Often called the birthplace and center of Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano social and political activism, East Los Angeles has long struggled with the idea of what self-determination should look like at home.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Ciudad del Este de Los Ángeles: ¿El Esfuerzo Llega a un Fin?
While many past and present elected officials have roots tied to East Los Angeles, either by birth or political support, the unincorporated area in the County of Los Angeles has only one directly elected representative, First District County Supervisor Gloria Molina.
For some that’s a problem.
But for others, the situation has been a windfall in services and developments in the mostly Latino, working class community.
Three previous attempts to incorporate East LA—1960, 1963 and 1971—have failed.
The latest effort, started in 2007 by the East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA,) now appears to be in danger of repeating the past.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Local Agency Formation Commission (LA LAFCO) Executive Officer Paul Novak released LAFCO’s Executive Officer’s Report” for the Proposed Incorporation of East Los Angeles, and in it he “recommends that the Commission disapprove the incorporation request.”
According to the report, state law requires that a new city should have “sufficient revenues to provide public services and facilities and a reasonable reserve during the first three years of incorporation.
“East Los Angeles does not generate enough revenue to sustain a healthy and financially sound city,” states the report, which based its findings on the results of an independent “Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis (CFA)” completed last year, and an audit of the report by the State Controller’s office. Both concluded East LA would have a deficit of $19 million in the first year following incorporation, and between $12 million and nearly $19 million in each of the next 9 years.
Proponents of the cityhood effort have repeatedly challenged those studies. ELARA argues the studies have not been forward looking, and are based on past funding priorities. As a city, they say East LA could create it’s own priorities and find ways to generate more revenue.
Next Wednesday, LA LAFCO’s Commission is scheduled to consider Novak’s recommendation. “As outlined on Page 35 of the Executive Officer’s Report, the Commission has three options: disapprove the requested incorporation (the staff recommendation); approve the incorporation, and direct staff to prepare findings and determinations necessary to approve it; or continue the matter,” Novak told EGP Wednesday by email.
On Tuesday, ELARA submitted a letter to LA LAFCO requesting that the Jan. 25 public hearing be continued for four months to allow more time to examine other potential fiscal remedies on the grounds that costs in the financial reports have not been properly “vetted” as required under the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act.
“We have faithfully met every bureaucratic hurdle put before the Cityhood effort, and a decision on this issue next week would be premature and irresponsible,” ELARA wrote in an e-mail to supporters. ELARA contends there are still too many unanswered questions and discrepancies in the financial data that need to be resolved, adding East LA residents deserve real answers.
Novak told EGP that it would be up to the Commission to decide whether to continue the issue to a later date. He suggested that ELARA and others attending the Jan. 25 hearing, and who are in favor of an extension, tell the Commission that during their testimony.
Novak says the agency recognizes the incorporation effort has been “an arduous undertaking … for which the proponents are to be commended,” and the CFA conclusions “do not, in anyway, minimize the tremendous efforts by ELARA.”
Supervisor Gloria Molina echoed those sentiments on Wednesday, telling EGP that the “dream of cityhood” is an important one, and that the process has been long and hard, but worthwhile.
Both supporters and opponents asked her to take a position, she said, but she felt that would be unfair, and that “we needed to see the data, and let the process play out.”
Molina acknowledged she was worried the data would not support the financial viability of cityhood at this time, and said she suggested to ELARA about two years ago to hold off on the CFA given the impact the poor economy was having on municipalities everywhere. “But they didn’t want to wait, they wanted to proceed,” she said.
Also devastating the area’s financial resources was the governor’s signing of a bill to eliminate the payment of motor vehicle license fees (VLF) to any newly incorporated city, which since 2004 provided a substantial “bump” in revenue to new cities during their first five years of incorporation. Had Gov. Jerry Brown not signed SB89, East LA would have received $6 to $9 million dollars during the first five years of incorporation, according to LAFCO’s Executive Officer’s Report.
ELARA told EGP by e-mail that it “laments the Executive Officers recommendation for disapproval as the fact finding mission is not over yet.” In their request for an extension, they note that there are efforts underway in the State Legislature to address the negative impact of the VLF funding decision, but more time is needed for it to be completed.
