Scout Troop’s Christmas Tree Lot Gets a Shock From DWP Fee Hike

Christmas-tree-lot-unloading-DSC_0115In Mission Hills, it’s an annual December tradition: Boy Scout Troop 104 opens a Christmas tree lot on Devonshire Street, the troop’s one big fundraiser to pay for the upcoming year’s camping trips and other activities, like volunteer work with senior citizens and the police department.

Local businesses are very supportive. Primestor, the company that owns the vacant lot just east of Sepulveda Blvd., donates the site. Andy Gump donates the fencing, portable toilets, a temporary power pole, overhead lights, and the labor to dig the holes for the posts from which the lights are suspended.

The parents of the scouts donate their time, a requirement of being in the troop. Everyone is assigned a schedule of mandatory three-hour shifts, and some put in extra hours. And, of course, the scouts volunteer at the tree lot, even the Cub Scouts.

Guess who doesn’t donate or volunteer.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Amanda Lovett, whose son Keith is a scout, is the treasurer of Troop 104. Every year for six years she has gone to the local DWP office and paid a $100 deposit, plus a $300 fee for connecting an overhead power line to the power pole that Andy Gump installed earlier, at no charge.

But this year, the DWP informed Amanda that the fee for connecting the temporary overhead line has been increased.

Guess how much.

It’s now $1,000.

LADWP’s newly hiked fee for “temporary overhead service of 200 amps or less” is posted on the utility’s website under “Construction Services.”

Of course, Boy Scout Troop 104 is not in the construction business. It’s a nonprofit that teaches kids the importance of service to others. This year the troop donated ten Christmas trees to MEND — Meet Each Need with Dignity — an organization in Pacoima that provides food, clothing and assistance to people living in poverty.

Keith showed a visitor a certificate of appreciation from MEND and talked about scouting’s emphasis on volunteer work. “Every Eagle Scout has to do an ‘Eagle project,’” he said, which involves a significant effort at “giving back” to the community.

None of that mattered to the DWP. The city-owned utility is an unregulated monopoly, merrily spending money and raising rates, and now taking the campfire marshmallows out of the mouths of Boy Scouts.

This month, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a new study of the DWP prepared by Navigant Consulting, Inc. It devotes a chapter to problems with the utility’s “governance structure,” reporting that while the DWP is overseen by the mayor, the City Council, the City Attorney and a five-member Board of Commissioners, “no single entity has enough insight into or authority over Department operations and finances to hold it fully accountable.”

A more plausible explanation is that they’re all in it together.

While you were busy getting ready for the holidays, you may have missed the Ratepayer Advocate, Fred Pickel, blessing the proposed five-year hike in water rates as “just and reasonable” a month after a consumer group called for him to be fired and Mayor Eric Garcetti responded by defending him during a radio interview.

You may have missed the Board of Commissioners voting to approve the water rate hikes, and Commission President Mel Levine declaring with relief that higher rates will protect the DWP’s bond rating. That signals Wall Street investors to keep loaning money to our city-owned utility, which already has more debt than its peers.

You may have missed reports earlier this year that LADWP salaries are as much as two and a half times the salaries of comparable jobs nationwide, and that most LADWP workers pay nothing for their health insurance.

You may have missed Mayor Garcetti and the City Council promising raises to city workers in 2017, vowing to hire 5,000 new employees, and throwing out the 2012 pension reforms that were supposed to achieve modest savings for taxpayers.

In Los Angeles, money grows on power poles.

Every year, LADWP transfers 8 percent of the power system’s gross revenues — hundreds of millions of dollars — to the city general fund, to be spent on expenses like salaries and pensions.

Next year, $56 of that money will have come from the extra $700 LADWP charged Boy Scout Troop 104 to run a wire from a nearby power pole to the Christmas tree lot.

Ebeneezer Scrooge would be impressed.

But the Grinch must be upset that he’s lost his job to a more experienced Christmas stealer.


