Where they stand
Kevin James is a lawyer and former talk-radio host making his first run for public office.
The next mayor faces a projected $327-million budget shortfall in 2014-2015. The city’s budget advisor called last year for a new round of layoffs and for key city assets to be turned over to private operators. A former mayor has even suggested the city is heading for bankruptcy.
1. Do you support the March 5 ballot measure that would raise the sales tax by half a cent to generate $215 million a year for city accounts?
I oppose the proposed half-cent sales tax. It is bad for our local businesses, chases customers away, and hurts working class families. Because the sales tax increase chases customers away from our local businesses then it is very likely sales tax revenues will not increase even with the higher rate being proposed by the City Council.
2. If you oppose the sales tax, what city programs would you eliminate or scale back?
I oppose the sales tax increase, but would work to avoid cutting city services because Angelenos suffer when services are cut. I would work harder to obtain cost savings through negotiations with our city employee unions before cutting city services. My City Hall opponents have failed at bringing all of our city employees to the table to work out a financial plan that is fair to all of the parties and to the taxpayers as well.
3. Is new revenue essential to fixing city finances? If so, what kind would you seek?
Because of the bad decisions made by my City Hall opponents in prior years, additional revenue is essential to fixing city finances. The additional revenue, however, needs to come from additional tax revenues from new businesses that have come to the city as a result of the implementation of my business improvement package which will include the elimination of the gross receipts tax and streamlining the permitting red-tape that currently exists in City Hall.
4. Do you support laying off additional city employees as a way to balance city finances?
Laying off city employees is the worst way to balance city finances because it has a direct negative impact on the services the city provides to its residents. Layoffs are the absolute last resort and should only be considered after everything else has been tried and failed.
5. To spur business activity, is it necessary to eliminate the city’s gross receipts tax? If that were done, how would you make up the revenue?
It is necessary to eliminate the city’s “gross receipts” method of calculating the business tax in order to spur business activity. The revenue is made up from tax revenues generated from the new business activity.
6. Do you believe city employees should make additional concessions on employee salaries, pensions or benefits? If so, how? If not, why not?
Yes, city employees should make these additional concessions. These concessions are necessary to avoid bankruptcy that has become a reality recently because of irresponsible decisions made by my City Hall opponents. My City Hall opponents have obtained some concessions already. However, they have not treated our city employees fairly. For example, DWP employees make much more money than city employees working in other departments doing the same/similar job, and the DWP has been left out of recent pension reform measures because of the DWP’s cozy relationship with my City Hall opponents.
7. Do you believe future employee retirement benefits for city workers should be provided through a 401(k) plan, as many private-sector employers have done? Why or why not?
Yes. I believe future employee retirement benefits for city workers should be provided through a 401(k)-style plan. However, it is possible that sworn public safety personnel would be exempted from the 401(k)-style plan. Unless we make serious revisions to the city’s pension plans, the unfunded liability that is the obligation of the taxpayer will bankrupt our city. On August 21, 2012, the Los Angeles Times published (in Steve Lopez’s column) a much more detailed explanation of my ideas for pension reform relating to the defined benefit plans currently in place.
8. What current services, if any, do you believe the city can no longer afford to provide?
Bad management by the city’s elected officials has already resulted in too many city services being cut. What has to be “cut” are the bad decisions coming from City Hall.
The city can afford to provide all of the services it provides today — and then some. We will never solve the city’s financial problems until we make Los Angeles a business-friendly city again (tax revenues to run the city come from a healthy private sector), and we bring spending on salaries, pensions and benefits to a level that is workable for the LA taxpayer. So the question is not what services can we no longer afford to provide, but what salary, pension, and benefit levels can we no longer afford to provide.
Los Angeles’ 10.9% unemployment rate is still one the highest among U.S. big cities. And many of the post-recession jobs being created are part-time, low-skilled positions.
1. Do you have any plan to immediately bring jobs to the city, boost the middle class in particular and lower unemployment?