“The question is not whether the City of East LA is feasible, but under what conditions,” ELARA writes in its request for an extension.
The letter goes on to detail some of the other areas they believe would improve East LA’s financial feasibility, such as: reducing the city’s transition period to 7 months instead of 12 months; reconsidering law enforcement, parks and library costs; including a solid waste fee in the city’s revenue stream; and, as a last ditch effort, placing a utility user tax increase on the ballot along with the incorporation question.
Molina says the area needs more tax revenue generating businesses in order to be able to support the cost of services, but just saying we should attract national retailers is not the answer. “We need to get everyone involved in that conversation,” she said.
ELARA is hoping for a big turnout at the LA LAFCO meeting on Jan. 25 when Novak will present his report to the Commission.
“We can no longer afford to be silenced by the pro status quo establishment; the community deserves all parties to work together to achieve feasibility as there are many fiscal venues to do it,” ELARA President Ben Cardenas said.
“The East L.A. taxpayer has the right and deserves an up or down vote on Cityhood.”
Gov. Jerry Brown came to Los Angeles City Hall yesterday to push for budget cuts, infrastructure investments, pension reform and a temporary sales tax increase to help close an expected $9.2 billion state budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.
In a 26 minute speech before Los Angeles elected officials and labor and business leaders, Brown painted a picture of a state forced to cut good programs that have grown too large while struggling to pay for basic public services like education. The state is also failing to make what he described as visionary investments in long term transportation and environmental infrastructure projects.
Brown faulted people he called “declinists,” who he said annually predict the demise of the state’s economy, culture and politics.
“California has big problems, but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated,’’ Brown told the audience of more than two hundred people packed into the Public Works board room.
Brown told the audience 2012 is a year of opportunity when state government can “stimulate jobs, build renewable energy, reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, launch the nation’s only high-speed rail system.”
He brushed aside critics of the proposed high-speed rail system, saying the nearly $100 billion rail project has his “strong support.”
He said a new business plan for the system would be out within weeks that would allay critics and, with legislative approval, allow construction on a first phase in the Central Valley to begin by the end of the year.
“If you agree that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions of … more people will be living in our state, then it’s a wise investment,” Brown said.
Building new airport runways and roads and highways is the only alternative to high-speed rail and would cost more, he told the audience.
Brown called for an overhaul of the education funding system he said would divide money more fairly among schools based on demographics like income levels and the percentage of students who speak English as a second language.
He called for more responsibility in public education to be given to school districts.
“What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision making at the state or federal level,” he said.
The governor issued a call for pension reform for newly hired government employees, based on what he described as a fundamentally unsustainable system.
“The way it looks to me is that a lot of people, increasingly the majority of them, are going to be living on their retirement longer than the years they worked, and there are fewer people entering the workforce to support that retirement,” Brown said.
Brown took questions from officials including City Councilmen Tom LaBonge, Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz.
Koretz asked the governor to consider delaying the Feb. 1 deadline for redevelopment agencies to dissolve themselves, saying it was causing unnecessary chaos and would lead to more lawsuits if not pushed back several months.
Brown shot the idea down. “I don’t think we can delay this funeral,” he said, adding later. “Don’t worry about lawsuits. We are sued every day.”
Councilman Eric Garcetti, a candidate for mayor, said Brown “absolutely’’ made the case for a tax increase, saying the proposal would be smaller than the taxes Californians were paying several years ago. “We can’t get good schools without investing in them. We can’t get good roads and water without investing. That was always the California way. We pay and it paid us back many times.”
“We can live cheaply in the short term, but it’s very expensive in the long term,” Garcetti added.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich accused Brown of using “bully” tactics to gain support for tax increases.
“Threatening voters with draconian cuts in public safety and education if they don’t approve his tax increases is a typical scare tactic used by bully politicians who have failed to initiate reforms and improve government efficiency,” Antonovich said.
