Thursday, August 20, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
It’s been confirmed. Employees at the Los Angeles VA Regional Office shredded paperwork related to veterans’ disability claims.
A new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general discovered that a tip-off received in January alleging that staff improperly shredded documents is nothing short of true.
According to investigators, it’s not clear how many documents were shredded prior to the start of the review, but they did find nine documents related to veterans’ claims discarded in the shredding bin, despite policies existing to prevent this exact practice. Five of the documents had missing signatures from both employee and supervisor.
In one case, VA staff received a letter confirming that a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was unemployable and promptly placed the document into a red box designated for shredding. Staff did not include the claim in the electronic system.
“Due to noncompliance with VBA policy, poor controls, inadequate oversight, and lack of training, the Los Angeles VARO put veterans’ claims-related documents at risk for inappropriate destruction,” investigators found. “Because the Los Angeles VARO did not consistently follow VBA’s controls, it is likely that VARO staff would have inappropriately destroyed the nine claims-related documents we found.”
This isn’t the first time VA has had a problem with employees wantonly shredding essential documents. Following revelations of the practice in 2008, VA established the position of Records Management Officer.
So what happened in Los Angeles?
No such position existed from August 2014 up until the time of the IG’s investigation in February 2015.
In August 2014, the person who filled the position of RMO was promoted. Those duties were passed to untrained staff from the Support Services Division, who conducted what they referred to as a “cursory review” of documents before they were tossed in the shredding bin.
Investigators soon realized that a “cursory review” just meant that they’d sit and watch as documents were dumped into shredding bins.
“We determined that SSD staff were not properly trained and their cursory reviews were inadequate to identify and separate any claims-related documents from other documents,” the report noted. “They were not familiar with claims-processing activities and lacked the knowledge needed to identify claims or claims-related documents.”
The troubling nature of document shredding at the Los Angeles office has prompted the IG to launch investigations in 10 regional offices across the country.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
If you’re a gun owner in the city of Los Angeles, you may soon be a criminal.
The City Council has passed an ordinance that bans the possession of any firearms magazine with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. With the mayor’s signature Friday, owners of the prohibited magazines now will have 60 days to turn them over to police, destroy them personally or move them to a location outside the city limits. The ordinance says owners can sell them, but don’t try it — state law prohibits the sale of “large-capacity” magazines and has since Jan. 1, 2000.
Because that state law banned the sale but not the possession of large-capacity magazines, existing property was effectively “grandfathered.” The Los Angeles ordinance makes no such accommodation.
“With a stroke of a pen the Los Angeles City Council has not only turned hundreds of thousands of law-abiding L.A. residents into criminals, they have made property that was legally purchased under state and federal law illegal to possess overnight,” said Paul Nordberg, director of the Calguns Foundation and president of Calguns.net, a highly trafficked online forum for California gun owners. “To the best of my knowledge there is no method or funding for informing the public of their change in status from law-abiding citizen to criminal.”
Nordberg says the people who will be hardest hit are those who participate in the sport of competitive shooting, enthusiasts who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on fees and equipment. Magazines with a capacity of 15 rounds are standard in national competitions. “I refuse to call them ‘high capacity,’” he said, “Fifteen rounds is the standard, and words have meaning.”
People who don’t live in Los Angeles are unaffected by the ordinance, unless they drive through L.A. to get to a shooting range or competition in an area outside the city’s boundaries. Then, Nordberg says, they risk “arrest, confiscation of property and possible loss of civil rights for simply doing the same thing they did the day before and have done for years, simply going to the shooting range with the legal property they have owned for over a decade.”
The City Council is working on a second ordinance that would mandate the use of gun locks in the home. That ordinance is modeled on laws in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that have so far been upheld by the federal courts.
But that may not last. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was not happy with the lower courts’ decision to uphold the mandatory gun lock law. “Despite the clarity with which we described the Second Amendment’s core protection for the right of self-defense, lower courts, including the ones here, have failed to protect it,” he wrote.
Still, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a challenge to the mandatory gun lock law — yet. So Los Angeles jumped right in to pass a similar ordinance.
California is one of only six states that has no “right to keep and bear arms” in its state constitution. In Nevada, for example, the state constitution says, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes.”
The Arizona constitution says, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the State shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.” In Texas, “Every citizen shall have the right to keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the State; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime.”
