Decision 2016 Ballot Analysis: L.A. City, County, & District Measures (5/5)

userpic=voteThe upcoming November ballot, at least in my precinct in Los Angeles, California, is large. As the Donald might say, it is “Yuuuuuge”. So I’m splitting my regular sample ballot analysis into five posts: one covering the Presidential ticket (although you know where I’m going there), one for the down-ticket races, two covering the state-wide propositions on the ballot (50-59, 60-67), and a final post covering the county, city, and special district measures. I’ll also include one additional post summarizing all my positions. As always, if you have different views, I urge you to comment and try to convince me to change my mind.

Note: Propositions Haiku by Damion Carroll.

County Measures

Measure A: Safe, Clean, Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection, and Water Conservation Measure

Modest parcel tax
Maintains parks and rec centers
Rivers and beaches

Summary: The Los Angeles County Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Beaches Measure of 2016 (Measure A) asks voters to continue their support for local parks, beaches, open space, and water resources by approving an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of development. If approved, the estimated tax for the owner of a 1,500 square foot home will be $22.50 per year, and will be included on the annual property tax bill.  Generating approximately $94 million per year for our local parks, beaches, and open space areas, Measure A will replace expiring dedicated funding from the voter-approved Propositions A of 1992 and 1996.
[Websites: Yes fb | No Organized Opposition ]

Analysis: The first question I had reading this had to do with the last sentence:”Measure A will replace expiring dedicated funding from the voter-approved Propositions A of 1992 and 1996″. My question was: If we have an existing tax for parks, how much is this changing it (after all, if the change is negligible, this is a no brainer). The problem is that the rate used in 1996 is based on a complicated Engineers Report, that deals with “benefit points” based on the size of the property and its use (this determining the benefit from parks). The new measure uses a flat rate based on parcel size. Still, I persevered, and found a page on the county parks website that said: “On November 5, 1996 the voters of Los Angeles County passed Proposition A of 1996 which provided for an additional $319 million (the 1992 Proposition was $540 million.).  To fund the additional projects, the Proposition increased the rate of assessment by approximately 54% from $21.89 per acre to $33.69 per acre.” An acre is 43560 sq ft according to Google, making a rate of $33.69/acre equivalent to .0773416¢/sq foot. The new tax will be 1.5¢/sq foot, a sizable increase (although the parks needed more — I’ve seen some reports about 3¢/sq foot). As an example, my house is 2821 sq ft, making the tax $42.32.

There is a significant need for parks, although it isn’t distributed uniformly across the county. A map that was posted when the measure was proposed shows the needs well. As LAist noted: “Though there are approximately 3.3 acres of park space per 1,000 L.A. County residents, the space is hardly distributed in an egalitarian way. Where communities throughout West L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley are lucky enough to have oodles of developed, usable public space, other areas in south, central, and southeast Los Angeles County are very park poor. […]  The report found that more than half of L.A county residents live in an area considered “High Need” or “Very High Need.” Just 21 percent live in a “Low need” or “Very Low Need” area. Areas designated “Very High Need” average just 0.7 acres of park space per 1,000 residents. By contrast, Low Need communities average 12.5 acres per 1,000 residents. Very Low Need communities boast a whopping 52 acres per 1,000 residents. Communities like Huntington Park, which has 0.7 acres of park space per 1000 residents, Compton (0.6 acres) and El Monte (0.4 acres) are examples of park-poor communities. Sun Valley, Van Nuys, and South Los Angeles were also identified as communities that need more open space.

The opponents of the proposal, at least in their ballot arguments, argue primarily against the taxation — that it isn’t fair, or that it isn’t based on the value of the property. The problem with that argument is that it would then tie into Prop. 13 valuations — and those skew to advantage the wealthy. The approach in this measure is based on the assumption that wealth leads to larger lots/residences; and thus the wealthy can afford and will pay more tax. They also complain that the tax is not being spent in the part of the county where it is raised; however, that is a spurious arguments, for the same can be said of any public works improvement funded through property taxes — roads, bridges, schools, etc. This isn’t a selfish benefit (“what’s in it for ME”); it is a benefit for the community.

