NFL urges cities to act quickly if they hope to keep teams from moving to L.A.

As reported by the Orange County Register:

PHOENIX – With the NFL gearing up for the possibility of one or more franchises declaring by the league’s October meetings their intention to relocate to Los Angeles, NFL officials are cautioning officials in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland that any pitches to keep their teams need to be made this year and sooner rather than later.

While the league’s annual window for teams to announce their intention to relocate remains Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, NFL officials are working on a number of fronts to enable the league to be ready for a vote months earlier should the Rams, Raiders or Chargers commit to moving out their current markets.

“We’re setting all this up to go earlier than that and we’ve told the home markets they ought not to depend on that Jan. 1,” NFL senior vice president Eric Grubman said in wide-ranging, nearly hour-long interview. “That they ought to go faster than that. We may feel like the right thing to do is to make that decision earlier so that everybody knows where they stand.”

Click here to read the full article

Follow the Big Money as it Ripples Through L.A.

Los Angeles’ major daily newspapers this weekend each had separate stories that reflected big money in Los Angeles and, in a way, the two stories are connected.

The Los Angeles Times reported than many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were spending big bucks for Los Angeles area real estate. We’re talking on the high end about $70 million for a custom mansion in Beverly Hills. One realtor said the techies are buying second, third or fourth homes on the West Side of Los Angeles and the beach communities in the $2 to $5 million range.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported on the top salaries of employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The article focused on the dismissed Superintendent John Deasy and his $440,000 paycheck. Of note, number five on the list was an elementary teacher who took in $235,000, much of it in unexplained “back pay.” The top ten annual salaries were at $200,000 and above.

Infusion of high tech money into the real estate market means increased property taxes for Los Angeles County. It also makes you think of the trouble long time residents would be in with their property taxes if the pre-Prop 13 property tax system were in place. Dramatic increases in property sales prices would ripple through the community increasing property valuations and thus taxes for all.

The top dollars for educators comes with an additional price tag. Teachers’ union officials, currently in tough negotiations with the LAUSD over pay increases, will use the information about top administrators’ salaries in their quest for more money. High pay for administrators and wage increases for teachers will lead to larger pension obligations for the district.

Will the buying splurge and increased housing payments raise enough tax revenue for the schools to offset the teacher salary demands and increased pension obligations? It’s all connected. My suspicion is the school demands for money will still fall short of the new revenue so the debate over more taxes will continue.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Deceptive Tactics Plague L.A. Special Election and NFL Bid

The campaigns for the Senate District 7 special election and building a Los Angeles area football stadium are two rough and tumble affairs that have something in common – the need to throw a penalty flag on deceptive plays in the campaigns.

Much attention has been paid to the disingenuous nature of mailings by the Asian American Business PAC supporting the candidacy of withdrawn Republican candidate Michaela Hertle funded by the public employee unions who hope to cripple the chances of Democrat Steve Glazer who is willing to take on the unions.

Judy Lloyd commented on the mailings sent to Republicans on this site. Many others have also commented as well. A couple of examples: Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association writing in FlashReport that the funding of the mailers reveals the “powerful public sector labor organizations will stop at nothing to advance their narrow interests”; Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee wondering if the plan will backfire because of all the heavy media attention.

The state Republican Party is suing over the use of a logo on the mailer that the lawsuit says is representative of the party, which does not endorse the mailing.

Maybe the court will throw a flag with the lawsuit. But the use of the logo is a narrow issue related to the misinformation campaign. The big penalty comes if the voters show their contempt for these shenanigans by ignoring the mailers and voting for the candidates who are still in the race.

In Los Angeles, the AEG corporation, which has the rights to build a downtown Los Angeles football stadium (if they can secure an NFL team), tried to undercut a leading rival who planned to develop the old Hollywood Park racetrack site.

AEG paid for a couple of studies that claimed the site was a hazard because it was on the approach to the Los Angeles International Airport—LAX. According to former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, a terrorist attack could bring down a plane on a stadium full of people. If that wasn’t enough, the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosenker, produced a second study for AEG that warned of possible airplane debris falling from the sky onto the football players and fans.

The studies’ warnings were rejected or simply laughed off by other experts. I suppose accidents could happen anywhere airplanes land but I’m not aware of one horse injured by falling debris from the sky in Hollywood Park’s 75 years of horse racing.