Yes. To grow employment in Los Angeles, I will present a “business improvement package” to the City Council within days of taking office. My business improvement package will consist of two primary parts: (1) business tax reform (including the elimination of the “gross receipts” method of calculating the business tax); and (2) streamlining the permitting process. If the City Council refuses to pass the business improvement package, I will take it directly to the voters for approval. The private sector generally, and small businesses in particular, must be returned to prominence in Los Angeles — our local economy depends on it.
2. Apart from construction jobs and the movie industry, do you have any plan to grow the job pool by drawing new industries to the city?
Yes. My business improvement package will entice many new industries to come to Los Angeles, particularly in the areas of trade and technology (including green jobs). I have already focused attention in my campaign on Advanced Cleanup Technologies, Inc.’s “Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System” (AMECS) which will be a state-of-the-art emissions treatment system for the Port, the Green Rail/Intelligent Development freight pipeline and port-related goods movement system, and ClearEdge Power’s fuel cell technology which provides clean, continuous power to residential and commercial properties in an affordable way — all of which will create numerous union jobs in Los Angeles.
3. Do you believe Los Angeles must provide tax subsidies or exemptions to attract new development?
No, I do not believe such subsidies and exemptions are needed to attract new
development. An important question to ask is what do these tax holidays and incentive packages do to the new company’s competitors, the existing businesses? They punish them. The older business does not get the tax holiday or the incentive package so their business costs remain the same while the new business gets huge breaks, compliments of elected officials, that enable the new business to lower their prices thus hurting their competition - seemingly at any cost to the taxpayer.
4. Do you believe in fostering transit-oriented development?
Transit oriented developments should be utilized where appropriate. However, TODs should not be placed near pollution sources such as freeways that can permanently damage the lungs, and existing infrastructure concerns must be addressed as a result of the added density from the TODs.
5. Business leaders complain that the City Hall permit and inspection process continues to be a tangle of red tape. What would you do to make it easier for businesses to come to, and operate in, the city?
I will create a Permit Center which will accelerate previous progress made through the City’s Case Management Series office, and will bring in representatives from the key City departments needed to implement effective improvements in permitting. This will bring our city close to a one-stop-shop for permitting. A model to consider is the City of Dallas’ Permit Center. Dallas was recently determined by 85 percent of the City’s businesses to be a “good” or “excellent” place to do business.
6. How important do you think AEG’s downtown stadium plan is to the city’s overall development?
I do not support AEG’s downtown stadium plan as currently proposed because it puts the taxpayer at risk. In addition, there are too many unknowns resulting from the potential sale of AEG and the new owners could seek different financial arrangements. I also believe that the location is problematic and that the stadium would forever limit our convention center capacity and potential. Furthermore, the NFL still has not awarded a team(s) to Los Angeles, and City Hall’s willingness to focus so much planning attention on the AEG stadium plan and away from other important planning issues while we still have no idea whether or not there will be a team(s) for the stadium is further proof of mismanagement by current city leadership.
7. Do you believe that having a professional football team would bring in new revenue and not just move revenue from one type of entertainment to another?
Yes, I do believe that having a professional football team in the region would bring in new revenue to Los Angeles. That is one of the reasons I support the stadium being built in the City of Industry. Dallas, Boston, and New York each have professional football stadiums well outside of their major downtown areas, but each city feels the significant economic benefit of an NFL team. When Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas (outside of Dallas) hosted the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, the NFL Experience took over the entire Dallas Convention Center and the hotels and restaurants around the City of Dallas were booked for days. Los Angeles has the same opportunity, and can do so without any risk to the taxpayer if the stadium is built in the City of Industry.
Some say the expansion of the LAPD has strained budgets to such a degree that the city must lay off additional civilian employees. Lawsuits continue to dog the LAPD. The fire chief blames budget cuts for declining response times, which he admits he cannot reliably track.
1. Should the LAPD continue to hire officers to replace those who resign or retire, keeping staffing levels the same? If not, should the department be larger or smaller? If you believe it should be larger, how would you pay for that?
Not necessarily. The goal of the LAPD is to ensure our communities are safe, rather than reaching or maintaining a specific number of officers. As Mayor, I would increase officer time spent in the community without having to hire new officers simply by reducing the amount of unnecessary paperwork that is keeping officers behind a desk two-thirds of their time at work. By eliminating unnecessary paperwork, outdated clerical tasks, and taking advantage of new technology, we can flip the number so that two-thirds of officer time is spent in the community rather than behind the desk.