But in California the state constitution is silent, so gun owners in the Golden State must depend on the federal courts’ interpretation of the Second Amendment to protect their rights from infringement. That means lawsuits will be filed to challenge the two city ordinances, and city taxpayers will incur the costs of defending the ordinances in federal court.
To better protect Second Amendment rights in California, an amendment to the state constitution is needed that secures for Californians the protections that gun owners have in 43 other states. Without that, we’re at the mercy of politicians who like to score political points by criminalizing the actions of people who didn’t do anything to anybody.
Susan Shelley is a San Fernando Valley author, a former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com, or follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
It’s a given in American politics that urban centers are essentially Democrat strongholds. There is no point in Republicans or conservatives competing there because you’re simply not going to gain any votes or find any agreement on key policy points. This can be attributed to both economic and demographic factors. The low income urban communities are predominantly composed of minority voters and they stand with the Democrats in numbers which are too daunting to contemplate. The majority of the wealthy tend toward the limosene liberal crowd who can afford destructive taxes and have the leisure time available to dictate proper life choices to others no matter how they live their own lives. (Be sure to take a limo or a private jet to your next climate change conference.)
But is this changing? Joel Kotkin at Real Clear Politics looks at the numbers and finds that while urban population centers are still large, they are not growing in relation to the exurbs and rural areas, and they’re also not turning out to vote in the same numbers as they did in the heyday of the Democrats.
This urban economy has created many of the most unequal places in the country. At the top are the rich and super-affluent who have rediscovered the blessings of urbanity, followed by a large cadre of young and middle-aged professionals, many of them childless. Often ignored, except after sensationalized police shootings, is a vast impoverished class that has become ever-more concentrated in particular neighborhoods. During the first decade of the current millennium, neighborhoods with entrenchedurban poverty actually grew, increasing in numbers from 1,100 to 3,100. In population, they grew from 2 million to 4 million.Some 80 percent of all population growth in American cities, since 2000, notes demographerWendell Cox, came from these poorer people, many of them recent immigrants.Such social imbalances are not, as is the favored term among the trendy, sustainable. We appear to be creating the conditions for a new wave of violent crime on a scale not seen since the early 1990s. Along with poverty,public disorderliness, gang activity, homelessness and homicides are on the rise in many American core cities, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and New York. Racial tensions, particularly with the police, have worsened. So even as left-leaning politicians try to rein in police, recent IRS data in Chicago reveals, the middle class appears to once again be leaving for suburban and other locales.
When Democrats begin looking at these types of numbers in a serious fashion they must be asking a question which conservatives have been pondering for some time. Who has been running things in the cities for decades now? The Democrats. And how’s that working out for you? Crime rates in the cities have been – and remain – epic. You can try to blame vast social conflict on the police if you like, but the fact is that the police go where the crime is. The social infrastructure in so many large cities has simply collapsed and it’s all taken place on the watch of the liberal Democrats who rule the roost. They whip up their voters into a frenzy every election cycle, warning of the dangers of the Republicans who hold no power over their lives, but it is under their leadership that you saw the current mess develop.
On the upper end of the scale, particularly in places like New York City, there is a jarring contrast which is hard for the Democrat base to ignore. How do you talk about income inequality and the evils of the fat cats when it’s those same fat cats financing the election of the same Democrats over and over again? Isn’t there a bit of a disconnect there?
Looking at the numbers in that article I have have to wonder if Barack Obama – by virtue of being able to generate racial empathy – might be the last Democrat who will turn out large numbers of voters in the cities. What does Hillary have to offer them which is any different than the policies which have seen New York’s murder rate skyrocket once again and Baltimore going up in flames?
Friday, July 31, 2015
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson made headlines earlier this month by declaring that Los Angeles lacks a strategy to attract jobs. He pledged to rectify the situation by creating a special committee focused on job growth — a move applauded by business leaders who frequently find themselves at odds with the council.
Few would find reason to fault an effort to bring more jobs to L.A. But the devil, of course, is in the details — and Wesson would be wise to heed the lessons of the past.
While vows to increase employment are de rigueur for elected officials, the last full-scale attempt to harness the power of local government to create jobs was led by former Mayor Richard Riordan. Far from being a template to replicate, Riordan’s strategy serves more as a cautionary tale.
Riordan, of course, was elected in part on the strength of his free market experience, and his vows to make L.A. friendlier to business. One of his signature initiatives was the Los Angeles Business Team, which was created in 1995 to attract and retain businesses by packaging public subsidies and expediting business permitting. While the LABT, as it was known, succeeded in making the development process more efficient, it failed in what arguably are the most important measures of job growth strategy.