The Yes on A website shows a relatively broad base of support. Curbed LA noted back in July that “Recent polling numbers presented to the supervisors show that 69 percent of LA residents would likely support the measure, with that number growing to 75 percent after respondents were given more information about the tax. Two-thirds of voters must approve the measure for it to pass. Interestingly, the poll showed that voters were just as likely to support the tax if it doubled to three cents per square-foot. In spite of that, the supervisors elected to go with the lower tax—one that will take more than two decades to raise necessary funds for priority park projects.”

The LA Times hasn’t yet endorsed this measure, although an early article noted that the County did things right this time: “It hired experts who examined the existing park and recreation resources and mapped out the unmet needs, noting vast areas of L.A. in which residents are more than a comfortable walk from the nearest public park, pool, gym or open space. Officials conducted numerous community meetings, hearing out residents and learning what they wanted. They crafted a plan that tries to balance the competing desires for more open space in the mountains and near beaches, more new facilities in currently park-poor areas, and restoration and maintenance of eroding trails, dilapidated beach restrooms and long-neglected buildings and equipment.  Last month, they went back to residents with a series of public meetings to find out if they were missing anything. The Board of Supervisors plotted out a good course and the county Regional and Park and Open Space District engaged in a process that was in many ways a model of public outreach and involvement. Officials brought back what appears to be a good (although very ambitious) product – one that would nearly double the assessment that property owners have been paying since 1992, but in the service of badly needed amenities that are crucial to the health, safety and quality of life of county residents.”

Parks benefit everyone. They increase property values; they provide a place for youth that is safer than the streets. Having safe parks is important. The cost on this is negligible for most, unless you have something like a 25,000 sq ft mansion in Beverly Hills. But if you do, you can likely afford this.

Conclusion: Thumbs Up Yes on A fb

Measure M: LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority – LA County Traffic Improvement Plan

A half-cent sales tax
Funds transit infrastructure

Summary: To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ ¢ sales tax and continue the existing ½ ¢ traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?
[Websites: Yes fb | No]

Analysis: If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a highway guy. I love roads and highways, and that love extends to transit and transit systems. I have seen, first hand, the benefits of the previous traffic improvement sales tax on this city. Not only have we seen a significant improvement in our transit systems, but funds from the measure have funded improvements in the highway system throughout the region. You probably can guess where I’m going with this, but humor me.

This measure will fund significant improvements. Metro has a map detailing the improvements by region. You can also find an easy to navigate map here. LAist even linked to a great animated map on the improvements:

Measure M Improvements

Mind you, this is just the transit improvements. There are also highway and bus improvements, improvements for senior transportion. A good fact sheet detailing everything is here.

So why are there some folks against this? After all, this is just continuing an existing tax? There are a few reasons. Some feel the LA County sales tax is already too high — nearly 10%, and we should work to lower it as it hurts our economy. Others are mad that Measure M is not bringing improvements to their backyard. Some hate the fact that there are any highway improvements at all: they want to force everyone onto transit. Some just distrust LA Metro. Some (such as Beverly Hills) are mad the construction is going through their neighborhoods.

Here’s my 2¢: Previously, transit and highways were funded by user fees (think bus fares) and the California Transportation Commission, which got its money from the gas tax. The gas tax revenue is declining as vehicles become more efficient, there is increased ride sharing, and people drive less. There are mileage-based approaches on the horizon, but they aren’t there yet. Any highway construction needs local funds and local support. Similarly for transit improvements. Improving the roads and transit benefits everyone in the county, so a sales tax makes a lot of sense.

I like the plan. I like the funding approach. I like the eventual improved transit in the valley.