2. Will you ask Police Chief Charlie Beck to serve a second term?
3. Do you agree with Chief Beck’s decision to make it easier for unlicensed drivers — many of them illegal immigrants — to keep their vehicles from being impounded for long periods?
No. The chief’s decision is inconsistent with existing state law and I agree with the lawsuit brought by the Police Protective League challenging the chief’s decision. This is a public safety issue, not an immigration issue.
4. Do you believe the LAPD is doing enough to lower the cost and frequency of use-of-force, harassment and traffic-related lawsuits against the department? If not, what should be changed?
No. I agree with the statement that “lawsuits continue to dog the LAPD.” Better
training continues to make a positive difference and should continue, and there are more opportunities for accountability with the increased usage of cell phone cameras and other available technologies.
5. Do you believe police officer disciplinary hearings and records should be open to the public or kept secret?
I believe police officer disciplinary hearings and records should not be open to the public. However, I support third-party oversight mechanisms such as the Office of the Inspector General to ensure proper review occurs when needed while protecting sensitive police information that should not be made public.
6. The city will soon begin negotiating a new contract for the LAPD’s 10,000 officers. Should that contract continue to require that officers take compensated time off in lieu of overtime pay? If so, how much?
No. The city should phase this practice out. The LAPD comp time policy should be brought into alignment with the Fire Department’s policy.
7. Do you have confidence in the administration of Fire Chief Brian Cummings?
No. I am disturbed by the response time scandal, by conflicting statements made by Chief Cummings in connection with the response time scandal, and by the fact that renowned data expert Jeffrey Godown — who was appointed to analyze the faulty data and create an updated system enabling the LAFD to determine the staffing needs necessary to meet the national response time standard — was forced to publicly criticize the lack of cooperation he received from the Chief in trying to solve the response time crisis.
7. Do you have confidence in the administration of Fire Chief Brian Cummings?
No. Converting the dispatch center as described in the question puts public safety at risk because the LAFD would lose its ability to rapidly bring additional dispatch resources online in the event they are needed. The time to bring new resources online would go from seconds/minutes to perhaps hours.
9. Should the LAFD dispatch center be staffed by civilian workers instead of sworn employees?
No. LAFD current dispatchers are trained firefighters, trained paramedics who have in-the-field experience in handling the types of emergencies that are presented to dispatchers. As current dispatchers are trained Firefighters/paramedics, they have a unique skill set that allows them to optimally provide for the public’s safety.
10. What would you do to speed response times, especially in those parts of the city — such as hillside communities and around the city’s border — where responses are slowest?
We must restore staffing levels to prior numbers. We must replace the current dispatch system with modern technology. We need GPS systems in our fire trucks. And, I will require that the LAFD be transparent about what the real response times are. Finally, one of the biggest factors in reducing response times is reducing traffic congestion, which interferes with emergency vehicles’ ability to reach residents in need.
The Measure R sales tax is generating billions of dollars for road and rail construction, including a Westside subway extension, but efforts to speed work with additional money have fallen short. There is still no rail to LAX, and traffic on the Westside has even caused President Obama to express dismay.
1. Do you believe Metro should try again to win an extension of Measure R, similar to the Measure J ballot proposal that failed in November?
Not at this time. I believe Angelenos are taxed enough. When the voters were convinced to support Measure R through representations made about what Measure R funds would bring to the community they relied on those representations. If we then go back to the voters to ask for another tax increase the message is once again being sent that the original tax was either insufficient or squandered, the City leaders are once again unable to provide proper projections for what is needed, and the taxpayer is once again carrying the burden. Public trust and confidence once again takes another punch to the gut. Finally, because of the often inability to avoid constant cost overruns, construction delays, and over-billing scandals, proper oversight of Measure R funds must be maintained in order to restore public trust and credibility in elected officials.
2. Do you agree with advocates who call for changing the voter threshold for taxes on transportation projects to be lowered from two-thirds to 55%?
No. Because such transportation projects are long-term and extremely costly, I believe the two-thirds threshold should be maintained.