First, Riordan’s team did not make job quality a criteria for the awarding of public subsidies. Many of the firms that received taxpayer dollars as an incentive to expand or locate in L.A. paid wages that left their employees mired in poverty — and often dependent on more taxpayer subsidies in the form of food stamps and other assistance. Rather than encouraging the growth of high-wage jobs, Riordan and his team facilitated the growth of low-wage employers.
Second, the LABT did not give priority to firms operating in poor communities — a key tenant of forward-looking economic development, which seeks to direct subsidies to the neighborhoods and residents with the greatest need. Third, Riordan’s team did not prioritize growth industries. Only a small percentage of taxpayer subsidies went to industries with a strong track record of growth.
All of these findings are documented in an exhaustively researched study released in 2000 by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. That report should be required reading for Wesson and his council colleagues as they embark on a new effort to attract jobs to L.A.
There will be powerful voices advocating for a jobs strategy that does not take into account job quality or opportunity for disadvantaged communities. Some of these forces will cynically point to L.A.’s recent decision to increase the minimum wage as a reason not to distinguish between employers, arguing that the new wage floor — which many of them fought — ensures that all businesses must provide good jobs.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Monday, July 27, 2015
A bold and controversial new bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore and leading Democrat Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, advanced through the Assembly on the strength of Gov. Jerry Brown’s vociferous rhetoric on climate change.
As CBS Los Angeles reported, Brown tied his support for the legislation to his broader climate agenda, which has seen him praise Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on environmental matters and earn a trip to Vatican City to push for global change.
“‘We’ve got a serious problem here,’ he told KCAL9 Political Reporter Dave Bryan via satellite. ‘Burning oil and gas and coal and diesel is a big part of the problem. We’ve got to find new bio-fuels. We have to be more efficient. We’ve got a lot to do. And by the way, if we do nothing, the cost is unimaginable.’”
Brown has done his best to use his final term in office to amplify that message whenever possible. His trip to the Vatican, Sci-Tech Today noted, will be just “the latest of several international trips the governor has taken to urge others to do more to curb global warming. He’s also been rallying states and provinces to sign an agreement to match California’s target for reducing emissions by 2050.”
While Brown has pushed the message, Democrat allies in Sacramento have crafted the content of regulations to match. De Leon’s bill, SB350, “imposes three significant clean-energy goals by 2030,” U-T San Diego’s Steven Greenhut observed: “Reducing the use of petroleum products in automobiles by 50 percent; increasing to 50 percent (from a current 33-percent goal) the amount of energy that uses renewable sources such as solar and wind power; and doubling energy-efficiency in current buildings.”
In fact, the legislation was crafted around achieving the outsized goals Brown set for ratcheting down California’s statewide emissions levels. As an interim step, the governor has proposed that the state “cut emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. It’s an ambitious target that members of his administration insist is achievable,” according to Sci-Tech Today.
De Leon himself has not shied away from using aggressive language to characterize the bill’s sweep and ostensible urgency, as Greenhut noted. “We need to break the stranglehold the profit-driven oil companies have on our economy and give consumers better options to power their homes and cars in cleaner, healthier and more sustainable ways,” de Leon said in remarks posted to his website.
Brown, for his part, has openly acknowledged the level of industry outrage the bill guarantees. “Well, of course, the people who are gonna sell 50 percent less petroleum are not only gonna have questions, they’re gonna have a fierce, unrelenting opposition,” he told KCAL-9.
But the coming regulatory shakeup has made for some strange industry bedfellows. “One of the issues both utilities and solar installers have raised,” according to GreenTech Solar, “is that distributed solar should not be treated any differently than utility-scale solar as the state crafts the rules around meeting the new 50 percent target.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
The House passed a bill Thursday which would punish cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration law.
H.R. 3009 passed easily in the lower chamber 241 to 179, The Hill reported. The bill would force local law enforcement agencies to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they have an illegal immigrant in custody; otherwise, certain federal law enforcement grants would be withheld.
“I think we can all agree that any state or locality must comply with the law—and they are required to coordinate and cooperate with the federal government,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who sponsored the legislation. “If an arrest is made, the federal government should be notified. The fact that San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities disagree with the politics of federal enforcement doesn’t mean they should receive a pass to subvert the law.”