Conclusion: Thumbs Up Yes on M fb

LA Community College District

Measure CC: Los Angeles Community College District Affordable Education / Job Training / Classroom Safety Measure

Three point three billion
For community college
Repairs and upgrades

Summary: To repair local community colleges/ prepare students/veterans for jobs/ university transfer by upgrading vocational/ career education for veterans, firefighters, paramedics nurses/ police, removing lead paint/ asbestos, upgrading campus safety/ security systems, technology, handicapped accessibility/earthquake safety, repairing deteriorating gas, water/ sewer lines, acquiring, constructing, repairing facilities, sites/ equipment, shall Los Angeles Community College District issue $3,300,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, requiring independent audits, citizen oversight, all funds used locally.
[Websites: Yes fb | No Opposition Website Found]

Analysis: Community colleges perform a vital role in our higher education system. Often, they are the only affordable entry point for students, who get the basic courses out of the way at the Community College, and then transfer to a four-year institution to complete their degrees. In fact, they are so vital that Hillary Clinton has proposed making them free for students. They are a large source of vocation education and two year degrees, which are sufficient for many fields. They are the institutions that are picking up the slack as the for-profit institutions fall left and right due to loss of accreditation due to student loan problems. As we move forward, I can only see Community College needs grow.

The problem: their infrastructure is aging. They don’t have the wealthy alumni associations of the private four year instituations or even the public institutions. They don’t get the prestige donations. They have do depend on the county and on student fees. This measure attempts to improve Community College facilities by issuing a bond, which will be repaid through property taxes with a cost of $15 per $100,000 of assessed valuation a year. To put that in perspective: take a house in the valley valued at $650,000. The bond would add $97.50 to their bill. Depending on when they bought and where they are with respect to Prop. 13, this either could be a negligible increase (if Prop. 13 has kept their valuation low), or a significant increase (if they bought in the last decade and are near current top-of-the-market values).

Another issue is that the last Community College bond construction program was plagued with financial abuses — so much so that some of the trustees of the LACCD board had legal problems. Here is some extensive LA Times coverage of the problems. One would think, if this bond is to be approved, that there must be stringent oversight to prevent such abuses from happening again. Given the LA Times exposé, one would expect that the LA Times endorsement regarding this measure would have an in-depth assessment. Alas, neither the Times nor the Daily News have published their position on CC to date.

The impartial analysis of Measure CC states the following regarding usage of the funds and financial oversight:

Proceeds from the sale of the bonds authorized by the Measure shall be used only for the purposes specified in the Measure, including, but not limited to, repairing gas, water, and sewer lines; replacing electrical wiring; removing lead paint and asbestos; improving water conservation, disabled access, and earthquake safety; upgrading door safety locks, security cameras, emergency notification systems, and lighting; upgrading fire alarms, sprinklers, intercoms, and fire doors; repairing water pipes and drinking fountains; repairing classrooms; upgrading classrooms and labs for science, technology, and engineering; improving classrooms for nursing, health information technology, biotech, and other technical vocational career programs; providing facilities to prepare students for transfer to four-year colleges and universities; improving educational resources for veterans; improving vocational classrooms and labs for nursing, dental, and emergency medical programs; and improving public safety academy to train police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. Bond proceeds may not be expended on teacher, faculty, and administrator salaries and pensions and other operating expenses.

The Board shall cause independent performance and financial audits to be conducted annually to ensure that bond proceeds are spent only for the projects identified in the Measure. The Board shall cause the appointment of an independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee in accordance with Education Code section 15278 no later than 60 days after the Board enters the election results in its minutes to ensure that bond proceeds are spent as specified in the Measure and as provided by law. The District shall create an account into which bond proceeds shall be deposited and shall comply with the reporting requirements of Government Code section 53410.

The argument against Measure CC in the ballot captures the concern that I have well: “In the last 15 years, almost $6 billion in bonds have been approved for the Los Angeles Community College District. Prop A authorized $1.245 billion, in 2001. Prop AA authorized $980 million in 2003. Measure J authorized $3.5 billion in 2008. […] In all three prior measures, we were promised oversight. But in 2011, an exposé by the Los Angeles Times and an audit by the State Controller found tens of millions in wasteful spending and shoddy construction with the bond money. They uncovered nepotism in contract awards and hiring, massive mismanagement, incomplete records, and poor to nonexistent oversight.” Further, the argument notes, “The “Project List” for Measure CC is generic “pie in the sky.” There’s no guarantee any particular thing will be done at any particular location.”