3. Will you give rail development the same emphasis that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has?
I support heavy rail in the form of subways. Light rail passing through heavily urban areas needs to grade separated. Adding a new transportation mode should not effect the capacity of existing transportation modes.
Subways could also be used to transport freight in the late-night hours further reducing truck trips and emissions there from.
The city must look out for historically under-represented areas to ensure that they receive the same grade separations, including the Crenshaw line. City Hall has not done a good job listening to the communities and assessing their needs.
4. Mayor Villaraigosa was sometimes criticized for prioritizing rail projects over the county’s bus system. What role do you think the bus system should play?
The bus system plays an important role, indeed a critical role, in our public transportation system. Connectivity is a big issue in Los Angeles. Efficient and well-run bus service helps to solve the connectivity problem in an area as spread out as our city and county. If public transportation is not efficient or effective, large portions of the public will not use it. At-grade light rail is an example of transit that supports other modes of transit. However, we have failed at connectivity in many areas around the city because bus schedules are not coordinated with light rail. The areas around Mission College near Sylmar are just one example.
5. Do you believe rail is the most cost-effective way to improve transportation in the city?
This question is unclear as to whether you are asking about the cost to build, the cost to maintain/operate, or the cost to use. Furthermore, there is short-term cost effectiveness and long-term cost effectiveness. There are short-term solutions and long-term solutions. The subway system is a needed long-term solution. In the meantime, in the short-term we need to more effectively move traffic on our surface streets.
This can be done in a number of different ways including; (a) the installation of right hand turn signals which would require pedestrians to wait a brief period of time (e.g., 20 seconds) before entering the crosswalk, which will allow right-hand turners to clear the right-hand lane for traffic prior to having to yield to pedestrians crossing the street; (b) the installation of bus shoulders at bus stops to enable buses to move out of traffic when stopping to load and unload passengers (this will also increase the safety of bus riders) which would also clear the right-hand lane for traffic while buses are loading and unloading passengers; and (c) continued traffic signal synchronization throughout the
City and the continued installation of left-hand turn signals at appropriate intersections.
6. Do you believe that a “subway to the sea” — the Westside subway extension — is necessary?
Yes. As someone who has worked in Century City for years, I know that a subway stop linking Century City to downtown, to Westwood and eventually to the sea is desperately needed.
7. What route should Metro select for the Westside subway as it passes through Century City?
At a recent debate, I pointed out that Beverly Hills has raised some serious concerns relating to the safety of tunneling under Beverly Hills High.
The one-minute given at the debate did not allow me to fully discuss the issue. On the one side, you have the concerns raised by Beverly Hills relating to the safety of students and teachers and surrounding community. On the other side, you have the fact that the Santa Monica fault runs under Santa Monica Boulevard, and the fact that Constellation and Avenue of the Stars is the center of Century City and that disrupting Santa Monica Blvd for years during construction would represent a tremendous hardship on West L.A.
We need to simultaneously protect our kids while understanding that the environmental benefits of taking cars off the road also benefits all of us. The most important fact relating to the Century City subway stop that I was unable to go into during the one minute debate answer is the fact that the Constellation/Ave of the Stars station has already been selected and approved by Metro. The decision is now out of the political arena and has moved into the legal arena as the sufficiency of the Environmental Impact Report is being challenged by Beverly Hills. Should the approvals be reversed then I will sit down with both sides and work to understand the basis of each concern and how each concern can be balanced against the benefits provided by mass transit.
8. Should more toll lanes be placed on Los Angeles freeway carpool lanes?
9. For decades transit officials have debated an extension of the 710 Freeway through South Pasadena. Should it be built, and if so, how?
No. The affected communities need to be on board, and they are not.
10. Do you favor moving the north runways at LAX closer to Westchester? If so, why?
I am still in the review process regarding this issue. LAWA has made a case that the movement of the runway should occur for newer aircraft and for aircraft safety. Having said that, however, I will listen closely to the concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses and take those concerns into serious consideration, and will review in detail neighborhood noise, pollution, and safety concerns on the move of the runway roughly the length of one football field. The opponents of moving the runway have raised questions regarding LAWA’s claims, and those questions should be vetted. Finally, there are some new technologies that may be available for substantial pollution reduction.