“And if they do, there needs to be consequences—and the way we impose those consequences is by hitting them where it hurts. In the pocketbook,” Hunter added.
The bill was passed after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was murdered earlier this month, allegedly by an illegal immigrant who was deported from the U.S. multiple times and convicted of several felonies.
Hunter’s bill was voted on largely across party lines. Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Bob Dold of Illinois, Dan Donovan and Peter King of New York, and Dave Reichert of Washington were the only GOP members of Congress to vote against the measure. Six Democrats voted for the bill: Reps. Ami Bera of California, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Bill Keating of Massachusetts, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona.
Opponents of the bill have tied it to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who in a statement earlier this week labeled the proposal the “Donald Trump Act.” Pelosi went on to call the bill a “wildly partisan, misguided bill that second-guesses the decisions of police chiefs around the country about how to best ensure public safety.”
“Just a few weeks into his campaign and Donald Trump has a bill on the floor of the House. That is better than some of the senators he’s running against,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a fierce opponent of conservative immigration measures, told The Hill Thursday.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
New York City, Los Angeles, Honolulu: They're all places you would think would be popular destinations for Americans. So it might come as a surprise that these are among the cities U.S. residents are fleeing in droves.
Twenty metropolitan areas among the 100 most populous in the United States lost the greatest share of local people to other parts of the country between July 2013 and July 2014, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
The New York City area ranked second, just behind El Paso, Texas. New York lost about a net 163,000 U.S. residents, closely followed by a couple surrounding suburbs in Connecticut. Honolulu ranked fourth and Los Angeles ranked 14th.
Interestingly, these are also the cities with some of the highest net inflows of people from outside the country. That gives many of these cities a steadily growing population, despite the net exodus of people moving within the U.S.
What's going on here?
Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy and urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles, has an idea. Soaring home prices are pushing local residents out and scaring away potential new ones from other parts of the country, he said.
As Americans leave, people from abroad move in to these bustling cities to fill the vacant low-skilled jobs. They are able to do so by living in what Stoll calls "creative housing arrangements" in which they pack six to eight individuals, or two to four families, into one apartment or home. It's an arrangement that most Americans just aren't willing to pursue, and even many immigrants decide it's not for them as time goes by, he said.
In addition, the growing demand for high-skilled workers, especially in the technology industry, brought foreigners who possess those skills to the U.S. They are compensated appropriately and can afford to live in these high-cost areas, just like Americans who hold similar positions. One example is Washington, D.C., which had a lot of people from abroad arriving to soak up jobs in the growing tech-hub, Stoll said.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Californians know them well. They are the Proposition 13 “blamers.” They blame Prop. 13 for everything they see or even imagine as negative in the state of California.
Some years ago, a newspaper editorial asked if Prop. 13 was responsible for a measles epidemic saying it may have limited the availability of vaccine. A national publication suggested that O.J. Simpson’s acquittal of murder charges was due to the tax limiting measure because prosecuting attorneys may not have been paid enough.
Most recently, a column by a West Coast writer published in the New York Times claimed that one of the reasons that Los Angeles is becoming a “third world” city is reduced funding for education caused by the tax revolt that passed Prop. 13. As is typical, the writer ignores the fact that California now spends 30 percent more per pupil, in inflation adjusted dollars, than the amount spent just prior to the passage of Prop. 13 — a time when both liberals and conservatives agree that California schools were among the best in the nation.
Most Californians know they are overtaxed and that’s bad news for the blamers. And the latest news about California tax revenue is even worse for Prop. 13’s detractors. According to a review by the California Taxpayers Association of counties that have so far released their assessment rolls — showing the value of property as of January 1, 2015 — there is dramatic increase in values and that’s driving property tax revenue up rapidly. For example, Santa Clara County has seen an increase of 8.67 percent over the previous year.
Rapidly rising property tax revenue is not only making the Prop. 13 blamers look foolish, it is adding compelling evidence to the argument that California should be considering tax reductions, not increases. News reports abound in the Golden State about the California economic recovery and a $6 billion dollar budget surplus. The two big sources for state revenue — sales taxes and income taxes — have preceded property taxes in seeing big increases. The latest news from county assessors simply completes the tax revenue trifecta.
