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Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
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stories along The Way

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

City Council votes to take jurisdiction over Autry decision

Evoking Section 245 of the Los Angeles City Charter, the City Council today voted 12-0 to override the Recreation and Parks Commission's approval of the Autry's latest expansion plans.

Per Section 245, the City Council has three weeks to make their decision on the issue.  A public hearing will be held on Friday at the Council's Arts Parks Health and Aging committee meeting at City Hall. CD 4 councilman Tom LaBonge is the chair of this committee, which will make a recommendation to City Council on the issue.

Don't hold your breath for any different outcome.  LaBonge has been notorious throughout his time as councilman for bypassing the Recreation and Parks commission at whim, especially when it comes to yet another shiny object he wants in Griffith Park.

Yet recently, LaBonge has taken to visibly deferring everything and anything Recreation and Parks for approval by the Barry Sanders' controlled rubber-stamp commission. Adding to the pressure to approve the expansion ASAP is the Autry's July 1st deadline to have a contract in place if they are to receive a $6 million grant of taxpayer money for this project.

So barring any major political pressure, LaBonge's committee will likely recommend approval of the Autry expansion, making this somewhat rare application of City Charter Section 245 simply academic.

Meanwhile, the Autry's legal and moral obligation to the Southwest Museum - Los Angeles's oldest museum - remains unfulfilled.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Huizar introduces motion voiding Rec and Parks', Sanders' Autry approval

Following questionable action by the Recreation and Parks Commission to approve the Autry's expansion in Griffith Park without provision for the Southwest Museum, Jose Huizar moved quickly to counter.

Council motion 11-0884 is scheduled to be heard at Council next Tuesday.... It takes 10 votes to be approved.

If you concur, please contact your councilmember ASAP and let them know you support this motion.

Seems like Latham & Watkins alum Barry Sanders is working awfully hard lately for his former employer. Sanders' recent high profile conflicts of interest could be enough to get him kicked off the Recreation and Parks Commission any day now.

City Council motion 11-0884:


At its meeting of May 20, 2011 the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners acted to approve "the proposed renovations of existing exhibit in the galleria, and outdoor area and restrooms at the Autry National Center's Museum of the American West," as described in the Summary of the General Manager's Report No. 11-129 and depicted in Exhibit A to that Report.

Legitimate concerns have been raised as to the nature of tills Board action. And notwithstanding the ultimate decision in this matter the public is entitled to a full airing of this issue and to ample opportunity to express their views.

For the above reasons, the Council should assert jurisdiction over the above referenced Recreation and Park Commission Board action.

I THEREFORE MOVE that pursuant to Section 245 of the Los Angeles City Charter, the City Council assert jurisdiction over the May 20, 2011 Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners action to approve the proposed renovations of existing exhibit in the galleria, and outdoor area and restrooms at the Autry National Center's Museum of the American West, as described in the Summary of the General Manager's Report No. 11-129 and depicted in Exhibit A to that Report.

I FURTHER MOVE that upon assertion of jurisdiction, the matter be referred to Committee for further review.

Motion made by Jose Huizar, seconded by Ed Reyes

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rec and Parks Commission quietly votes for Autry Expansion

Last Friday the Recreation and Parks Commission, headed by Latham & Watkins alum Barry Sanders, voted to allow the Autry Museum to expand on the current Griffith Park site.

The Autry received a $6.6 million grant from State Prop 84 parks funds for part of the expansion project, titled Facilities for Native American Stewardship.  So not only is the Autry getting priceless public land in Griffith Park for just $1 per year and the entire Southwest Museum (collection and facilities), but their expansion is being funded by your tax dollars.

The Recreation and Parks' Commission Board report for this project, including maps, is here.

There are more than just a couple of little problems with the Commission's stealth action. First, most people who were on the City's automated distribution list for this "special" Rec and Parks Commission meeting somehow didn't receive the meeting notice and agenda. Wonder how that happened?

Second, the only thing standing between the Autry's original agreement to maintain the Southwest Museum as a viable museum was the leverage the potential approval of this expansion wielded.

