City Council (D4): Jay Beeber
Jay Beeber is a community advocate who eliminated L.A.’s red light camera program in 2011. Since then, Jay has been instrumental in ensuring that government policies serve the people’s interests.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
1. Get our fiscal house in order. Begin negotiations with our public employee unions to address our growing pension liabilities and employee benefits issues. Pension obligations have ballooned from about 3% of general fund obligations in 2003 to now over 21%. Other employee benefit costs including healthcare expenses and police banked overtime must be addressed now as well. As these liabilities take up a greater and greater portion of the budget, the city will not only have a budget shortfall, but may become insolvent. The current agreements cannot be sustained long term and the sooner everyone acknowledges this, the sooner we can find an equitable solution that will put us on firm financial footing, protecting not only workers’ pensions and benefits, but also the long term viability of the city. Until we accomplish this goal, the city will be unable to address our failing infrastructure in any meaningful way or make long term plans for the future.
2. Bring to the city a culture of providing great customer service to our constituents. Beverly Hills developed written Customer Service Standards for all departments and provides customer service training both to new hires and to all employees on an ongoing basis. L.A. should do this as well. Employee evaluations should, in part, reflect how well employees deliver on this standard. Also, “mystery shoppers” could be used to test levels of customer service, as is done in the private sector. However a great customer service attitude is not just for city staff. Elected officials must also adopt this philosophy in every decision they make. The question that must always be asked is, “Does this best serve the people I was elected to represent?” If city officials embraced a tradition of providing a “Nordstrom” level of customer service, we would usher in a new era of transparency and accountability at City Hall. This is entirely achievable. And it starts with electing a Council Member that will lead by example and make this a priority in their district.
3. I am committed to seeing the parking reform movement that I started brought to fruition. This is critical in beginning to gain back the trust of the people. Recently, I observed a parking enforcement officer racing to give a ticket to a motorist before they could put money in their parking meter—on Christmas Eve. This behavior violates the written rules of the department. Yet these kinds of abusive practices have been all too common when it comes to parking policy in the city. From decreasing the time limit at meters so they run out more often (generating more tickets), to the plethora of confusing signs throughout the city, to street sweeping regulations that virtually ensure that those who live in the most dense areas of the city will incur multiple citations annually, city officials have instituted policies meant to generate as much revenue as possible rather than to appropriately manage our parking resources. But this era is coming to an end. Through our efforts on Mayor Garcetti’s Working Group on Parking Reform we have offered concrete recommendations that could eliminate most tickets at parking meters, significantly reduce the number of street sweeping tickets issued, and rein in many of the abuses inherent in the system. Most of these recommendations must be adopted by the City Council or LADOT to go into effect. As a councilman, I will ensure that the recommendations of the working group are enacted to the fullest extent possible.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
City Council districts have traditionally been run like individual fiefdoms. This is especially true with regards to land use issues and development. Development projects which require zoning changes or variances are either approved or not at the whim of the councilman. Far from being a “nation of laws, not men,” when it comes to development in L.A., the “men” rule, not the laws. This must change. City Council members must be made to adhere to the zoning rules, and especially the Community or Specific Plan, and this must be enshrined in our city code and/or charter. We must also rein in the abuse of the 245 motion Council members use to overrule the decisions of the planning commission. I would favor a prohibition on Council members from using a 245 motion to overrule planning decisions for the benefit any political contributors.
In addition, for large projects, we should begin to view development from an area-wide perspective, not property-by-property. The are some areas of the city which are so overdeveloped that critical services, such as public schools, police and fire services, water and sewerage, as well as transportation infrastructure cannot reasonably handle the added impact of new major construction. Large development projects in these areas should be deferred unless those impacts can be mitigated.
City Hall power
Do you believe any particular interest – labor, business, or something else — has too much power at City Hall? If so, how would you counteract that power?
Many special interests have too much power at City Hall and the voice of the people is often drowned out as a result. This includes both labor and developer interests. It also includes the special interests of the political class themselves. Public employee unions, especially the IBEW representing the DWP, wield great power at City Hall, and I see this as a conflict of interest. City Council members determine the pay, benefits, and working conditions of city employees. Yet the unions representing those workers, by spending member dues, can affect whether a City Council member is elected or keeps their job. Our ethics laws do not permit elected officials or office seekers to solicit or accept contributions from city vendors or contractors. But in a sense, the largest contractor to the city are the workers and their unions. Because of the inherent conflict of interest, any entity, whether it be business, labor, or some other special group that does work for the city under contract should be prohibited from engaging in any election activities either for or against anyone seeking an elected position. While this may be difficult to implement in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, candidates can voluntarily adhere to this restriction by pledging not to accept support, including independent expenditures from any entity doing business with the city, including public employees. I have voluntarily made this pledge including the decision not to seek or accept the endorsement or financial assistance of any City Employee union.