Instead, Antonovich said Brown should start by restructuring some parts of state government, including joining the departments that manage Medi-Cal, CalWorks and Food Stamps, which he said could save the state $1.2 billion over five years.
Two state senators, answering the pleas of numerous local government officials across California, introduced a bill last Friday to postpone the dissolution of redevelopment agencies by two months.
If passed, Senate Bill 659, co-sponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Michael Rubio (D-Shafter), would allow redevelopment agencies to close their doors on April 15, rather than on Feb. 1.
Padilla said the mass shutdown of redevelopment agencies in the state could result in litigation over existing redevelopment projects and job losses. “Successor agencies and the state may face huge liabilities and jeopardize school funding. I have introduced SB 659 to provide state leaders time to craft the necessary solutions,” he said.
AB X1 26 was passed into law last year and would have eliminated redevelopment agencies by Oct. 1, 2011.
Supporters of the dissolution of redevelopment say the move would re-route tax dollars toward education and other social services. Those who challenge the elimination of redevelopment say lawmakers are more interested in balancing the state budget on the backs of local governments.
A coalition of cities brought a lawsuit against the bill to eliminate redevelopment agencies, but on Dec. 29, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor the bill, upholding it. The dissolution deadline was set at Feb. 1.
However, the court also ruled that an “escape clause” bill, AB X1 27, allowing cities to keep their agencies for a significant fee was unconstitutional, leaving many cities that hoped to keep their agencies at a loss.
Since the court ruling, city officials all across California have been calling for a bill to delay the closure of redevelopment agencies. The Commerce city manager and a councilwoman were among the officials who traveled to Sacramento last week to speak to lawmakers for a bill to delay the deadline, which they say would also give lawmakers an opportunity to come up with an alternative to redevelopment.
Furthermore, the law would give reprieve to many cities, especially those that have used redevelopment funds to pay a portion or all of some employees’ salaries and are now facing the prospect of laying off city employees.
Cities say they have used redevelopment agency funds to attract developers to their cities, remove blight, and build affordable housing. Local governments can keep a higher percentage of funds in a redevelopment area than in a non-redevelopment area for these purposes. The agencies wield greater powers than most public agencies when buying and developing land in areas of the city designated as “blighted.”
During the last week, the cities of Montebello, Commerce, and Monterey Park voted on resolutions affirming that they would take on the responsibility of winding down their redevelopment agencies. As the so-called successor agencies, they would be responsible for selling off assets, paying off debts, and finishing projects already in progress.
A successor agency would receive 5 percent of the 2011-2012 tax increment, and 3 percent each year after that, but not less than $250,000 a year to perform its liquidation duties.
Montebello could receive $700,000 in the first year toward the liquidation of its redevelopment agency.
Commerce officials estimate their successor agency would receive $950,000 in the first year to cover administrative costs.
Though there are some rough estimates, many cities are unsure at this point of the total cost of becoming the successor agency. Monterey Park officials say there are potential legal costs related to the Atlantic Time Square project, a dispute regarding the Towne Center, and legal costs related to the Market Place agreements; but they also say the city may be protected from some of these costs depending on how the liquidation rules laid out in AB X 26 are interpreted.
Los Angeles chose not to become a successor agency, giving up control over the liquidation of as many as 86 major projects worth about $4 billion. The city’s legislative analyst warned that if it did not sever ties with its redevelopment agency, it could be on the hook for $109 million in salary and retirement costs.
Under the Padilla-Rubio bill, Los Angeles officials may have an opportunity to change their minds if the terms for becoming a successor agency are improved.
SB 659 would allow cities like Los Angeles to reconsider becoming a successor agency by Feb. 15.
It would also make sure scheduled payments are made to the state in their entirety on or before June 1, 2012, as provided in this year’s budget, according to the bill’s authors.
The bill keeps the original October 1, 2011 deadline for invalidating contracts between redevelopment agencies and a city or county to protect the state from RDA and parent transfers that occurred after the court decision and before February 1, 2012.
A nonprofit medical clinic serving low-income patients is opening a satellite location at the Reggie Rodriguez Park Community Center in Montebello.