Blacklisting the Boy Scouts

California judges can belong to the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the NAACP, La Raza, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Sierra Club, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the NRA, and even the North American Man/Boy Love Association. But thanks to the state’s radical Supreme Court, judges will soon be barred from participation in the venerable Boy Scouts of America. Why? Because the Boy Scouts promote, among other things, heterosexuality as a norm—a view shared by a majority of Americans. Effective next January, California state judges can no longer serve as scoutmasters, assistant scoutmasters, committee chairs, or in any other volunteer positions with the BSA that requires “membership” in the organization. Judges wishing to serve as adult leaders in the BSA will soon have to abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment. Legal challenges are certain.

The committee contends that its blacklisting of the BSA will “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence” in the impartiality of the judiciary. Not likely. This decision illustrates how out of touch (and intolerant) the legal establishment’s ruling elite has become. That the Boy Scouts—chartered by Congress in 1916—could be formally shunned in this manner should disturb all Americans who cherish freedom of association and a pluralistic society.

To ensure their fairness, impartiality, and integrity, California’s judges and judicial officers—the largest state judiciary in the nation, numbering more than 2,100 members—are subject to a code of ethics for their conduct on and off the bench. An 11-member Commission on Judicial Performance determines violations, and judges may be subject to discipline ranging from formal admonishment to removal from the bench. Canon 2C of the code states: “A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.” On January 21, the California Supreme Court voted unanimously to eliminate an exception to Canon 2C that had permitted judges to belong to a “nonprofit youth organization,” even if it otherwise fell within the scope of the prohibition. The change was clearly focused on the Boy Scouts, which bars adult leaders who are “open or avowed homosexuals.”

“Sexual orientation” was first added to Canon 2C’s list of protected characteristics—accompanied by the “nonprofit youth organization” exclusion, branded by some the Boy Scout loophole—in 1996. LGBT activist groups immediately began a campaign against the Scouts. The state Supreme Court declined to eliminate the exception as recently as 2003, which shows how much California’s political and cultural landscape has shifted over the past decade. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly recognized, in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, that the organization had the constitutional right to exclude certain people on free association and expression grounds.

Last year, in an effort to end the controversy regarding its stance on gays, the national Boy Scouts organization modified its policies. Now youths may participate in scouting regardless of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the BSA’s compromise merely signaled weakness. LGBT groups will only accept full capitulation, which the state Supreme Court’s action will hasten.

Canon 2 defines “invidious discrimination” as “arbitrary,” but by conflating the BSA’s longstanding membership policies with, say, a country club that excludes blacks, the court’s decision shows contempt for traditional views shared by most Americans. The canon’s premise is logically flawed: a judge can hold opinions, and even belong to organizations that share those opinions, without harboring animus or lacking impartiality toward litigants (or lawyers) who hold different opinions. An atheist judge is not necessarily biased against believers, and vice versa; a liberal judge is not necessarily biased against conservatives, and a tee-totaling judge not necessarily biased against drinkers, and so on. Being an adult leader in the Boy Scouts does not, in and of itself, make a judge biased against homosexuals. The court’s decision is the essence of intolerance—banishing dissent for the sake of conformity.

Since the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, more than 110 million young men have participated as members. The BSA currently has more than 2.6 million youth members and more than 1 million volunteer adult leaders. Eagle Scouts have landed on the moon (Neil Armstrong), served as president of the United States (Gerald Ford), and excelled as athletes (Henry Aaron), businessmen (J. Willard Marriott, Sam Walton), and filmmakers (Steven Spielberg). Norman Rockwell, who began his prolific career as an illustrator for the Boy Scouts’ handbooks and art director for Boy’s Life magazine, is one of America’s beloved artists. The Scouts do extraordinary work with inner-city kids, providing them with skills and a sense of structure, and instilling discipline. The BSA is one of the most successful youth organizations in history.

Blacklisting this iconic organization is vindictive, mean-spirited, and profoundly insulting to generations of Americans who have participated in scouting. Traditional moral beliefs cannot be arbitrarily banished from the public square, and judges cannot be denied their constitutional rights of free association in order to serve on the bench. This unwarranted rule change—a triumph of political correctness over liberty—brings dishonor to the California judiciary.