Without a strong community response, that leverage, courtesy Sanders et al,  is now gone.

Sanders, who has been removed from the decision-making on this issue in the past due to his links to Latham & Watkins (the Autry's legal representation), presided over the Commission vote this time. Yet Mr. Sanders' conflict of interest seems to be stronger than ever, given his recent push with Latham's backing for commercial signage all over City parks, including Griffith.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum's response to this stealth vote of questionable legality by the Recreation and Parks Commission follows. It's lengthy, but includes a detailed history of the situation and how you can take action.


As you know, from 2005 to 2009 the Autry Museum attempted to process an environmental impact report and applications with the City of Los Angeles to dramatically expand its Griffith Park building. When Autry announced its ambitions for expansion in 2005, the response of the Coalition and its member organizations was to adopt a resolution demanding that as a condition of expanding exhibition space in Griffith Park, the City require the Autry to continue to operate exhibitions of the Southwest Museum at the historic site. All of Autry’s political lobbying and fundraising was directed toward getting the City permits to expand the Griffith Park building free and clear of any continuing obligation as to the historic site.

The Autry’s expansion plan and grandiose fundraising campaign was largely a failure. When the Board of Referred Powers (a committee of City Council members) granted the request of Councilmember Jose Huizar to delay Autry approvals while he sought to negotiate a legally binding commitment of Autry to continue to operate the historic site, Autry angrily dropped the expansion project and tried to “blame” Mr. Huizar and the Coalition. The reality, of course, was that Autry’s management failed to raise enough money to construct the massive expansion and it did not want to be held accountable for its merger fiduciary duties.

In 2005 the Autry was called upon by the Coalition to abandon any plan to replace the Southwest Museum’s exhibition space and its management and Board proceeded anyway in the face of massive community opposition. When that opposition was rallied in summer of 2009 to hold Autry accountable to its merger agreement promises, the Autry publicly embarrassed itself by withdrawing the project. According to Autry’s financial statements, over $6 million was wasted (written off the books) on the effort to avoid its merger promises to restore the Southwest Museum. That would have gone a long way to restore the historic building, but Autry’s Board wasted the money on its effort to rip the Southwest Museum from its historic context.

About one year after withdrawal of the expansion project, the Autry announced it had purchased a warehouse outside the jurisdiction (and land use control) of the City of Los Angeles – in nearby Burbank on Victory Boulevard. The Autry expressed its intent to move the Southwest’s and the Autry’s collection storage into this single building and make it a research center. This was Autry’s first step in further breaching its fiduciary duties owed to the Southwest Museum institution and assets.

Councilmember Jose Huizar continued to meet with Autry officials. The Councilmember offered a stunning package of financial assistance to the Autry to rehabilitate the Southwest Museum and restore it to public service. The City offered the Autry up to $25 million of low interest loans available through the Federal Economic Stimulus and City support of an Autry application to the State of California Prop 84 competitive grant program for a Southwest Museum rehabilitation project. Autry CEO John Gray told Mr. Huizar that Autry was “not interested” in pursuing those opportunities. As soon as Autry withdrew is expansion in 2009, the Autry returned to the State a $167,000 grant to waterproof the Southwest Museum’s entrance tunnel – admitting that it had actually done nothing on completing the work. Most recently, Autry has been trying to offer the Southwest Museum building to anyone who wants it after Autry is through using it as a warehouse for the Southwest’s collections.

It turns out that while Autry was not interested in pursuing a state grant for the historic Southwest, it prepared an application to the State Department of Recreation and Parks Prop 84 program for $6.1 million to use our taxpayer dollars to remodel its basement to become the new Southwest Museum galleries. In other words, when all the bells and whistles are removed from the original expansion plan, the ONE THING the Autry really wants is still to duplicate the Southwest’s exhibition spaces in Griffith Park so as to render the historic building unneeded. This is an offensive and now clear breach of the Autry Board’s fiduciary duties owed to the Southwest Museum institution to maintain it as a separately named and marketed institution under the Autry National Center “umbrella.”

