A Better City Council . . . And Bigger

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Diagnosing the distempers of the city hall system is easy. (Examples from my own posts are here and more recently here.) Reform is more elusive.

Would Adding More Politicians to the City Council Help Los Angeles?

L.A. City Hall | Photo: Kansas Sebastian/Flickr/Creative Commons License
I know what you're thinking: The last thing we need is more politicians. You might say, even if our elected officials didn't get us into this fiscal mess, they haven't done enough to get us out. Los Angeles needs money; it has too many expenses for its revenue. We've cut services for city residents and pay for city workers.

So why on earth should we hire more politicians? Should we consider expanding the size of our fifteen-person city council? A recent Los Angeles Times Editorial says yes.

Currently there are almost four million people living in Los Angeles, which means each city council person represents approximately 267,000 people. In the 1920s, when the size of the city council increased from 9 to 15 members, L.A.'s population was 576,000, less than the size of two of today's 15 city council districts. Back then each city council person represented about 38,000 people; today each represent 15 times more people.

The Way Ahead for Transit, Mixed-Use Development Isn't Clear

No Expo? Despite grumbling from impatient riders, the Expo Line from downtown to Culver City hasn't yet been given a start date. Behind the fog of assurances from Metro and speculation from everyone else is a stark fact: trains on the Blue and Expo lines are supposed to run minutes apart on the same track from the 7th Street/Flower Street station to Flower and Washington Boulevard, where the two lines diverge.

Switching trains on the common line and a tight turn for Blue Line trains at Flower and Washington create a substantial risk of collision. And Metro isn't sure that all the technical problems have been solved.

The City of Bell: The Never-Ending Scandal

From left: Former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former council member Luis Artiga, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia and former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo in L.A. Superior Court in February  2011. | IRFAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Just when you thought the tales of bad behavior coming out of the city of Bell had come to an end, the scandals just keep on coming. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the state's political watchdog, is now investigating incidents involving former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Councilman Luis Artiga.

The FPPC is smartly focusing its efforts on significant violations of the Political Reform Act. With limited resources the FPPC is initiating investigations and putting resources towards the larger potential violations of the act that could truly threaten the integrity of the political and electoral processes.

Villaraigosa Vanishes . . . Or Does He?

Which Way L.A.? quizzed Mayor Villaraigosa yesterday (3/6/12) along with David Abel (publisher of the Planning Report) and Jim Newton (L.A. Times political columnist). Warren Olney, as always, moderated with a veteran reporter's skill and with the insight of a long-time Angeleño.

Mayor Villaraigosa had seemed to fade from view in recent months while candidates for his job ramped up their campaigns and the city council roiled with redistricting dissention. In fact, fading from L.A. has seemed to be the mayor's MO since early in his second term.

More Latino Representation in Compton?

Last week the city of Compton agreed to put a measure on the ballot, which would institute voting by district in city council races. Currently, Compton's city council members are elected based on at-large city-wide voting.

The decision came in reaction to criticisms that Latinos are massively underrepresented in city government. Critics of the current system filed a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act, contending that Latinos must have a larger voice in local government. Specifically, proponents of the lawsuit argue that the current at-large elections dilute Latino voting power, and that if elections occur on a district basis, there will be at least one majority-Latino district.

Gelb Forum Looks at Community, Faith, and Action

On Sunday, I sat in on the inaugural Gelb Forum, sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, the University Religious Conference at UCLA, and the family of Mae and Morris Gelb. The gathering was co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

Before the public part of the forum, some of the participants held a roundtable discussion in a conference room at Royce Hall. The participants (myself excepted) represented an astonishingly accomplished group of community leaders and senior members of faith-based organizations who are also activists, organizers, and academics with roots in the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions. The topics we discussed (before an audience of about 40 invited guests) were religion, scholarship, and activism. The jumping off point was Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America, a new book by Professor Jeff Stout of Princeton University.

Dear New Residents of L.A.: Please Participate

Voter registration at a Los Angeles naturalization ceremony in 2008 | Photo: Korean Resource Center 민족학교/Flickr/Creative Commons License

On Wednesday there was a naturalization ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, so here's a big welcome to our city! The city of traffic jams, plastic people, air pollution and drive-thru cafes. What's not to love? In the words of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," "I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light."

But Los Angeles is more than Hollywood and a perceived lack of substance. It is a city on the edge, literally. As Mike Davis wrote in Ecology of Fear, "The entire world seems to be rooting for Los Angeles to slide into the Pacific or be swallowed by the San Andreas fault." To live in Los Angeles is to be somewhere and someplace, and be acutely aware of fragility.

Film Crews Regain Right to Park Abut Downtown's Green Bike Lanes [Updated]

Film crew with makeshift sign reading Bike Lane Closed I Photo: waltarrrrr/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This story has been corrected. See below for details.

Those bright green bike lanes meant to increase safety for cyclists are a bright red flag for FilmL.A., the liaison between the city of Los Angeles and the film industry. FilmL.A. is now scrambling to prevent Main Street, one block over, from turning into Spring Street -- less film-friendly and inflexible.

The L.A. Department of Transportation's new bike lanes, with its federally mandated shade of green, has kept the almost two miles of historic blocks from being "Any City, USA" for movies, television and commercials, as first reported in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.

Additionally, the bike lane beget a new rule on Spring: no production parking between the green lane and curb, even though it's a parking lane (whether trucks can fit without encroaching on the bike lane is a different issue). "They've agreed to go back to the way things were prior to painting of the green bike lanes," explained FilmL.A.'s Todd Lindgren of the city's reversal in policy. "It does not close the bike lane; in most circumstances the bike lanes will be kept open." Productions will have to be permitted to close a lane.

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