Here’s the rub. Interests groups that want tax hikes — mostly public sector labor organizations — are running out of time to make a decision on which tax hikes to pursue for the November 2016 ballot (to qualify an initiative takes about a year of lead time). We at HJTA hear that there are disagreements within those interests as to which tax hikes to pursue. Californians will almost certainly see a tobacco tax increase on the ballot as well as a possible tax on oil production. But what about extending the Prop. 30 tax hikes on sales and income? The flush status of the state budget renders those proposals questionable.
More importantly, the significant increase in property tax revenues raises serious questions about the viability of a so-called “split roll” proposal which would deprive business property of Prop. 13 protections. Split roll proposals have been defeated before in California and, of all the tax hikes being considered by the tax-and-spend lobby, hitting commercial property with a $9 billion tax hike is going to be next to impossible to justify to California voters.
The next few months will be very revealing as to the tax raisers’ strategies. But whatever taxes they decide to target, those paying the bill should be prepared to push back with the argument that California does not need any more tax hikes at all. And we should push back very hard.
(Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights. Originally posted on HJTA.)
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is proposing a 25% to 30% increase in our utility rates over the next five years. This $1.2 to $1.4 billion in new revenues will be used to replace aging infrastructure, improve the reliability of service, expand our local water supply, transform our sources of power, improve customer service, and support the Department’s $13 billion, five year capital expenditure program.
This hefty rate hike of 5% a year over five years does not appear to be unreasonable based on presentations by DWP’s senior management. This is also an improvement over the 8% annual increase that was floated several months ago that would have cost Ratepayers over $2 billion a year.
Over the next four months, DWP management will put on a full court press to sell this substantial rate increase to Ratepayers who have serious doubts about the Department and its domineering union. But even more so, we have a hard time trusting the Herb Wesson, the City Council, and Mayor Eric Garcetti when it comes to our hard earned cash.
One area of concern is DWP’s Stormwater Capture Master Plan which appears to be an attempt by the Bureau of Sanitation and City Hall to dump a significant chunk of the $8 billion urban runoff program onto the Ratepayers.
Last month, the DWP Board of Commissioners approved a $15 million stormwater plan that will cost Ratepayers an estimated $3,000 an acre foot, a significant premium to the $600 that the Metropolitan Water Department charges for untreated water. At the same time, Sanitation, which has the primary responsibility for stormwater, is not putting any upfront money into the deal.
The Department must also justify selected pet projects, including the $20 million Griffith Park South Water Recycling Project that will end up costing Ratepayers close to $4,000 an acre foot. Once again, DWP is financing a project that is the responsibility of another City department, in this case, Recreation and Parks.
There are numerous other pet projects, including, but not limited to, the Los Angeles River, the Arts District Clean Tech campus, fire hydrants, below market leases, and the Silver Lake Reservoir.
There are also questions regarding the local solar programs involving the efficiency of the Feed-in-Tariff program, net metering, and utility built solar. According to the Ratepayers Advocate, the Feed-in-Tariff program is expected to ding Ratepayers more than $250 million extra over the next twenty years compared to other solar alternatives. And the DWP built solar facility at the Port of Los Angeles is expected to cost 60 cents per kilowatt hour, four times the retail price of electricity.
This raises serious concerns about the efficacy of Garcetti’s $2.5 to $3 billion proposal to construct over 600 megawatts of DWP built solar power within the City of Los Angeles.
This rate review is also an opportunity to address DWP’s major problem: City Hall and the way it treats the Department as an ATM and a favor bank.
As a result of this interference, the LA 2020 Commission recommended the establishment of The Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission that would have direct authority to determine DWP policy, appoint the General Manager, set rates, and work with the GM and her staff to oversee the operations of the Department. While this recommendation has yet to see the light of day thanks to City Council President Herb Wesson, we need to have a serious conversation about the governance of this City enterprise that is vital to our local economy.
The Ratepayers will also be hit up for about $200 million in taxes on Power System revenues as a result of the 8% Transfer Fee and the 10% to 12% City Utility Tax. But rather than pocketing this back door tax increase, the City Council and Mayor Garcetti should reinvest this windfall in the power system’s infrastructure since they are in large part responsible for the deteriorating infrastructure because of their unwillingness to make the tough decision to raise rates.
The economics of the proposed 25% to 30% rate increase do not appear to be unreasonable based on management’s presentations. Whether DWP is deserving of this $1.2 to $1.4 billion revenue hike depends on the willingness of DWP and City Hall to address the Ratepayers’ concerns, protect our wallets, and reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power.
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