Because Autry could not politically prevail in a fully-noticed series of hearings to obtain permits for its original expansion plan, Autry officials have colluded with General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri of the City’s Recreation and Parks Department to process a Notice of Exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for the basement expansion of exhibition space. There was no proper legal basis for the Notice of Exemption as Mukri and his staff sat in the front row of hearings in 2009 and listened to the Coalition present expert evidence that any effort to render the Southwest’s exhibition spaces redundant would violate the legal protections of the Southwest Museum enacted by the City into the Northeast Community Plan. That is a significant negative land use impact that disqualifies the use of an Exemption. Having used the fraudulent misrepresentations of the Autry to process an improper CEQA document – all without any notice to the public – rendered the Autry’s environmental “review” null and void in California law.

When the Coalition learned of this fraud, through its attorneys of Chatten-Brown &Carstens, the State grant authority and the officials of the City of Los Angeles were put on notice that the Notice of Exemption was null and the State had no authority to make a discretionary $6.1 million grant to Autry. State officials ignored this notice and recently announced the grant award of your tax dollars to the Autry to aid in its cultural piracy.

Last Friday, May 20, 2011, your Coalition Steering Committee got a phone call informing that Rec and Parks Commission President, Barry Sanders (the same man who recently tried to put commercial supergraphic advertising in the City’s parks) had used a Special Meeting agenda to slip the City’s approval of the Autry Basement Expansion onto the Board’s agenda.

In contrast to the Autry’s previous expansion efforts, this one has been done without a single presentation to the Los Feliz community affected by the expansion, the affected neighborhood councils, or the Coalition. The new CEO, Daniel Findley’s strategy appears to have been to “go quiet” on Autry’s plans and find a way to get it past the City of Los Angeles without the knowledge of the thousands of Southwest Museum supporters.

During the last effort to get permits, Mr. Sanders, a former partner of the law firm of Latham & Watkins, was determined by the City Attorney to have a disqualifying interest under Government Code 1090 that prevented the Rec. and Parks Commission from hearing the permit application, because Latham was representing Autry.  How Mr. Sanders was able to act on this most recent application of the Autry for essentially the same type of permit is unknown. His actions however carry a stench of impropriety.

The Rec. and Parks Board, after hearing the testimony of four Autry employees and no one else rubber stamped the Autry Basement Expansion without any mailed notice of hearing to any affected stakeholder. In fact, although Coalition Steering Committee members are subscribed to the Rec. and Parks Board agenda e-mail list, we stopped receiving agendas last month, just before Sanders moved to place the Autry item on the Board’s agenda. Imagine the contrast of hundreds of people in City Council Chambers in June 2009 objecting to Autry’s expansion of duplicative Southwest Museum exhibition space and last Friday when, as a result of the machinations of Recreation and Parks Commission staff and its Board President, no one was in the audience. This demonstrates just how just how far certain partisans in the City’s Recreation and Parks Department would go to hand Autry the expansion permits in Griffith Park free and clear of any continuing obligation to the historic site of the Southwest Museum.

Under Los Angeles City Charter section 245, the decision of the Recreation and Parks Commission may be called up to City Council for review. In order to do so, Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes, in whose district’s the assets of the Southwest Museum reside, must obtain 10 votes (2/3 vote of Council) to “assume jurisdiction” over the Commission’s approval of Autry’s project. Once assuming jurisdiction, Council has the power to veto the Commission decision within 21 calendar days. If the City Council agrees with objections raised by the people of Los Angeles, the Recreation and Parks Department can be directed to prepare a proper environmental document, conduct public presentation of this revised project expansion to the public and neighborhood councils, and negotiate with Autry regarding future use of the Southwest Museum. Additionally, a proper review of the conflict-of-interest laws of the state must be conducted of Mr. Sander’s participation in this latest “dark of the night” set of actions.