The Bell Gardens-based Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles is expecting to open its new Montebello clinic in March. Construction begins this week.
When it opens, the two-exam room health facility will be staffed by one doctor or nurse practitioner and provide free or low cost care to families, including pediatric and adult care, and some women’s health. There will be bilingual, Spanish-speaking staff available. The clinic will be open 20 hours a week and increase its hours as the number of patients increase.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Clínica de Bell Gardens Llega a Montebello
A new electronic health records system will also be implemented at the satellite facility, said Dr. Felix Nunez, Interim CEO and CMO of Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
Nunez says they are focused on serving low-income and uninsured patients. They accept patients with Medicaid and Medi-Cal, and are working with the county to ensure there is sufficient funding to serve uninsured patients.
Nunez said they are opening the satellite in Montebello because of the number of people in the area who do not have health insurance or are low-income. Some patients currently go to their Bell Gardens clinic, but “this will provide an outpost so people have care closer to where they are,” he said.
The satellite is funded through County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office and the Clinic Capacity Expansion Program of the Public Private Partnership Program, which also funded the clinic’s Downey satellite that is opening this month.
Montebello offered the community center space to the clinic free of charge. According to Community Services Rebecca Silva, the city built the 5,000 square feet, two-story community center ten years ago in order to house community organizations such as Family Health Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles.
Since the facility was built in the early 2000s, there has been a slow, ongoing process to fill the space. Other organizations now housed at the community center include a diabetes education nonprofit, a youth counseling center, and a county office coordinating social services in the area. The city also uses the space for its after-school programs.
The arrival of the satellite clinic will make this the first time the facility has been completely filled. “It’s taken some time to really put this puzzle together,” Silva said.
She added the health clinic is “something people will always need.”
“We have a lot of families who, because of their circumstances financially, are considered low income,” and may not be aware of the resources available to them, so the Reggie Rodriguez Community Center “is the perfect spot, right in the neighborhood,” she said.
“It is accessible. There are bilingual services. Hopefully, it is going to be something that really suits their needs,” she said.
Montebello Councilman Bill Molinari highlighted the satellite health clinic at a recent council meeting.
“Particularly given the current economy where so many folks have lost employment, and have also lost medical care, this is going to be an opportunity to provide some very, very important medical service to many, many residents in our community,” he said.
The city awarded a $43,818 construction contract to JSC Construction at the Jan. 11 council meeting. The clinic will reimburse the city for the construction costs.
A small residential community with deep roots in Northeast Los Angeles has begun efforts to form their own neighborhood council, and separate from the group that currently represents them and a large swath of the communities that surround them.
If the group successfully receives certification, it would represent the smallest pool of stakeholders in the City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council system.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Residentes Organizan Esfuerzos para el Concejo Vecinal Más Pequeño de Los Ángeles
On Jan. 12, about 30 people attended a meeting of the Hermon Neighborhood Council Formation Committee. With roughly 3,500 residents, Hermon is one of five communities — Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mt. Washington and Sycamore Grove— under the umbrella of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC). But after a decade in the ASNC, a number of residents say “it’s time” to form their own neighborhood council to more fully empower their community.
Los Angeles’ neighborhood councils are local groups of stakeholders tasked with advising the city council on local issues. They are supervised by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and receive city funds to use on outreach aimed at bringing the local community closer to city hall, and on special local projects or programs in need of financial support.
Backers of the change began organizing late last year, and say they have already ironed out some of the technical aspects of their neighborhood council application.
At last week’s meeting, the group reviewed proposed bylaws modeled after those of the ASNC, which Hermon resident Joseph Riser said took over a year to create. “In order to make this as easy as we possibly could, I took the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood bylaws and I just removed everything that wasn’t about us … the reason for that is the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment can’t say these are not legitimate bylaws because they’re already the bylaws of the neighborhood council we’re [currently] represented by,” he said.
Riser added the council’s boundaries would be similar to the Hermon Local Issues Committee boundaries, and he suggested lowering the number of board members to eight: three regional; three at large members to represent community organizations (environment, health and safety, and history culture & the arts); one youth and one special representatives. He also proposed reducing the voting age to 16, since Los Angeles International Charter High School is in Hermon.