11. What improvements are still needed at LAX?
The traffic patterns are unacceptable. The appearance of the terminals is unacceptable. The pathways from rental car centers to the airport are unacceptable. The green line needs to go all the way to the airport, and the overall terminal experience for passengers must be vastly improved.
The airport should be a key marketing tool for L.A. since it is the first thing many people see when they arrive and the last thing many people see when they leave.
12. Would you sell or give up control over Ontario International Airport? If so, why?
I would allow the City of Ontario to control the Ontario International Airport. If Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which currently owns and operates Ontario
International Airport (ONT), transfers control of ONT to the city of Ontario, supporters of the transfer - using a very simple formula - have determined that at least 1.3 million cars would be taken off Los Angeles roadways. Transferring control of ONT to the city of Ontario is a win-win proposition benefiting Los Angeles residents and the Inland Empire. The number of passengers using ONT has declined 37 percent since 2007 – and of the 100 largest U.S. airports, ONT ranked 98th in terms of passenger growth. Much of the traffic that has left ONT has shifted to LAX, adding to LA’s traffic woes. Reducing this traffic by restoring local control of ONT also removes the hidden business tax of wasted employee time and reduced employee production resulting from time sitting in L.A. traffic. ONT primarily services the very important discount travel market. Many
Angelenos rely on the lower fares offered by regional/discount airlines. Without the transfer of control of ONT to Ontario, these low-cost airlines could be lost from the region entirely.
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation has called on LAWA to shift control of ONT so LAWA can focus more of its attention and energy on modernizing LAX, and the Southern California Association of Governments has also stated that it is in the best interest of L.A. and Southern California for control of ONT to be returned to the city of Ontario.
13. Do you think the city needs to privatize its parking garages?
14. The city has a growing bicycle movement. What are your feelings about bicyclists in L.A., and what needs to be done/not done to accommodate them on L.A.’s roads?
Los Angeles should finally become a bike-friendly city through the acceleration of the city’s bike plan. The city has never even come close to meeting the bikeway miles set forth in any of its three (3) bike plans. In 1977, the city only built 230 of the goal of 600 miles. The 1996 plan had a goal of 673 miles but only achieved 104 miles. The 2010 plan has a goal of expanding from the existing 334 miles to 1,684 miles over a 35 year period.
Yet, the more people that ride bikes in LA, the fewer cars that motorists that are not able to ride bikes have to deal with. That means traffic moves more rapidly through the city, and there are more parking places available for the motorists that are driving their cars. The benefits of becoming a bike- friendly city are numerous. For local businesses, economic benefits come from cyclists parking near their shops. For neighborhoods and businesses, roads are safer as there will be fewer car-to-car accidents, and we will see safer communities because people on bikes are not separated by the walls of their car, car windows, and car radios enabling them to notice burglars, thieves, vandals and other local criminals that plague a community – cyclists serve as a form of community patrol whether they intend to or not.
Once Angelenos that are not bicyclists recognize the benefits they receive from more people in L.A. using bicycles to get around, the easier it will be to grow public support of acceleration of the city’s bike plan.
15. At least 42% of the city’s sidewalks are in poor shape, and lawsuits may force the city to spend huge sums to repair them. What would you do to fix the city’s streets and sidewalks?
The City wants to burden homeowners with the cost of sidewalk repairs and to shoulder homeowners with liabilities resulting from damaged sidewalks. I will make sure that homeowners are not burdened with the added responsibility of repairing the city’s sidewalks outside of their homes. There are, however, some homeowners and business owners that are willing to share in the cost of sidewalk repair voluntarily. For those people, the city should make permitting for such repairs as easy as possible. We should also utilize the benefits of the 50/50 plan for those people who voluntarily want to benefit from the plan.
I would also put a stop to the raiding by city officials of the special revenue funds that are used for improvements and maintenance of our infrastructure.