It appears AEG threw the penalty flag on itself. With no NFL team lined up, other venues advancing forward, and the effort to scare the community with the studies falling flat, AEG announced it was not going to keep its expiring option alive on the downtown stadium.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

By Ed Ring, executive director, California Policy Center

“Our demands, they’re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing?”
 – Alex Caputo Pearl, President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes – tough to do when you’re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller’s public pay website you will get the impression they aren’t making much. The summary page for LAUSD shows “average wages” of $40,506 per year and employer paid “average retirement and health” benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These “averages” include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the “Raw Export” tab of the state controller’s website yields more comprehensive information.

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year – based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded “base pay” is 10% or more less than the stated “minimum pay for position” for that record – a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and 180 days per year (ref. UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

Properly estimating how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires at least two important additional calculations, (1) normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California’s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don’t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works 12 weeks less per year than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher’s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

“Eight years of nothing.” Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the CalSTRS website, here’s what the state contributes:

“The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program. Under the new funding plan, the state’s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013–14 to 6.328 percent beginning July 1, 2016. The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.”

Sticking with current contributions – 3.041 percent plus 2.5 percent, based on “member earnings” referring to “direct pay,” that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make – using real world equivalents – $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller’s office:  LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx (10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is, during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45 percent of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to lower the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is officially recognized at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to “left wing” political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen by managers who rampage about the entire planet demanding annual yields north of 7.0 percent per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit – antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance your compensation and defend your pensions as they are – you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you’ve had “eight years of nothing.”

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Assembly Democrats Want Real Estate Fees, Tax Credits for Affordable Housing

As reported by KQED:

The leader of the state Assembly is unveiling an ambitious affordable housing proposal, one that could pump more than $600 million a year into  development at the local level.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was joined Wednesday afternoon by a wide range of prominent Democrats in Los Angeles, including state Treasurer John Chiang and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, to announce her plan. At its center: A proposal to institute a new transfer fee on real estate transactions, one Atkins’ staff characterizes as small; and expanding legislation proposed by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to increase the tax credit that real estate developers can claim when they build affordable housing.

“The bottom line is that every Californian deserves a stable, safe place to live,” Atkins said.

Click here to read the full story

Why Does Nobody Want to Vote in L.A.?

It seems Los Angeles County is testing the old philosophical question: What if they gave an election and nobody came? The most populous county in the state had the lowest percentage turnout in last November’s election.

While 42 percent of state voters turned out for the general election, Los Angeles County turnout was only 31 percent. The last mayoral city election in Los Angeles saw a turnout of a mere 23 percent.

The California Senate and Assembly election committees are chaired, respectively, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Culver City. The chairs called a joint oversight committee hearing on Feb. 20 to look for the reasons and solutions of the extremely low turnout in Los Angeles County. YouTube here.

The answer just might be a feeling of powerlessness among voters.

Loyola Law professor Jessica Levinson told the committee the low turnout in Los Angeles elections could be a case of voter apathy. Los Angeles is not a political town, she said. Everyone knows when the Super Bowl and the Oscars occur, but they don’t know when an election happens.

Many suggestions were made at the hearing on why there was a low voter turnout:

  • Voters believe their vote doesn’t matter;
  • The size of the county takes away the personalization of politics;
  • Lack of civic education in the schools;
  • Frequency of elections;
  • Lack of an interesting ballot;
  • Demographics in which the large minority populations which make up much of Los Angeles County’s potential voters have a history of not voting.

Major obstacles

All those items contribute to the low voter turnout. But are there really major obstacles to prevent voters from coming out if they cared to?

Some of those testifying to the committee seemed to think so. Common Cause’s Kathay Feng said the progressives who set up the rules for stand-alone local elections not only wanted a focus on local government, but they were also racist. They didn’t want certain people to vote and they were successful by setting up elections in off years.

Feng, who serves on the committee to move the Los Angeles city elections to coincide with national elections, a measure which will appear on the city ballot in March, said the convenience to the voters of combining elections will bump up the voting totals by as much as a third.

Still, Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State, Los Angeles, may have touched on the reason citizens don’t engage in local elections. He argued that people believe the only election that really leads to change is the presidential election.

If that is so, then many of the suggestions made to increase the vote will probably only do so on the margins.

Change agents

Even if voting is made as convenient as possible — as Jessica Levinson suggested the time might come when everyone can simply vote by pressing some button on their iPhone — an important question remains: Do voters think those votes for local candidates create change?

Do citizens think they have the power through their votes to alter the direction of government? Or do they believe the institutions are so controlled and manipulated by insiders that voting is pointless?