Council District 4 includes an unusual array of neighborhoods, from Sherman Oaks to Los Feliz to Hancock Park. Do you believe any parts of the district have been underserved, and if so, how would you rectify that?
While CD4 arguably is comprised of some of the best parts of the city, it is also unquestionably the most gerrymandered district. This is what happens when politicians draw the lines for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of the people they serve. It’s entirely possible to effectively represent this district if you are committed to do so and hire the best staff possible. I will do exactly that. But the long term answer to this problem, not just in CD4 but throughout the city, is to double the number of city council members and reduce each member’s salary accordingly. This accomplishes five things. First, each council district would be reduced in size and could more easily be comprised of neighborhoods with similar interests. Second, each Council member would represent fewer residents and could give more individual attention to their constituents. Third, there is currently too much power concentrated in too few hands. Increasing the number of representatives would reduce the power of each Council member and make it more difficult for special interests to co-opt their power. Fourth, having more council seats would open opportunities for community members to serve. Finally, lower pay and less power might attract those who wish to serve for the right reasons, rather than for a high salary and enormous political power.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
The biggest issues facing the district are traffic congestion, failing infrastructure, and development.
Here’s my plan for reducing traffic:
1. Expand commuter transit lines — We need to identify where most of the commuter traffic flows from and to, and then create convenient transit options between those points. For example, we need to create dedicated transit between the West Side and the Valley. It’s unconscionable that we endured a huge construction project on the 405 including roadway closures and the rebuilding of major bridges, yet our elected officials didn’t think ahead and include the creation of a dedicated transit line similar to the Orange Line Busway which could then be converted to light or heavy rail once the funding became available. This was a major failure in leadership. We also need to complete the other transit lines currently on the drawing board, especially an east-west and north-south transit connection to LAX. In addition, we must begin to interconnect our transit system and create transit hubs where commuters can park conveniently or arrive by another convenient form of transportation such as a Dash Bus.
2. Eliminate roadway choke points — While it’s true that we cannot build our way out of our traffic problem with significantly more roadway, we can improve what we have now to alleviate some of the major choke points. This includes fixing the 101 north to southbound 405 interchange by eliminating the jug-handle exit ramp that currently exists and building a “flyover” ramp to more efficiently move traffic between the two highways. Also, we need to fix the 101 south to the 101/134 split by adding an extra lane from the 101 onto the 134 providing three lanes exiting onto both roadways. We also have to identify and fix the engineering problems causing the continual back-up on the 101 south between Melrose and the 110. On the 101 north near Universal, the design causes a lane reduction south of the Ventura Ave. bridge and the lane resumes on the north side of the bridge. This causes huge backups every weekday. We must redesign the roadway so traffic does not lose a lane in this area. On local roads, we need more dedicated left and right turn lanes with dedicated turn arrows.
With regards to infrastructure, the City Council plays a very clever shell game with our tax dollars. First, they spend the money on something the populace would never vote for, such as the 5 year, 5% annual raise for city workers (30% overall) passed in 2007 by the City Council along with Mayor Villaraigosa. Meanwhile, they starve our infrastructure of needed funds, allowing our roads and sidewalks to deteriorate to the point where we cry out for relief. Then they tell us we need to vote to raise our taxes if we want our streets and sidewalks fixed. We don’t need another tax increase. Instead, I’d put a bond measure on the ballot to raise the needed funds to fix our infrastructure now rather than later. If we rein in our other costs and get the budget under control, we could pay for our infrastructure bonds out of the general fund, not by raising taxes.
3. A third priority is to speed up the reforms to the city’s Mansionization Ordinance. This ordinance, which was enacted in 2007 has never worked to accomplish what it was meant to do. After seven years, the council is finally getting around to tackling this issue. But they tell us it will take another 18 to 24 months to come up with a new ordinance. There’s no reason it should take this long to fix something that’s been broken for seven years. I’ll commit to pushing for changes to be finished within 6 months of my taking office or sooner if substantial progress has been made on this issue prior to July.