In making street and sidewalk repairs a priority, we must prioritize a plan for long-term fiscal solvency for the City, including collection of a portion of the City’s more than $500 million in non-tax receivables, millions more in tax collections, and other available funding sources that have been ignored by the mismanagement of current City leadership. Furthermore, new technologies enable us to do more in this area with less money. Two technologies that are particularly promising are “full depth reclamation” and “pervious concrete.” Full depth reclamation is simply the recycling of roads in place – it is a proven cost saving method of road repair. The City of Santa Ana was recently able to rehabilitate 80 miles of asphalt streets over 3 years at about half the cost by using full depth reclamation compared to the traditional methods of removal and replacement. Pervious concrete is simply concrete that allows water and air to pass through it - it reduces storm water runoff and recharges the underground water supply. There are also plastic sidewalk technologies available now that assist in the prevention of tree trunk “heaving” that causes so much of the sidewalk damage we experience today.
The largest school system in California struggles with low test scores and graduation rates. LAUSD teachers and administrators disagree on evaluation methods. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attempted a takeover but settled for running a limited number of campuses.
1. How would you describe the state of the Los Angeles Unified School District?
The District is in a state of crisis. Too many students are not graduating — dropout rates and truancy rates are excessively high. Student safety and gang issues need to be addressed and a bullying epidemic continues. How are we going to attract new businesses to LA when the employees of those new businesses are not comfortable enrolling their kids in our public schools?
2. Will you continue to oversee the nonprofit that runs Mayor Villaraigosa’s 15 schools?
No. Many parents that have kids in the PLAS schools are dissatisfied and unhappy with the program. The parents should be given the opportunity to choose the future of these schools — whether through Charters or returning the schools to the LAUSD.
3. Will you try to have the same level of political involvement and influence over the school board by fielding candidates and helping to pay for their campaigns?
Yes. I will consider supporting candidates (potentially through endorsements and/or fundraising efforts) that want to reform the District and help change the way our public school system works. However, I have no intention of controlling the Board but instead will partner with it. I look forward to listening to the growing number of parents who advocate for finding ways to improve the LAUSD through possible conversion into smaller districts as many believe that its size and inefficiencies can be better addressed with less of a top-heavy bureaucracy
4. How would you evaluate the performance of Superintendent John Deasy?
Superintendent Deasy walked into a very difficult situation. While I believe he has
exhibited the skill set needed to provide balance in negotiating with union leadership, he made early mistakes in the handling of the Miramonte scandal that could have been avoided. So far he is doing a satisfactory job and I look forward to working with him.
5. Mayor Villaraigosa has said that student test scores should account for at least 30% of a teacher’s evaluation. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
I believe that student test scores should have an impact on the evaluations but am concerned that 30% may be too high. There should be multiple factors considered in the evaluation process including student and parent input.
6. What are the top three things you could do to help improve the school system as mayor?
- I would use the power of the Mayoral podium to: (a) find ways to more fairly and efficiently fund our schools; and (b) support parent empowerment and the parent’s right to chose the school that best fits their child’s needs.
Given the size and complexity of the LAUSD, I will create within the Mayor’s office an Education Information Officer that will serve as a sounding board for parents, students, teachers and administrators. This office will be part of the Mayor’s office and completely independent of the LAUSD. In the face of recent LAUSD scandals, including the Miramonte scandal, allegations of the misuse of funds, and fading confidence in our school district, Angelenos need to know that there is a safe place to go outside of the LAUSD to bring their issues and concerns.
Additionally, our public schools should reinstate vocational training at the middle school and high school levels. Partnerships with private business and industries will contribute to the cost of these reforms, and provide internships and job placement opportunities. I have called on the LAUSD to create a trade-tech diploma for students that choose the vocational route over a four-year college bound curriculum.
The Mayor’s office will also create an education liaison that will attend all LAUSD board meetings and will also serve as an education advisor in the Mayor’s office. The Mayor’s education office will create and operate a user-friendly resource website the will be a one-stop-shop for providing easy access to policies, municipal codes, and state and federal laws that directly relate to school facilities, rules, guidelines, and funds. This resource will also provide information about, and links to, organizations that cover education-related matters such as bullying, gangs, special education needs, drug use, school violence, school safety, and construction and land-use issues.