Five Hermon residents are currently on the ASNC board, and could potentially become the new Hermon NC’s interim board if they are certified. They could then appoint people to fill the remaining spots until the next citywide election in 2013, Riser said.
The Hermon group has already informed DONE of their intent to break away from Arroyo Seco and form a new neighborhood council. Earlier this month they received a letter from DONE General Manager Bonghwan Kim, in which he noted a neighborhood council already represents them. He wrote that the city does not have a policy for creating new councils out of existing ones, and added that they do not meet the minimum population size criteria of 20,000 stakeholders.
“Currently, based on information provided by the Bureau of Engineering, the area you have identified for possible certification contains a total population size of 6,534,” Kim wrote. He suggested they work with the ASNC to “insure that your interests for your community are being represented.”
Riser noted, however, that DONE has certified 11 other neighborhood councils that do not meet the population criteria. They include Elysian Valley Riverside NC (7,323 stakeholders), Greater Cypress Park NC (10,833 stakeholders), and Atwater Village (14,931 stakeholders).
He also said Hermon meets requirements for an exemption to the rule: it is separated from adjacent communities by significant geographic features, namely Debs Park and the Arroyo Seco Parkway; it has also been identified by name within an adopted Community Plan (the Northeast Plan), and the area represents a historic, identifiable neighborhood or community that is serviced by City service providers—Hermon will celebrate it’s centennial this year, and has parks and public schools, Riser said.
“We’re not breaking a mold, we just have to convince them that we are worthy of these exemptions,” Riser explained.
Hermon residents recognize some larger neighborhood councils could oppose them solely on the basis of funding, but “right now that’s the least of our problems,” Riser said.
In an email to EGP, Kim said neighborhood councils currently receive $40,500 a year from the city to assist them with administration, outreach, community improvements, and grants to schools and non-profits.
ASNC Hermon Local Issues Committee member Darlene Martinez says Hermon is a very active community, and has been criticized by other ASNC members for receiving a lot of the council’s funding, even though the other areas could not decide how to spend the funds that don’t roll over from year to year.
The issue came to a head over funds spent on Hermon’s Shakeout Earthquake Drill last October, which prompted allegations by some ASNC members that the expenditure was never approved. Formation committee co-chair Wendy Riser disputes those claims, and says they now realize that we can “do more if we become our own neighborhood council. It’ll facilitate getting things done, we’ll be able to be more direct and get things done right away,” she said.
Hermon has always shared it’s resources and that won’t change if Hermon becomes it’s own neighborhood council, said committee co-chair and Hermon Community Church pastor, Manny Martinez.
This is not about the money, says Joseph Riser. “A community that is as active as we are should be able to put our voice straightforward to the city without that filter of people who don’t understand [our community],” he said.
But it’s uncertain if DONE will give the group a chance to make their case. In his email to EGP, Kim said, “We have not and do not anticipate addressing this issue.
“ There are a number of NCs with populations over 80,000. If we took up any issue of this type it would be for NCs with unusually large numbers of stakeholders,” he stated.
Undaunted, the Hermon NC Formation Committee will continue their drive to gain independence, which includes collecting about 400 signatures from local stakeholders — landlords, teachers, students, parents of students, any one who works there, and members of the church congregation — to show they have community support, and convincing the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners to accept their application and bylaws. They must also get the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council to agree to change its boundaries to exclude Hermon.
If things go their way, they hope to get their bylaws approved by March, and receive certification in June. The proposed bylaws and a detailed timeline are online at www.HermonLA.org.
The committee will meet again on Feb. 5.
Yesterday’s State of the State address by Governor Jerry Brown gives us hope that even though things are not as good as some believe, California is not about to implode from massive debt.
Having said that, the governor failed in his speech to really explain why he believes the state’s voters should pile more taxes on themselves this coming fall, given that the proposals so far detailed still seem to include too many grey areas, and not enough guarantees on how the new taxes will spent.
Yes, he has said they will be used to fund education and important social safety net social service programs, but as always, the devil is in the details. We want more details.