I think those are valid concerns. What I see in the measure does not address them. It only ensures use of the bond funds is not for salaries or operating expenses. There is no guarantee of quality of construction. There are no requirements for performance bonds, no requirements that payment of contractors is contingent on inspections of construction quality. Annual performance and financial audits are insufficient to guarantee that wasteful spending and shoddy construction will be identified in a timely manner.

There is a strong need for Community College construction and repair. But the trustees who put bonds on the ballot must demonstrate that they have learned from their mistakes. There must be specific projects at specific campuses, with specific repair estimates. The oversight must include quality inspections at least quarterly to ensure that promised work is being performed in the contracted manner and to specification. There must be ongoing oversight of contractor spending, not simply annual checks. Such accountability will reassure the public that the construction program is not a repeat of past abuses, and will convince them to fork over their property tax money. The current program just has insufficient specificity, oversight and accountability. Right idea, poor execution.

Note: On this measure, I’m still open to discussion. In particular, I may change my mind as I learn more as the newspaper and other endorsements come in. I particular want to see endorsements from groups that do not directly benefit (e.g., groups other than unions, teachers, students, chambers of commerce, and elected officials divided along party lines).

Conclusion: Thumbs Down No on CC (tentatively)

Los Angeles City Measures

Measure HHH: Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond. (Proposition)

One point two billion
In bond funding will provide
Safe homeless housing

Summary: To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits? [full text]
[Websites: Yes fb | No Opposition Website Found]

Analysis: If you’ve driven at all in Los Angeles of late, you’ve seen them. The homeless, living on the sides of the freeways or under the overpasses.  It seems that, over the years, the homeless problem in Los Angeles has increased. Whether it is a statement on the job situation in LA, the cost of housing in LA, or just our good weather. But I’m not the only one who noticed. The city council noticed as well, and put a bond issue on the ballot to help with the homeless problem.

Now, one problem with city measures is there is no good information on them. You can find links to the actual resolution, but there is no impartial analysis. This makes endorsements — in either direction — useful for the analysis. In this case, the LA Times has a good description of what this measure is doing: “It took an alarming 12% jump in homelessness from 2013 to 2015 and the spread of encampments across Los Angeles for city and county officials to finally create coordinated homelessness strategies. Some parts of those strategies have already gone into effect, such as putting more outreach workers on the streets. The centerpiece of the city’s plan, though, was a call for 10,000 units of housing to be built over 10 years at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. To raise that money, the city has put on the November ballot Proposition HHH, which would authorize $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds paid for by property taxes.”

Note those last words: “paid for by property taxes”. Whenever you see a bond issue, ask how it is going to be paid. Luckily, the Times has answered this as well: “The bonds’ cost to homeowners will vary over 29 years but will average a little under $10 for every $100,000 of property value. ” So, again, let’s use our $650,000 valley house as an example (we used it before in Measure CC). We’re talking roughly $65. Yes, these add up, but that’s likely noise overall (especially over two payments).

Where does the money go? According to the Times again, “The majority of the funds will go toward permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, who numbered about 8,500 in the city in January. These are the most vulnerable and entrenched of homeless people — those who have been on the streets for at least a year and suffer from a mental illness, substance abuse, a physical disability or a combination of these problems. They need housing that comes bundled with mental and physical health services and case management. […] The city would use proceeds from the bonds to enter into long-term leases with developers and lend them about a third of the cost of their projects. With that commitment, developers could raise the rest of the money from state, federal, and private sources. No project would be approved until the developer had lined up the service providers capable of offering the prospective residents the specific health services and counseling they would need. County health officials are expected soon to sign a memorandum of understanding with the city to guarantee that services will be provided for all the housing that gets built. The proposition would allow up to 20% of the bond funds to be used to build subsidized housing for low-income tenants. Such units are desperately needed too, in part to prevent more people from becoming homeless.” The Times also noted “one important safeguard for taxpayers [is that] bonds would be issued only for approved projects, and no money would be borrowed until a project is approved and a developer has a service partner in hand. There also are provisions in the measure to guard against wasteful or inappropriate spending, although the City Council can and should improve on that oversight.”