As we know from the successful first battle against the Autry’s lawyers and lobbyists, winning at City Hall is a numbers game. The more people from all over the City who demand that City Council overturn the Recreation and Parks Commission’s actions, the more likely Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes will obtain 10 votes (and overcome the obvious lobbying of Councilmember LaBonge – whose district would get the Southwest’s assets).

In many ways, your task in making your opinion known to City Councilmembers is easier this time. Autry has abandoned all pretense that it would ever care for and rehabilitate the Southwest Museum for continued service to future residents and school children of Los Angeles. Councilmember LaBonge cannot argue to his colleagues that the Southwest will be protected because Autry is now saying it will give the building away to anyone who will take it. In this context, the Autry’s breaches of fiduciary duty have become clear and indefensible. All of the misrepresentations about its $100 million endowment, its claims of “good faith” toward maintaining the separate identity of the Southwest Museum have been revealed for what they were: a fraudulent scheme to steal the Southwest’s collections for itself.

Councilmember Huizar recently brought together a group of leaders from Occidental College, Autry, community cultural groups and the Coalition. At that time, Autry CEO Daniel Findley indicated that Autry was willing to enter into a contract to lend artifacts of the Southwest Museum for exhibition at the historic site and even program one of the galleries (similar to its claims during the prior application to expand its Griffith Park building). However, even though Autry walked away with $5 million of the Southwest’s endowment, Autry is currently unwilling to give any of that endowment or provide other operating assistance to the Southwest’s site.

Occidental College, which once had a Southwest Studies program, is interested in reviving it at the Southwest Museum site, but Occidental does not currently feel it has the resources to lead rehabilitation of the Southwest’s building alone. It needs support and help.

Your Coalition Steering Committee has brought to the table representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust has expertise and connections to resources to help operate the Southwest site using exhibits from the Southwest’s vast collection under a cooperative agreement with Autry. These talks are merely in the exploratory stage, however, but the revocation of Autry’s ill-gotten Recreation and Parks Commission permits would help force a compromise.

If Autry obtains its expansion permits in Griffith Park free and clear of any obligation to the historic Southwest Museum, it will have no reason to enter into a cooperative agreement to share its collections. It will simply take the Southwest’s collections for itself. As has always been the Coalition’s position, the Southwest’s collection is big enough to support exhibitions at the Autry site and the historic Southwest Museum – and such exhibits must be modern, engaging, and more than what was done in the past at the Southwest Museum.

DRAFT LETTER  (link to letter and addresses)
The absolutely best letter is one that you take to write armed with the information from this ACTION ALERT and your own knowledge. Uniquely written letters to City Councilmembers signal a high level of commitment and passion. However, if time does not allow you to write a unique letter, take our sample letter below and make it your own. We have provided the email list for you to send it to.

Faxes are also extremely powerful with Councilmembers. If we run out the paper in the Council office fax machines (like we did last time), that sends a shot across the bow of Council that we mean business. We have also provided a list of places to send your letter via fax to increase your impact.

Finally, there is a personal phone call. We would ask that you make three phone calls: Two calls should be made to the offices of Councilmembers Huizar and Reyes demanding that they take immediate action to overturn the sleazy and underhanded actions of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Bloomberg: GE Sees Solar Cheaper Than Fossil Power in Five Years

How fun!
Thin-film solar panels are hitting upwards of 12.8% efficiency.
The cost of solar cells are down 21% so far this year.
Read more here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday morning: Time to read Hollywood Unbound

Monday morning:

Time to read Hollywood Unbound and see what important BS happening downtown Darryl has culled from City Hall's massively unwieldy pile of public meeting notices.

We don't always agree with his analyses, but we very much appreciate Darryl's work!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Breaking News: Ninth Circuit Kills CARB's Cap & Trade

Just got off the phone with relentless Port Activist Jesse Marquez who reported that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal yesterday enjoined California Air Resources Board's (CARB) cap and trade program. Will have more when I see a release. A huge move for Environmental Justice groups...

Friday, May 20, 2011

[HallerWatch] Taking On HatfieldWatch Over Coal, Watch!