We agree with the governor that the state should proceed with the proposed High-Speed Rail project and that delay or replacing it with another initiative could be more expensive in the long run. We need more and better transportation systems that can help get polluting cars off the road, and which will speed up our economic engine.
The governor says a new business plan for the rail project will be released soon. We urge the governor to make sure it is a clear and truthful assessment of the project’s cast of characters, and the transportation system’s realistic financial projections. Anything less will only hurt the approval of the project.
The need for real transparency is especially true when it comes to Governor Brown’s plans to shake up the methods for funding education in the Golden State. He claims his proposed temporary tax hikes will keep funding for education whole, and will continue to pay for his realignment of the prison system and public safety.
We say it’s time to really spell out the percentages that will be spent in each of these and other budget areas.
So, while the governor’s speech on Wednesday may have been intended to inspire hope, we have all been down this road before. What we need now is a little less inspiration, and a lot more elbow grease from our representatives in Sacramento.
For Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Herb Wesson and the members of the Los Angeles City Council, the number one priority for this week should be to rally Speaker John Perez and the other members of the Los Angeles Legislative Delegation to mobilize statewide support for Senator Alex Padilla’s bill SB 659 which would extend the life of Redevelopment Agencies (RDA’s) from Feb. 1 to April 15.
Padilla’s bill is not about whether to end RDA’s, that issue has already been decided and the State won. Padilla’s bill is about making sure that the dissolution of RDA’s does not cost our city and state thousands of jobs and billions of dollars from the abandonment or mismanagement of projects which are already underway.
Last year, Governor Brown led the charge to eliminate the State’s nearly 400 RDA’s and reallocate their property tax revenue to counties, school districts, cities and the state.
In December, the California Supreme Court ruled that the State had the constitutional authority to eliminate RDA’s. The Court’s decision set in motion a hasty process for determining a “Successor Agency” to take over the responsibility for each RDA’s assets and projects that require continued oversight or management.
Unbelievably, the time schedule for eliminating the 64 year old RDA program is February 1, which is 14 days from today.
Last week the Los Angeles City Council decided not to take on the responsibility as the “successor agency” to the Los Angeles RDA. After reviewing a 60-page report from the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst and Chief Administrative Officer, the City Council, with the blessing of Mayor Villaraigosa, decided that the City did not have the financial resources to assume responsibility for the salary and benefits of the 192 people that are currently on the RDA payroll.
It is unlikely that Los Angeles County will vote to become the “successor agency’ which means that a three-member oversight board will be appointed by Governor Brown.
It is unclear when this board will be appointed and whether it will have time to do any planning by Feb. 1.
Governor Brown and the legislature won the political and judicial battles over the use of property taxes generated by RDA projects. The L.A. City Council protected itself from an immediate increase in the City’s budget deficit.
RDA’s will be eliminated and there will be no new RDA projects. But none of these actions eliminate the need for continued oversight and decision making to make sure that the thousands of RDA projects that have been used to revitalize cities across the state do not crumble under lack of management.
As of today, there are scores of unanswered questions and dozens of unintended consequences about how this process will be managed overall, let alone in 14 days.
Before State officials celebrate their victory and L.A.’s Mayor and City Council wash their hands of RDA “successor agency” responsibilities, it is absolutely essential to the economy of Los Angeles and California that the Mayor and City Council focus their complete attention on mobilizing the Los Angeles Legislative Caucus to pass Senator Padilla’s bill, SB 659.
While the Governor, the legislature and the L.A. City Council are worried about money, we’re worried about keeping jobs.
Only this action will give the City of Los Angeles and other cities across the state the time to assure that private and public assets that have been invested in creating new jobs are not doomed with the demise of RDA’s. There is no higher priority this week.
And that’s The Business Perspective.
The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Public Policy staff.
You text your friend;
Spooks are reading
What you send.
The FBI now employs 36,000 people and focuses ever more on dissenters. The CIA, supposedly prohibited from spying domestically, now stations agents in local police departments. Homeland Security may legally confiscate your computer and smart phone at the airport, copy their contents, and eventually give them back. Civilian agencies have drones to follow you.