There were higher turnouts in the past when it was arguably more inconvenient to vote.

The key to bringing voters to the polls, rather than constantly devising new systems to make it easier to vote, is for the voters to see themselves as important participants in governing.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Report: CA Remains “Judicial Hellhole”

California is home to innovation, from advances in the movie industry to the development of the iPad. But not all innovations here are beneficial, and some of the “innovations” of California’s lawyers are nothing but attempts to get large settlements or win large verdicts.

Those innovations are one reason why California was yet again named one of the worst “Judicial Hellholes” in the nation. We’ve all heard about the crazy lawsuits against food manufacturers that are filed here in California, such as lawsuits about a footlong Subway sandwich not measuring exactly one foot. But the Judicial Hellholes report also highlights an especially troubling trend: contingency-fee lawyers prospecting on the backs of taxpayers by using “public nuisance” lawsuits to sue entire industries looking of a big payday.

For years now, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has been watching the progress of a lawsuit against paint manufacturers who in the early 1900s manufactured paint with lead-based pigments, a product specified for use on government buildings and repeatedly endorsed by federal, state, and local governments until the mid-1970s. In this case, the plaintiffs’ attorneys – who are working on a contingency fee and have profit, not public health as a motive – have creatively alleged that paint manufacturers violated the state’s public nuisance laws, creating a much lower bar for liability and thus a much easier way to make money.

Unfortunately, the judge in this case bought this absurd argument hook, line and sinker, and awarded $1.15 billion to the plaintiffs – of which 17 percent will go to the contingency fee lawyers who took this case on – nearly $200 million. And while the lawyers are laughing all the way to the bank, California’s homeowners will suffer the consequences of this decision. That’s because the decision labels all homes built before 1981 with lead paint inside them in the ten plaintiff cities and counties as “public nuisances,” – a decision that could “precipitate the worst plunge in California home values since the housing crash of 2007,” according to Giuseppe Veneziano, president of the Los Angeles County Boards of Real Estate.

There may be even more far-reaching effects. The judge’s decision in this case requires inspectors to look for evidence of lead paint in pre-1981 homes, forcing occupants to vacate their homes and relocate until safety is restored to the satisfaction of authorities. This ruling will affect 2.6 million homes in Los Angeles County alone, and an estimated 5 million homes statewide.  How long will it take to inspect all those homes? What will the effect be on the value of those homes until inspection and abatement is complete? Will there be a lasting effect on home values even after abatement takes place? These questions remain unanswered but the results could be catastrophic for California homeowners, as well as the local governments that rely on property taxes to provide services.

But those are just minor details to lawyers looking for a payday. In fact the windfall victory has encouraged other lawyers to try to cash in, too. Contingency fee lawyers have convinced two counties in California (Orange and Santa Clara) and Cook County in Illinois to sue the pharmaceutical industry using the same “public nuisance” argument regarding the use of opioid-based drugs.

These lawsuits are textbook examples of one of the biggest problems facing our lawsuit system – it mainly serves the interests of lawyers rather than ordinary people. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s up to all of us to take a stand against this abuse of our courts. We need to challenge our elected leaders to take a stand against these brazen attempts to get wealthy through lawsuits. After all, our court should be used to make people whole – not rich.

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

Tom Scott is Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

Taking On The Minimum-Wage Debate in L.A.

The national debate over minimum-wage increases will take center stage in Los Angeles because two efforts to raise the minimum wage face staunch opposition from the business community.

The Los Angeles Business Federation, known as BizFed, went on the offensive last week, coming out strongly against both minimum-wage proposals and the way the City Council is going about reviewing the consequences of a minimum-wage increase.

Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to see the minimum wage increased to $13.25 an hour; while advocates and some council members say that’s not enough, the minimum wage should go up to $15.25 per hour.

BizFed doesn’t think the discussion should be a competition on which higher minimum wage proposal takes effect, but whether there should be an increase at all at a time the state is raising the minimum wage — to $9 an hour in 2014 from $8; and to $10 in 2016.

BizFed made its argument against the minimum-wage increase as a way to deal with the tide of poverty that is washing over Los Angeles. Said MC Townsend, president and CEO of the Regional Black Chamber of Commerce of San Fernando Valley and chair of BizFed, “We share Mayor Garcetti’s strong commitment to reducing poverty, and that is best achieved by creating good paying middle class jobs that can actually lift individuals and families out of poverty.”

Jobs lost

BizFed leaders said minimum wage increases could cost jobs; something the city cannot afford.