What three steps would you take to help balance the city budget?
We must hold the line on any new pay increases and require employees to pay their fair share of health insurance costs. Our city employees currently only pay a 5% (or in some cases 0%) contribution to offset the cost of their very generous health insurance benefits. This is unsustainable. I previously managed a 5 doctor Animal Hospital. We offered our full time employees health insurance at an 80/20 split. This was a fair deal. The city must negotiate an employee contribution rate closer to what is standard in the private sector. Further, our city workers earn a guaranteed pension with no risk. They are guaranteed their payout regardless of what happens with the economy or with city finances. City employees must contribute more to their pension plans if they wish to maintain this guaranteed payout. City employees are not the enemy. They provide an important service to the city and its residents. But we must all be realistic about what the city can afford and negotiate in good faith for a long term resolution so we can finally put this contentious issue behind us.
Another way to help deal with the upcoming budget deficit as well as our long term structural deficit is to grow our business base. Drawing in new businesses rather than driving business away must be the primary focus of the city. Yet city officials do everything they can to drive businesses out of the city by piling on additional mandated costs and regulation. If we roll out the carpet for new businesses and make it easier for our current businesses to remain in LA, the growth in our business sector will increase our tax base. We can grow our way out of our current fiscal problems if we hold the line on expenses and bolster the business sector.
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
Here’s two decisions made by our current Councilmember which I believe shows a failure of leadership.
Closure of the 101 Barham exit ramp — Due to the new on-ramp being built at the Universal City Blvd bridge, Caltrans is requiring that the Barham exit be permanently closed. This will severely impact those who live and work in the area and rely on this exit. In discussions with the engineers for Universal, I have made two recommendations for designs that would maintain an exit ramp at Barham. According to the engineers, keeping the exit open is “difficult but not impossible.” But the current leadership on the city council has not stepped up to ensure that a plan is enacted which would serve the interests of the community. It’s not entirely unexpected that Caltrans would impose this closure as they are not the entity charged with protecting the constituents that will be affected. That is the job of the Council Member who represents the area and he has failed in this capacity. If elected I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that the “difficult but not impossible” option is enacted so residents and businesses in the area do not lose this vital lifeline.
Hollywood Sign Tourism — This is another example of our Council Member making unilateral decisions and imposing them on those who will have to live with the consequences. Tom LaBonge has promoted tourism to the Hollywood Sign in a manner that has caused the residential community to be over-run with visitors. This imposes huge quality of life problems and potential safety hazards on the community. Again, much of this has been the result of the current council member’s direct action and failure to protect the constituents he serves. There are possible solutions to this problem, but they will involve getting all interested parties together to work it out, rather than the council member dictating a unilateral solution, such as clear cutting foliage and creating a “viewing spot” that exacerbated the situation.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
I’m the only candidate in this race who, as a community advocate, has effected huge positive changes at both the state and local level and has saved Angelinos millions of dollars. Other candidates talk about what they will do, here’s some of what I’ve already done:
1. Eliminated LA’s red light camera scam triumphing over powerful entrenched special interests.
2. Leading the reform of LA’s unfair parking policies, Co-Chair of Mayor Garcetti’s Parking Reform Working Group.
3. Devised plan with Public Works Dept. to reuse water helping solve water runoff issues in hillsides communities.
4. Convinced Caltrans to increase yellow light times throughout California increasing safety at intersections.
5. Helped neighborhoods get streets repaved, sidewalks fixed, and stop signs installed.
6. Stopped state bill AB666 that would have taken away our right to trial for certain traffic offenses
I’m running for City Council for one reason—to help my community. For me, serving on the council is not just another step in a political career. My passion has motivated me to stop dysfunctional policies at the neighborhood, city, and state levels and successfully help thousands of individuals live better lives. I didn’t do these things as someone’s staff member or hired gun. I didn’t receive a paycheck. I just went to work on my own and fixed what was broken.