And that’s just the beginning.
The FBI can secretly demand your financial records from your accountant, your medical records from your doctor, and your travel routes from your cellphone company. Further, Congress has now ruled that if you’re arrested on some terrorism charge you shall be whisked off to Guantánamo to be tried by the military. Or just left there.
Most Americans, fortunately, aren’t likely prospects for these or similar new Kafkaesque treatments. The chief targets just now are Muslims and liberal activists. U.S. Muslims are under such tight surveillance that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have felt emancipated by comparison.
Furthermore, thousands of peaceful protesters are arrested every year. An increasingly common game is to hold them with hands cuffed behind their backs and no access to rest rooms until they are forced to urinate in their clothes. Cute.
Anti-war protesters are treated as America’s next greatest threat to national security. They’re spied upon, infiltrated, and occasionally detained without charge. It’s as though our political-economic structure would collapse if there were no more wars.
Under a little-known law that itself now faces a legal challenge, the government can also brand activists as “terrorists” if they try to document inhumane and unsanitary conditions at factory farms or laboratories that conduct tests on animals.
Indeed, the shortage of real terrorism in recent years is a challenge for our law enforcers. With no airliners tumbling from the sky or bombs shattering subways, how does one maintain public support for government snooping and airport inconvenience? Especially when the rest of the world is lightening up?
Well, entrapment is one useful trick. You infiltrate mosques and Muslim social clubs until you identify an unstable or hate-filled prospect who speaks of his or her desire to cause destruction. Then you nurse him or her along, providing training and materials as though you were the ghost of Osama bin Laden himself. Next you help create a plan for an explosive extravaganza, and then arrest your suspect very publicly as a terrorist.
The media loves this sort of adventure, but at the same time it keeps pretty mum about government spying overall. That espionage quietly undermines the lives and futures of whistleblowers and other Americans who openly oppose various harmful government/corporate practices.
It would be a comfort to believe that all this domestic surveillance had receded under President Barack Obama. No such luck.
Homeland Security still wants us to snitch on our neighbors and the FBI still conducts illegal wiretaps. Last year, Obama also signed a four-year extension of the dreaded USA Patriot Act. Spying on dissident citizens simply seems to be what governments do, and ours has certainly gotten the hang of it.
OtherWords,org columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.
A divided Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday approved two measures that could result in potentially sweeping changes for the district.
The board approved changes to how the district deals with truancy, lessening the punitive approach of its previous policies.
They also instructed staff to explore the possibility of lifting school boundaries that have long been used to assign students to schools based on where they live.
Several district and Los Angeles city officials joined community advocates in applauding amendments made to its daytime curfew law, which will now stipulate that students who are on their way to school will no longer be ticketed and fined.
More than 47,000 tickets were issued to students under the daytime curfew law from 2004 to 2009, according to LAPD and district police data.
Officials say they will ensure that the district will approach truancy and tardiness as a student attendance issue, rather than as a crime.
“For too long ticketing and criminalization was the norm that only further pushed youth out of school and was getting them one foot closer to the criminal justice system,” said Manuel Criollo with the Community Rights Campaign.
Board members Tamar Galatzan and Marguerite LaMotte voted against the resolution.
The board also voted on Tuesday to have district staff look into eliminating school boundaries, so that students will no longer be assigned to schools based solely on where they live.
Board Member Monica Garcia said lifting school boundaries would “give parents and students the ability to choose a school based on their academic interest and needs, not based on their ZIP code.”
Students and parents would be allowed to pick schools based on its atmosphere, class sizes, test scores and after-school programs, she said.
Board members Richard Vladovic, Marguerite LaMotte and Bennett Kayser voted against the proposal, arguing that it would be too costly, lead to segregation, and cause students to leave their own neighborhood schools.
They also argued the change would weaken an agreement reached with the District’s teachers’ union, UTLA, to allow teachers and principals greater latitude in developing and implementing reforms at the school level.
District staff was asked to bring back recommendations on the proposal in 90 days.