7. Should every charter school have a teacher workforce that is represented by a union?
No. I am not a supporter of the position that every charter school have a teacher
workforce that is represented by a union. As the son of a public school math teacher, I believe that every teacher deserves good pay and benefits. However, union contracts have proven to be a detriment at times to the education process because the rules are rigid and prevent teachers from being able to do the best job.
8. How many additional charter schools should LAUSD allow?
There is no magic number of how many charter schools there should be. The focus should be on good schools not how many are charters. Charters allow greater flexibility in education, but there needs to be greater accountability. Before the charter movement, incentives for LAUSD schools to improve were lacking. District schools need to become more competitive to stop the flight of parents and students from those schools – and charters are forcing the drive for competitiveness.
Power costs are rising as the DWP moves from coal to renewable fuels. The Supreme Court is weighing lawsuits over the port’s clean-truck program. Advocates for green spaces say more parks are needed. Developers are pushing back at state environmental impact laws.
1. Some projections provided to the city forecast that the DWP will have at least 10 consecutive years of rate hikes as the utility complies with regulations and moves toward more renewable power. What would you do to address these rising costs?
Let’s not fool ourselves. The rate hikes have been driven by years of neglect of the water and power infrastructure. It is a symptom of bad management over the last decade and beyond.
Bring LADWP salaries in line with LA City salaries.
Encourage and incentivize LADWP customers to conserve through the use of energy-saving techniques such as the use of LED lighting. Some have talked about eliminating the business tax. Let’s give businesses credits when they upgrade their own infrastructure. This will save them and the city money.
I strongly support distributed generation through solar and fuel cell technology.
Encourage the use of geothermal heating and cooling throughout the city, especially in the valley.
Even as customers have cut back, their monthly bills have continued to rise and will continue to rise. Current leadership has allowed the LADWP infrastructure to disintegrate. The costs to upgrade the infrastructure require a fixed sum which the LADWP will recover from ratepayers. Even though customers use fewer kilowatt hours, the cost per KwH will rise to achieve the needed revenue target.
2. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pledged to wean the DWP off coal by 2020. But the DWP’s projections show the utility will still be receiving 28% of its energy from coal by that date. Would you uphold Villaraigosa’s pledge? If so, how would you achieve it?
L.A. needs to wean itself from coal for several reasons. Air quality is one, state and federal mandates is another. The cost of coal is yet another. Despite reductions in coal use, LADWP is paying out more net dollars for coal than it did before. Key initiatives include: Solar incentives, commercial and residential fuel cells, geothermal heating and cooling incentives, and conservation through incentivizing customers to use energy saving devices such as LED lighting which reduces energy required to generate light and also dramatically reduces heat generation. I would also seek to create a “green-energy incubator” to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses focused on providing energy saving and energy-generating technologies. I would also like to see an emphasis on helping our returning service men and women become a key part of this initiative. Our vets know how to get things done. Let’s help them do it.
The public perceives a “pledge” as a promise. I can’t promise to wean L.A. off coal by 2020, but doing so will be a priority. Weaning the city from coal represents a huge job creating industry for our city, and one that can’t be outsourced. We can wean our city off of coal, improve the stability of our grid, and generate jobs while we generate less electricity.
Solar and wind power are inherently unreliable as the sun is obscured by clouds or the winds fail to materialize. If we create a demand that relies on unreliable sources, the utilities will be forced to spend even more money on “dependable” generation facilities to cover demand in the event the unreliable sources do not materialize, and many of those facilities may rely on fossil fuels. Additionally, the grid is currently not designed to handle a large nighttime load. As more and more people seek to plug in their cars at night, the demands on the grid will change. If we fail to plan for a changing demand portfolio, we will be forced again into the expensive crisis management, which has cost this city so dearly.
3. The Supreme Court is poised to consider challenges to the port’s clean-truck program, particularly as it relates to regulations on owner-operated trucks. Do you support the program as passed by the Harbor Commission?
The program has two fundamental components. I support the program’s environmental goals. I am troubled by the inclusion of a provision, which forces all drivers to become employees of trucking firms rather than be allowed to remain independent. I believe there is a way to accomplish the goals of the program without restricting the rights of independent drivers. As Mayor, I am confident I can find a way to solve the problem.