While Los Angeles gained 1 million new residents over the last three decades, it lost about 165,000 jobs.

In an effort to convince the City Council to understand the effects of a minimum wage increase on the job market, BizFed has raised issues dealing with the proposals’ enforcement mechanisms, teenage workers looking for entry jobs, and that neighboring cities maintaining a lower minimum wage will draw jobs from L.A.

Convincing the mayor and council to stop a race to establish a higher and even higher minimum wage will not be an easy task. The Los Angeles City Council already approved a $15.37 minimum wage plan for hotel workers.

As I’ve written before, the council ignored a review to its hotel wage proposal – even when it asked for it:

When the Los Angeles City Council passed the minimum wage for hotel workers, economist Christopher Thornberg opined in the Los Angeles Times, after studying the matter for the council, that the results of his study ‘strongly suggest that such a steep increase in the minimum wage could result in a sharp decline in the number of jobs in the hotel industry.’

“More troubling was Thornberg’s assertion that the council didn’t bother to look at his findings. Thornberg wrote, ‘But the City Council never seemed interested in really examining the potential economic consequences of the ordinance. We got our instructions about what questions to address just two weeks before the vote, and we were surprised to learn that the council intended to vote on the day after we turned in our final analysis, which suggests none of the members spent time looking at our findings.’” 

There seem to be similar goings-on with the new debate over raising the minimum wage.

Questionable study

Mayor Garcetti used the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to study and then speak up for his minimum-wage proposal. Now, city officials wants to hire the same group to study its proposal instead of reaching out for new, independent researchers.

Apparently, city bureaucrats and some council members are not interested in second opinions, especially ones they might not agree with, as was the case with the analysis of the hotel minimum-wage proposal.

The business community has objected to this arrangement. BizFed president Tracy Rafter said the organization was “calling for a truly independent analysis of these proposals that will give policymakers credible, unbiased information to make decisions moving forward. It’s absurd for the city of Los Angeles to spend taxpayer dollars contracting U.C. Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to tell them what they’ve already told them previously, especially when that organization has been helping advocate for the mayor’s proposal.”

With a unified effort from the business community, perhaps this time the City Council will at least listen to business concerns.

Originally published on

Berkeley Minimum Wage Hike Study Ignores Key Factor

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal for a $13.25 citywide minimum wage hit a speed bump last week when two city councilmen — Mitch O’Farrell and Felipe Fuentes — insisted on an independent analysis of his plan.

They specifically objected to the group of researchers originally chosen to conduct that analysis, from a labor union-aligned research outfit at the University of California-Berkeley, due to concerns that their final product wouldn’t be sufficiently independent.

Are these concerns justified? Berkeley professor Michael Reich, who has accompanied the mayor on pitch meetings for the proposed wage hike, doesn’t think so.

Reich and his co-authors have been busy writing various reports on California minimum wage increases. In 2014, for instance, they released four separate reports on proposed city minimum wage increases in the state — in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland — and another report on a proposed statewide wage increase.

The geographies and populations studied varied dramatically, as did the minimum wage policies proposed: From $11.50 an hour in San Diego up to $15 an hour in San Francisco. And in every instance, the conclusion that Reich and his team produced was the same: Substantial loss of entry-level jobs is unlikely to occur following a minimum wage increase. (This consequence was apparently so remote in San Diego that it wasn’t even worth mentioning in the report.)

This kind of unanimity on the question of job loss and the minimum wage is highly unusual, to say the least: The issue has been studied exhaustively over the past two decades, and according to a summary of all these studies by economists at the University of California-Irvine and the Federal Reserve Board, a majority of the research points to job losses following a wage hike.

Policymakers curious how Reich and his team consistently reach a conclusion at odds with this economic consensus should read the fine print. In a seven-page document released last year explaining how they estimated the impact of citywide minimum wage increases, they offered this disclaimer: “We do not make any adjustments for potential positive or negative changes in employment due to the minimum wage increase.”

Got that? The reason why this team from UC-Berkeley consistently finds no impact on employment from a higher minimum wage is that they assume at the outset it doesn’t exist.

You could have all sorts of fun evaluating public policies following this approach. For starters, you might study the increased revenue from a new 50 percent tax on all new car purchases in Los Angeles — and assume at the outset that higher taxes won’t affect consumers’ purchasing decisions. Or perhaps you could study the ramifications of a $20 per-car toll on the Golden Gate Bridge — and assume from the start that higher tolls won’t impact driving habits. In both cases, you’re guaranteed to succeed!