(Lifted from Paul Hatfield's CityWatch article 5/19/11. Responses in bold are mine).
"The members of Neighborhood Council Valley Village were asked to weigh in on what could be the most challenging intergenerational issue facing us, even greater than pension reform.
[I'm gonna have to look up intergenerational, but at first glance, it appears to be within the next couple decades. God, what could possibly be more important to four million people over the next 20 years than pension reform? Preventing race riots? Education? Earthquakes, emergency preparedness?]
A representative of the Sierra Club asked the board to pass a motion in support of the DWP eliminating coal as a power source by 2020. [Wha?? ] Due to the constraints of time, her presentation had to be brief and could best be described as an executive summary. [Sounds about right. An executive board should get an executive summary. What were you hoping for? A longer meeting?]

It was good information and food for thought. However, to ask for a motion in support of the 2020 goal (or any goal, for that matter) with an accompanying letter of support to the City Council on an issue so complex, with cost ramifications that could strain an already financially challenged municipality, was disrespectful of the deliberative process NCs should follow. [Not really. It's a normal course of action for a deliberative body per Roberts Rules. A request or motion goes before the executive board and the board has the option to make a decision via vote, table it or kick it to committee for further study. How is that disrespectful?]

It was as if an insurance salesman said “trust me and sign on the dotted line” while placing a contract with a prospectus in front of you. [Ouch! A remarkably unfair characterization particularly when your NC is charged with advising your councilmember, not contracting out insurance services on behalf of the city. If your group wants to set a public health goal (PHG) such as "No Coal By 2020" and advise your councilmember's office, they can. If your NC wants to set PHG regulations and enforce them, they can't.]

I was surprised to learn that about eighteen other neighborhood councils had already passed similar motions at the request of the Sierra Club and sent letters of support. [Familiarize yourself with Roberts Rules and you can take your eyebrows out of your hairline.]

I am fortunate to be a member of a neighborhood council that believes in the vetting process [sorry to interrupt, but I gotta agree with you there, most NCs have no idea what they're doing] and does not rush to judgment on matters of this scale [ookay, but frankly, I'm a little suspicious of how your scale measures things. Seems fishy. A fish scale, if you will...]. There was a spirited discussion with members taking opposing positions. No motion was passed; no letter of support authorized. [Okay, so, an NC board wasted the public's time, no surprise there.]

When it was suggested that members of the NC DWP Oversight Committee make a presentation on the subject at another date, the Sierra Club representative said, as if issuing an adverse warning, "they will simply oppose this position.” I guess transparency is not part of the club’s agenda these days. [Burning coal for energy is an environmental issue and a PHG issue as well as a Utilities issue. Why would it first be sent to a DWP Oversight Committee, of all things? I guess integrity is missing from your own agenda.]

Los Angeles and most of the developed nations will migrate to alternative energy in time. [You mean, the developed nations that survive all the floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, sea level rise, etc. due to climate change?] Coal as a source could also be reduced through conservation and passive solar improvements. [Prove it. We're listening. Just do it before both polar icecaps melt.] However, China, India and other emerging economies will thumb their noses at the rest of us and burn away. [Is that why China is spending $16B+ more than the U.S. on developing alternative energy technologies? From what year are the magazines you've been reading?]

There should be no hard and fast timeline. [On converting to renewable energy? Surely you jest. Ask the U.S. Navy about climate change, sea level rise and national security issues we are already facing. They'll give you an earful.] Technology improves over time – we can expect the same for alternative energy. [With that approach, America should rise to prominence again by AD 2312]. There is no need to lock a major segment of the city’s power generation capacity into applications still in the early stages of development. [... looking forward to your next CityWatch article entitled 'What's With These Newfangled Telephones With Dials?']

It would not surprise me if the state’s objectives will be relaxed once the impact to consumers’ utility bills becomes apparent. There will be pushback from the ratepayers. [You mean, Gov. Brown rescinding the 33% renewable energy target that he set last month? CA ratepayers are going to revolt over that?]