4. Do you support the Southern California Intermodal Gateway project in the Port of Los Angeles? How would you address concerns from activists that the project would significantly harm neighbors, both in terms of air quality and traffic?
Air quality concerns involving DPM, NOx and SOx are to be taken seriously. I would encourage a strong look at technologies that can either stop emissions from occurring or capture emissions before they are released into the air. One example of the latter is the Advanced Locomotive Emissions Control System (ALECS). It captures 95%+ of locomotive emissions while trains idle. In a recent visit to the port area I spoke with the owner of the company that developed the technology to see if it could be reduced in size to travel with a locomotive. I was encouraged by the discussion. I believe we can simultaneously grow the massive economic benefits generated by the port while using technology and good management to dramatically reduce emissions.
I am not sure the traffic concerns stand up. Increased port activity absent the SCIG would also result in increased traffic. It is also not clear that the project won’t actually decrease traffic as thousands of truck trips will be taken off the roads.
5. Should the California Environmental Quality Act be rewritten, as many real estate developers have suggested, to reduce the financial impact of legal challenges over environmental impact reports? If so how?
CEQA is at its heart a law that requires accurate disclosure to decision-makers and to the public of the existing environment and the impacts of a project. If there is an impact, the city can choose to mitigate/reduce the impact or not. If they commit to reducing an impact, then they have to do it. That’s CEQA. It makes sense and should be kept intact.
Your question is really about certainty. It is certainty for developers on the time frame for approval or disapproval of a project, including challenges under environmental law. It is also about certainty for the public that all impacts are honestly disclosed and accounted for.
It’s this last part where the conflict arises, not with the disclosure part. Accurate EIRs rarely draw challenges. Inaccurate EIRs not only create lawsuits, but they allow elected officials to avoid facing the specter of publicly accepting real project impacts. This “so sue me” approach has caused the lion’s share of lawsuits.
The solution is to improve confidence in environmental reports by:
Implementing our city’s framework element and creating a common baseline from which project impacts can be determined.
Having independent companies hired by the city at developer expense prepare environmental reports, instead of people hired and managed by the developer.
Having certain portions of EIRs submitted under penalty of perjury.
· Having legal issues be raised prior to approval and be vetted by the City Attorney on a strict schedule while a project is waiting for a hearing. This will save everyone time and money since the City Attorney will have to defend an approval anyway. Decision makers will also have the benefit of having legal concerns vetted. If environmental studies are done properly with objective and consistent data and objective and consistent criteria for what an impact is, then an overwhelming percentage of project challenges will never happen and everyone wins. With developer-funded City Attorney pre-review, parties will know the strength (or weakness) of their arguments. The developer and the city can make appropriate changes, or better yet, come to the table with accurate studies.
In those cases where a suit is filed, the time frames have to be such that good projects are not delayed to the point where their financing dries up. Time frames can only be reduced however if the disclosure aspect is done properly, objectively and transparently.
We can do this now, without cost to the city. In fact, relieving the City Attorney’s office of the workload would save the city money, make the city more attractive to business and fulfill government’s obligation to be honest with the people it serves.
6. Anschutz Entertainment Group, the developer of a proposed downtown football stadium, received special state legislation that allowed its project to have an accelerated environmental review process. Should every business receive such treatment? Why or why not?
No. Carve-outs create the impression of special-interest influence. With the above CEQA implementation reform, such carve-outs would not be necessary. I believe in a level playing field for all.
7. Advocates for green space contend that Los Angeles needs more parks. Yet the city has been struggling to maintain the parkland that it already has. How would you improve the maintenance of those that already exist while adding new parkland in coming years?
The sad truth is that Rec & Parks has been decimated by budget cuts. Parks are poorly maintained, understaffed or are forced to close due to a lack of funding. There is only one solution for our parks: more money. Unfortunately, due to a decade of mismanagement, money is at best in short supply in the city. The best thing we can do for our park system is to get our financial house in order, and that will take some time. Absent public funding, public-private partnerships represent part of the solution. In the interim, I would seek a legislative change to allow Quimby funds to be used for operating and maintenance expenses instead of just capital expenses. It does little good to open new parks if they fall into disrepair or are forced to cut back on services.