle of cash in a race where, so far, the first-term mayor faces no well-funded challengers.

Villaraigosa raised the vast majority of the money during a fundraising tear in June, when he held more than a dozen events and hopscotched across the country, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday with the city Ethics Commission.

Thousands of dollars rolled in from Hollywood's glitterati, including director Steven Spielberg and singer Barbra Streisand, as well as from companies and real estate firms doing business with the city. A little more than $370,000 in contributions came from outside California.

Villaraigosa's campaign manager, Ace Smith, called the donations an affirmation of the mayor's vision for the city, which includes hiring 1,000 police officers and reforming the
Los Angeles Unified School District.

"People are supporting Antonio Villaraigosa because he's a person who, as mayor, is out there and willing to take some risks," Smith said. "He's willing to take on some of the challenges that have sat dormant for a long, long time."

Former Mayor James K. Hahn had raised almost the same amount -- $1.56 million -- at the same point in his 2005 reelection campaign, although he started fundraising much earlier. Villaraigosa went on to unseat Hahn in that race.

Villaraigosa's campaign war chest has the potential to scare off would-be competitors in next spring's mayoral election. Still unclear is whether he will face a challenge from billionaire shopping mall developer Rick Caruso.

Caruso said he is "seriously considering" challenging Villaraigosa and will make his final decision by early fall.

"I think it's more of a question of when, not if," said Caruso, a prolific Republican fundraiser and creator of the Grove shopping mall in the
Fairfax district. "The question is: Is this the right time, or some time down the road?"

Villaraigosa's biggest opponent so far is Walter Moore, a lawyer from
Westchester, who finished sixth in the 2005 mayoral race.

Moore, a regular on local talk radio, has raised slightly more than $113,000 since January 2007 and had $7,999 in cash on hand as of June 30, records show.

By comparison, Villaraigosa has $1.4 million in cash on hand.

"It's frustrating because the career politicians can raise that much in 15 minutes at one of their cocktail fundraisers,"
Moore said.

Cal State Fullerton professor Raphael Sonenshein, an expert on
L.A. government and politics, said Villaraigosa finds himself on solid political ground after having weathered last year's scandal over the romantic affair that broke up his marriage.

"The issue that brought him a lot of trouble is essentially personal," he said. "And those things have a limited shelf life."

For Villaraigosa, a major source of funds was the real estate industry, including companies that have sought taxpayer subsidies or permission to build projects that require exemptions from the city's limits on development. In some cases, real estate companies provided money through their employees and family members, including at least:

* $19,000 from executives and employees of Anschutz Entertainment Group.
AEG received up to $270 million in financial help from the city to build LA Live, a complex in downtown Los Angeles that is slated to include a 54-story hotel.

* $10,000 from executives with the Related Cos., which is seeking to build the Grand Avenue project with more than $120 million in taxpayer assistance.

* $8,000 from members of the Delijani family, which owns several key properties on Broadway in downtown
Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Villaraigosa kicked off the "Bringing Back Broadway" initiative, which would provide new public improvements and possibly a new city-funded parking garage for local businesses.

The entertainment industry provided a substantial boost to Villaraigosa's campaign, with $1,000 apiece coming from directors Spielberg, Streisand and Rob Reiner. Employees of the
William Morris Agency gave nearly $40,000 to the mayor's reelection bid, while executives at Walt Disney Co. provided $18,000.

In other municipal races, Councilman Jack Weiss led the trio of candidates seeking to become the next city attorney, raising $1.1 million so far. By comparison, lawyer Carmen "Nuch" Trutanich had raised roughly $440,000 and Deputy City Atty. Michael Amerian had collected more than $183,000.