In other words, this sounds like it is well thought out (unlike Measure CC above). Perhaps that is one reason why the Times came out in favor. Others supporting the measure include city leaders, church leaders, and social help agencies (such as LA Family Housing, who is a social action partner of Temple Ahavat Shalom, my synagogue).

I did some searching online to find out if I could identify the opposition’s concerns. I could not find any. The Times did note one concern in its endorsement: “developers will have to come up with many more sites, while also allaying residents’ fears and making a compelling case for why their projects will blend into neighborhoods, not damage them.” The Times also noted: “A larger concern for many may be the prospect of supportive housing developments going up in their neighborhood. Their hesitation is understandable, but they’re fighting yesterday’s battles. Homelessness is already spreading into just about every community in the county. The supportive housing projects built in recent years have been well-designed. These are not shelters. And their tenants, for the most part, haven’t posed a problem for the neighborhood.”

I could imagine that this is opposed by the typical folks that oppose such thing: the taxpayers associations, the Howard Jarvis association, and anyone who either feels that (a) this is not a government concern, it is a church concern, or (b) they don’t want to see their taxes go up. I’ll note that odds are that many of these folks are likely categorized as Christians.

Judaism teaches the concept of tikkun olam — rebuilding the world. It also teaches the importance of tzedakah, charitable giving. Christianity has the notion of Christian Charity, of doing good for others. The great Jewish teacher Maimonides defined 8 levels of giving, the lowest being “When donations are given grudgingly.”, and the highest being “The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.” The penultimate level of giving is “Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.” Measure HHH seems clearly to be in the top two categories, and so increasing property taxes is a small price to pay for the good it will do.

Conclusion: Thumbs Up Yes on HHH fb

Measure JJJ: Affordable Housing and Labor Standards related to City Planning. (Initiative Ordinance)

Building in L.A.?
Add affordable units
And hire locally

Summary: Shall an ordinance 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes, be adopted? [full text]
[Websites: Yes fb | No]

Analysis: In the discussion of Measure HHH above, the significant problem of homelessness has been discussed. In addition to the City Council’s approach, another group has chimed in to address the question of how to create more affordable housing for the city’s poorest residents, and how to increase the number of good-paying jobs? Their answer is what the LA Times calls ” land-use planning by ballot initiative”. Measure JJJ was developed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, construction trade unions and affordable housing groups as the counteroffensive to the Neighborhood Integrity Act, a slow-growth initiative that would slap a two-year moratorium on major developments and require an overhaul of the city’s land-use plans. That initiative has since moved to the March city election, but Measure JJJ, also known as Build Better L.A., remains on the November ballot.

Measure JJJ would apply to residential projects of 10 or more units that request a General Plan amendment, zone change or permit to build taller than allowed. Many of the housing units built in recent years have required at least one of those land-use changes. To get approval, builders would need to meet new requirements on how much they can charge for their units, the wages they pay and the workers they hire. Apartment developers would have to guarantee that up to 25% of the units they build would be affordable for low-income tenants. For condominiums and homes, developers would have to provide up to 40% of the units at rents affordable to moderate-income residents. They could also choose to provide the affordable units elsewhere, or pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Developers would also have to abide by several strict hiring mandates. For example, contractors would have to ensure that at least 30% of their construction workers live in Los Angeles, and that 10% live within 5 miles of the project and be so-called transitional workers, a category that includes the homeless, single parents, veterans and those lacking a high school diploma. In addition, the contractors would have to pay wages set by the city’s Bureau of Contract Administration.