Although fossil fuels will generally rise in price over the long run, the conversion to solar will not be as simple as “build the infrastructure and the rest is free.” Maintenance and replacement of components is still an unknown, not to mention the source of materials and manufacturing. It is naive to assume the United States will be the leader in production in this very competitive world. [Especially if the "Hatfield Plan" becomes law.]

Note: I am a member of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, but I am also a ratepayer.
[Ah, "a member of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations..." A weak claim to legitimacy, indeed. Kind of like an insurance agent saying, "Trust me and sign on the dotted line."]
LATE ADD: CityWatch announced its "Be Green, CityWatch Cares" Initiative in September 2010, with plans to continue throughout 2011/2012.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

25% of LA's kids are obese, yet City budget drains City recreation

Today - if nothing changes - the Los Angeles City Council will be voting a budget for Recreation and Parks that kills recreation and healthy activity for LA's most at-risk kids.  Cheers!

Bringing it back to the area around Griffith Park now, guess who didn't show at the City budget hearing for Recreation and Parks to support recreation in Los Angeles? The Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council's newly-selected Recreation Representative, Mark F. Mauceri. Or any of the rest of the GGPNC board or committee members, for that matter.

With their selection for Recreation Representative, the GGPNC completes a series of actions by which they have effectively marginalizing the once-thriving community forum on the whole from any truly meaningful existence. The rest of the community will need only to simply step around the very loud carcass. Most people already are.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lopez Canyon hearing: City don't know CEQA

Update:  The final ruling was issued late Thursday finding that the City must indeed do a full EIR on this project if they intend to go forward at this location. 

As required by CEQA, the City of Los Angeles will be paying the community's court fees for this case.
It looks like CEQA does matter in Los Angeles after all. If you take the City to court over it, that is.

Today's preliminary finding against Richard Alarcon and the City's attempt to misuse open space at the now-closed Lopez Canyon Landfill went down as a no-brainer: the City must file a full EIR and go through the full CEQA process if they really really want to shove a truck driving academy on Lopez Canyon park land.

The Lopez Canyon saga is a long story, full of disdain and abuse by the City and Richard Alarcon in particular for residents and the community surrounding the land in question. You can read the sordid background here.  But today, the good guys won a big one. The final ruling is due in a week.

If a full EIR is ultimately upheld through the appeals process, it will cost the City and project supporters a pretty penny and delay the project for years. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the grant funds being funneled to the union-sponsored non-profit truck driving academy project. Perhaps project supporters will finally give up the notion of City open space as "free land" and lease flat industrial land for this project - like anyone else would logically do.

Here's the e-blast from the Community Alliance for Open Space:
May 16, 2011 - Tentative Ruling - CAfOS Hearing

Judge Ann Jones of the LA County Superior Court tentatively ruled that the City of Los Angeles neither fulfilled CEQA requirements nor made the findings for a variance to allow a Truck Driving Academy on Open Space at the former Lopez Canyon landfill.

Attorneys for both the City of Los Angeles and CAfOS responded to the tentative ruling and questions from the judge. After more than an hour of discussion the judge advised both parties that her final ruling would be issued by the following week.

The final ruling may not be the end of the Open Space challenge at Lopez Canyon. The final ruling can be appealed and/or an EIR and General Plan Amendment could be required.

Stay tuned concerned community members and Open Space supporters. We will let you know what’s next once the final ruling is issued.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

[HexWatch 2011] "Look Ma, No Hex!"

About a dozen LADWP employees celebrated Friday the 13th by showing up to push tons and tons of contaminated dirt around over at Headworks. The workers didn't wear any kind of respiratory masks, so we have to assume they were born without lungs.
Either that or after 16 months, LADWP still has not informed its workers of the Chromium VI contamination and its effects on internal organs.
Gotta love the thinking behind the City of Los Angeles and LADWP. I mean, just because there's a snake in the sandbox doesn't mean it's poisonous, so let the kids play!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Banksy in Griffith Park?

Probably not, but it's a fun thought. Via the Twitter:

Travis Jones
is this a ? saw it at foot of the trail in Griffith Park