Of course, if the assumptions are unjustified — if higher taxes on cars really would reduce purchases, for instance, and if a higher minimum wage really could hurt job growth — then this approach starts to run in to trouble.

It’s even more problematic in the case of Reich’s team at UC-Berkeley because the backgrounds of these researchers suggest they have more than the data in mind. Ken Jacobs, for instance, who was a co-author on all four of the city minimum wage studies, was formerly employed as co-director of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. Today, he oversees the Center for Labor Research and Education, which is supported by many of the same unions pushing for a higher minimum wage. Another co-author of these papers, Annette Bernhardt, made the leap to Berkeley from the National Employment Law Project , which boasts of “coordinating the campaign to lift the federal minimum wage to more than $10 per hour.”

The least that the City Council can do is commission a report whose independence is not in doubt. With an average 30 percent of Los Angeles’ job-seeking youth failing at finding a job, it’s crucial that any additional barriers to employment associated with a higher minimum wage be seriously examined rather than ignored as if they didn’t exist.

Biased LA Times Has Trouble Connecting the Dots

GUEST COMMENTARY – In a truly ironic twist, we just had Times columnist George Skelton (who covers Sacramento) and departing Times columnist Jim Newton (who covered many local issues) give, respectively, their recommended fixes for our state and city/county governments.

Which would all be well and good if the problems they now decry hadn’t occurred on their watch, and in large part because of their fixed, intransigent “liberal” bias.  And while Skelton and Newton probably consider themselves part of the self-righteous answer to our problems, perhaps a healthy dose of humble pie would be a good idea for them because they helped cause our state and local messes.

After all, those two are the ones who kept adhering to policies that ultimately led to a one-party, inbred system that enriched a few while proclaiming to help the little guy … while a continuing efflux of generational Californians who built this state finally threw up their hands, and either withdrew from civic life or just fled the state into one of the saner states in our nation.

Which means that the rest of us still living here are either too stupid or stubborn to conclude we’re beyond repair, or we have more courage and integrity than Skelton or Newton with respect to serious confronting … and I mean CONFRONTING … the California problems that threaten to spread like a cancer to the rest of the nation:

1) Perhaps not all Democrats, but THIS group of Democrats running Sacramento and Downtown LA are the puppets of public sector unions–particularly educational unions–that don’t give a rip about students, taxpayers and families … but unions who make damn sure they’ve got the self-serving volunteers and money to elect their personal favorites. (Photo.)

Governor Brown’s attempts to limit-set the state’s educational and other unions when he “temporarily” raised taxes to balance the budget?  Quietly being placed aside as talk of permanent tax hikes get louder, and dying the sure death that former Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed reforms did when he first became governor, and when he thought he had a voter mandate to reform Sacramento …

… and before “Benedict Arnold” Schwarzenegger decided if you can’t beat ’em, then join ’em.  So now Skelton says that Brown needs to stand up to the UC Regents and insatiable public sector unions pushing an unsustainable public pension our state can afford, and Newton recommends containing the influence of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Perhaps Skelton should follow Newton’s path and now depart from the biased Times, because neither really backed Schwarzenegger when it counted, and neither really backed Antonio Villaraigosa when he attacked the UTLA. Villaraigosa deservedly lost a lot of voter respect by the end of his mayoral term, but on education he showed some serious guts–and as with Schwarzenegger, he had wholly insufficient support from the press.

A press that, as with Skelton and Newton, would do well to learn how to Connect-the-Dots and recognize how political courage never wins without honest and courageous journalistic support.

2) We just had a slew of Sacramento politicians nailed on corruption charges, and we are in the middle of a host of corrupt and misguided educational projects such as bad iPad deals and Common Core being rammed down the students throats (and their taxpaying families) … and yet not a courageous word from either Skelton or Newton as to which group of politicians are truly behind this nonsense.

And nary a favorable word as to which end of the political spectrum are most outraged, and have been most outspoken, about the lack of political transparency and honesty in either Sacramento or Downtown Los Angeles.

On his way out, Newton suggests that “two mayors, Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, spilled much political blood trying to devise a better system for overseeing schools.  They came up short, but they were right.”  Yet did Newton ever have the temerity and spine to do honest reporting when it really counted, and recognize the historical prediction of that Democratic and American icon, FDR, who originally opposed public sector unions?