According to the Times (who came out against JJJ), this would impose some of the nation’s most demanding affordable housing and wage mandates on privately-funded development. It would dramatically raise the cost of residential projects over 10 units that need a zone change or general plan amendment to build the housing residence of L.A. need. Costs would go up because these projects would be subject to new hiring and wage mandates and a requirement to subsidize a specific number of lower cost units. Studies by the University of California, Berkeley, the California Institute and Habitat for Humanity/San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys estimate that these requirements could add as much as 23-30 percent to the cost of constructing new housing. The end result would be higher rental costs and higher prices for first-time homebuyers and anyone considering a home purchase in L.A. Builders fear the wage requirements would be equivalent to the “prevailing” wages required for publicly funded projects that are often double or triple what non-union construction workers earn. For example, the median hourly wage for a carpenter in the Los Angeles region is about $24; the prevailing wage is about $55 an hour. For these reasons, the LA Chamber of Commerce has also come out against JJJ. The President of the Chamber noted: “Despite its advertised purpose, this measure is counterproductive to solving the housing crisis in L.A. The housing vacancy rate in L.A. is the lowest in the nation and 45,000 County residents sleep in shelters or on sidewalks and tents each night. Mayor Garcetti has called for 100,000 new housing units by 2021. Measure JJJ would cut the legs out from under that plan.”

Also opposing the measure are tenant groups. A story in the Times noted: “the L.A. Tenants Union railed against the ballot proposal, arguing that it would fuel luxury housing rather than truly affordable apartments. […] Activists said more renters would face displacement if the new measure is passed, despite promises to protect affordable housing.” Why do they feel that way? The L.A. Tenants Union argued that wording would make it easier and faster to build new, more expensive developments without providing enough housing for the poor and displaced. Tenants ejected to make way for such developments would not have a guaranteed right to return, the group said.

In other words, this clearly sounds like a case of: “Good idea, bad execution.”

Conclusion: Thumbs Down No on JJJ

Measure RRR: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LA DWP)  (Charter Amendment)

Gives greater power
To DWP’s Board
To hire and set rates

Summary: Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) add qualification requirements, stipends and removal protections for DWP Board; (2) expand Board to seven members; (3) require DWP prepare four-year Strategic Plans for Council and Mayoral approval; (4) modify DWP’s contracting, rate-setting and other authority; (5) permit future alternatives to existing civil service standards for DWP employees through collective bargaining; and (6) require monthly billing? [full text]
[Websites: Yes | No]

Analysis: Los Angeles is unique in many ways. One of which — a legacy of William Mulholland — is that we have a municipal water and power district that is ostensibly non-profit. It is defined in the City Charter, and governed by the City Council. There have been numerous management problems at the LA DWP, and so the city council decided to try to reform things and fix them. Thus, Charter Amendment RRR.

Citywatch LA has a good description of the measure: The measure contains some new contracting freedom, gives the DWP Board its own staff, and doubles the minimum budget for the Ratepayer Advocate’s Office of Public Accountability. It also opens the possibility that some or all of the city’s Civil Service standards may be modified through a binding labor agreement, provided that merit-based hiring, retention and discharge (not promotion) are retained. The ballot measure does not really free DWP from the political meddling of elected officials. It includes a new “strategic planning” process. This process will give the City Council an oversight role for LADWP investments and rates that it does not have today. Strategic planning is good. It is unclear if what is in this measure is right.

The opponents of the measure claim that RRR takes away voters’ decision-making powers and accountability over the DWP by enabling unelected bureaucrats to run the department and determine rate hikes. They claim it gives the DWP Board the power to spend millions of ratepayer dollars on contracts, rate hikes, and salaries without preserving currently existing oversight and approvals from voters and elected officials. There are also concerns that the measure would allow the hiring of DWP workers to opt out of existing civil service rules. Representatives of city employee unions, among them SEIU Local 721, balked at the idea that DWP jobs would be removed from the civil service pool. They are one of the prime supporters of the “No on RRR” website, together with former Councilwoman and Controller Laura Chick, and Councilmen Nate Holden, Hal Bernson, Robert Farrell and Dennis Zine (this is the full list). Other concerns of the “no” side are that the measure purportedly gives the DWP Commissioners, currently appointed citizen volunteers, ratepayer funded pay that could total as much as $2 million throughout the next decade, and that the potential to opt out of the civil service system opens the door to corruption and unethical hiring of friends and family. Lastly, opponents believe the measure means the mayor won’t have final authority to fire unelected and unaccountable DWP Board Members, who will have unprecedented power and control over rate hikes.