Not all unions … public sector unions!  The ones who did exactly what FDR feared, and who take taxpayer money and spend it on campaigns to make sure they get their favorite boys and girls into office.  And does Skelton, in his holiday wish list for Sacramento, really take it to the ongoing dysfunctional California Democratic Party system and suggest more political parity to keep things transparent and balanced?

No … because in Skelton and Newton’s world, only Republicans need to be reformed and bipartisan.  Which would be fine, if an inbred Democratic world was any better than an inbred Republican world.

Here’s a hint for the press–both for those who hold their nose and tolerate Republicans and Independents, or those who obviously hold Republicans and Independents in contempt:  stare in the mirror, ask YOURSELF if YOU need to show more impartiality, and Connect the Dots that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” because ALL one-party systems are ripe for corruption and dysfunction.

3) While Skelton makes an excellent point against “Democrats now always bowing to labor and Republicans not consistently cowering before the anti-tax crowd”, he doesn’t Connect-the-Dots between how the outdated tax system and public pension system he decries, and who’s really, REALLY trying to fix it (and ditto for Newton).

And neither of them give credit to a California Republican mantra which should also be one proclaimed by Democratic and Independent leaders, because it’s true from a mathematical, not politically partisan perspective:


Let me translate this for anyone who’s willing to drop their obsession with “good guy/bad guy politics” or partisan politics of any sort, and let me translate this to Skelton, Newton, or any other biased self-proclaimed know-it-all from the media who needs to drink a tall glass of “shut your mouth” to wash down that aforementioned, long-overdue piece of humble pie.

I’ve jokingly referred to “Alpern’s Law of Taxes” (which really isn’t MY idea, but just common sense that’s been extolled by others for centuries, if not millennia): IT’S NOT THE AMOUNT OF TAXES THAT INFURIATES TAXPAYERS, BUT THE PERCEPTION OF HOW THEY’RE BEING SPENT.

When we’re fighting the Nazis, or their modern-day equivalents in the Taliban/al-Qaida, we can and should raise taxes to take ownership of our generational struggles.  FDR was right to do it in the 1940’s, and G.W. Bush was wrong to not do it when he declared a War on Terror.  Ditto if taxes are being raised for infrastructural needs SO LONG AS THEY ARE SPENT WELL.

However, pension spiking and allowing public sector workers to retire in their mid-50’s while the rest of us have to work until we drop dead of exhaustion. is NOT a prescription for a proper public investment of the taxpaying public as our infrastructure and governmental services crumble and disappear.

So Republicans have and did raise taxes (both Republican and Democratic voter majorities in L.A. County voted to raise sales taxes for transportation Measure R), and they need to do so again under the right circumstances. But shouldn’t Democrats get past “blame the Koch Brothers and Bush” to acknowledge that our taxes are too-often being spent poorly?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the spine and moxie to suggest that public sector unions undo the Governor Davis Debacle and start calculating CalPERS and local/city/county investment returns at 4% or less (and have public sector workers pay more into their systems) until they’re no longer draining our state and local governmental coffers?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the spine and moxie to suggest that while raising taxes on the rich is politically expedient, raising income and sales taxes on EVERYBODY combined with a moratorium on raising the state and local budgets (if not lowering them by 5-10%) is the best way to make everyone sacrifice together and keep our budgets balanced for the long-term?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the open-mindedness to abandon their never-ending dogma of “end term limits” and listen to the voters who are smart enough to ignore them?  After all, the City of Long Beach did show how a popular Mayor (Beverly O’Neill) could retain her office with a write-in vote in a city that also retained general term limits.

(We are the same nation that had its tone set with our first president, George Washington, who many would have gladly been elected king but who proclaimed that he was only one man … and who voluntarily left office to leave it to others to take on the responsibilities of leading.)

As for little ol’ me, I’m just a dermatologist who’s also a local/volunteer civic leader and a transportation advocate in favor of Proper Planning and Good Government — and I’m always happy to be proven wrong.

But as for Skelton and Newton, they’re not too smart or too wise to acknowledge they really ARE biased, and really DON’T have all the answers, no matter which closed-minded and “progressive” rag chooses to hire them.

They, like the rest of us, really need to Connect the Dots and acknowledge when bad policies and bad politics are connected in a vicious circle that is self-serving and society-destroying.

Let’s hope that 2015 is a turning point when we all (certainly myself included, but especially the wizened columnists at the Times and other media outlets) can reopen our minds and rehash the “truisms” that need to be thrown out like yesterday’s news.

This article was originally published on

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  He also does regular commentary on the MarkIsler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)