Proponents of the measure, which includes the LA Times, note that the measure is a mixed bag. It isn’t the answer to all the problems that the City Council claims, nor is it the power grab the opponents charge. Rather, the Times feels “Measure RRR is more like a series of tweaks to the management and oversight of the DWP. Some are necessary and common-sense changes to help the general manager operate the utility more efficiently, and can be done only by voter approval. Some are incremental changes that may or may not help streamline operations. And some are window dressings that make the measure seem more consequential than it is. On balance, though, Measure RRR has enough helpful changes to make it worthwhile, and voters should pass it.” The Times summarizes the positive changes as follows:

The measure would expand the Board of Water and Power Commissioners from five seats to seven seats; shorten the terms from five years to four; and require board members to have certain qualifications, such as experience in utility management, water or power issues, environmental policy, labor relations or community organizing. The idea is to ensure a level of expertise on the board, which would be a welcome upgrade as long as the qualifications aren’t used to guarantee seats on the board for special interests.

The mayor would still appoint board members. But he would no longer have the unilateral authority to remove them; commissioners could appeal their firing to the City Council, which could reinstate them with a two-thirds vote. This added job security could give commissioners more freedom to make politically difficult decisions.

Measure RRR also would give the board authority to hire analysts and approve contracts without needing advance approval from the City Council. More significantly, it would grant the board more freedom to set water and power rates within the limits of a four-year strategic plan approved by the mayor and council. This approach could force policymakers to recognize and approve the costs of their policies, and, one would hope, avoid the customary mistake of postponing needed rate hikes only to hit customers with big increases later.

With respect to the contention about civil service, the Times notes the measure doesn’t actually change anything. Any actual changes to civil service would take a City Council vote, which would undoubtedly prompt an epic political battle.

None of them mention the last part of the measure: going to monthly billing. This would be a good thing: it would reduce the bite of large bills (we had an almost $1,600 bill in the valley this summer), and it would permit errors in billing to be identified faster.

On the whole, it sounds like this falls in the progress, not perfection category. It sounds like it is worth a try.

Conclusion: Thumbs Up Yes on RRR (tentatively)

Measure SSS: City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions; Airport Peace Officers (Charter Amendment)

Lets airport police
Into the same pension plan

Summary: Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) enroll new Airport peace officers into Tier 6 of the Fire and Police Pensions System; (2) allow current Airport peace officers to transfer into Tier 6 from the City Employees ’ Retirement System (LACERS) at their own expense; and (3) permit new Airport Police Chiefs to enroll in LACERS? [full text]
[Websites: None for either side]

Analysis: There’s not a lot of information on SSS out there. I did find a League of Woman Voters summary, that described the current situation as follows: “All Airport Peace Officers who perform police and firefighting duties for the Airports Department are members of the city’s civilian retirement plan, the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS).  Sworn LAPD officers, Los Angeles Fire Department firef ighters and paramedics and Harbor Department Peace Officers are members of the sworn employee retirement system, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plan (LAFPP).  Pension Plan funding is from employee contributions, city contributions, and Pension Fund investments.  There are six plan tiers in the LAFPP, depending on the year the employee joined.

According to the League, what this measure would do is:

  • Enroll all city employees appointed on or after January 7, 2018 who perform police or firefighting duties for the Airports Department in Tier 6 of the sworn employee retirement system (LAFPP).
  • Allow sworn peace officers appointed to the Airports Department before January 7, 2018 the option to transfer from the city’s civilian employee retirement plan (LACERS) to Tier 6 of the sworn employee retirement system (LAFPP), at their expense.
  • Give any Airports Department Chief of Police appointed on or after January 7, 2018 who is not already a member of the sworn employee retirement system the option to enroll in the city’s civilian employee retirement plan (LACERS).

Lastly, according to the League, “the annual cost of providing future retirement benefits for current and new officers joining LAFPP will be higher than if the same officers were members of LACERS; however, the Airports Department, not the city’s General Fund, will pay all future employer contributions to LAFPP for these officers.”

In general, on these pension plan changes, I tend not to see a problem. There is no organized opposition.

Conclusion: Thumbs Up Yes on SSS