As a Council Member, I can be there every day making sure our elected officials are working for the people and employing common sense solutions, not making backroom deals with those they think will fund their next election bid. We need someone in City Council that has a history of standing up to special interests and making sure programs are run efficiently and are cost effective. Someone that doesn’t take “no” for an answer or accepts the status quo. I’ve proven time and again that I’m that kind of person.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
As explained above, I’d put a bond measure on the ballot to raise the needed funds to fix our infrastructure to be paid for out of the general fund. To accomplish this, we would need to rein in our other costs and get the budget under control. For example, DWP salaries are 20% higher than other city employee salaries. DWP salaries and benefits must be brought in line with those in the private sector.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
To answer this question fully, I’d need much more time and space than what is allotted for here. The bottom line is that I truly believe that while well intentioned by most people who support it, these kinds of policies end up harming many of the very people they are supposed to help. Every study on this topic shows that when the minimum wage is arbitrarily raised above market rates, the least skilled members of society are priced out of the job market. I have a great deal of compassion for those who are unskilled and in minimum wage jobs, but arbitrarily raising the minimum wage isn’t the right approach to help them. And it’s a terrible idea to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles when it is lower in surrounding cities. This makes LA less competitive and drives businesses out of the city, eroding our tax base.
The minimum wage is not meant for people to live on. It is supposed to be there as a safety net and to ensure that certain vulnerable workers are not exploited. If you are stuck in a minimum wage job for long periods of time, you have a skills and education problem, not a minimum wage problem. The best way to assist these people is to help them get the skills and education they need to rise above minimum wage jobs. In the meantime, an adjustment in the federal government’s Earned Income Tax Credit program would be a better way to put more money into the pockets of lower skilled workers.
It doesn’t help someone to raise their pay if the goods they need to buy become more expensive as a result, or their hours are cut to compensate, or if they end up being priced out of a job, or if that job goes away. That hurts them and, if the business closes or moves away, every other worker at that company. If a raise in the minimum wage encourages employers to automate and eliminate entry level jobs, who does that help? A study commissioned by the City of Los Angeles showed that when the minimum wage was increased to just above $10.00 an hour in the hotels around LAX, there was a 10% loss in jobs at those workplaces. In contrast, employment grew by 9.2% throughout Los Angeles County over the same period.
It would be great if we could just pass a law and make everyone richer, but it doesn’t work like that in the real world.
And understand that I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. A number of City Council members are also questioning the real economic effects, both good and bad, that this policy would bring about. And organizations such as the Midnight Mission and First Five LA have also expressed concerns about how they and other organizations will be negatively affected and prevented from doing all the good work they now do.
Finally, I’d point out that the minimum wage is currently comparable to the minimum wage in 1980. That was the year I got my first job in high school at a fast food restaurant making the minimum wage of $3.01 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $8.90 in 2014. This year, the State’s minimum wage will increase from $9.00 to $10.00 per hour, making it $1.00 higher than it was in 1980 as adjusted for inflation.
As reported in the L.A. Times on October 11, 2014, Edward Leamer, a professor of management, economics and statistics at UCLA said, “In any case, it seems wise to keep in mind that low wages are the symptom, not the problem. The problem is too many workers chasing too few low-wage jobs. To solve this problem, we either need fewer workers or more jobs. Unfortunately, a minimum wage of $13.25, compared with $7.25 in Texas and $5 in Mexico, repels jobs and attracts workers. The much better solution is to do what we can to attract businesses that hire these workers, and to educate our low-wage workers to make them eligible for the $20 or the $30 jobs.”
Do you think the city should reduce or eliminate its gross receipts tax on businesses? If so, how quickly should it do so, and how can the city replace the revenue it provides?
I would like to see the elimination of the arbitrary and uncompetitive gross receipts tax as soon as possible. No one in their right mind would tax a business’ gross receipts, especially if they make only a tiny profit or lose money. Most businesses are barely profitable, particularly in Los Angeles, a city that imposes huge costs on doing business here. We need to move away from reliance on this tax as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, previous budgetary decisions by our elected officials have made the city too dependent on this tax to unilaterally eliminate it. As an interim measure, I would replace the gross receipts tax with a tax on net income. Eventually, though, I would like to see that tax phased out as well. If we make the city more business friendly by cutting red tape and eliminating the gross receipts tax, we can attract more businesses to locate here. This would grow the tax base and allow us to eventually eliminate the net tax as well. But, that would only happen if city officials used this growth in our tax base to offset the net tax and not for new spending.
Do you support returning control of LA/Ontario International Airport to the city of Ontario? Why or why not? Should the airport be sold or simply be transferred back? If you support a sale, what do you think is an appropriate price?
It may make sense to return control of LA/Ontario International Airport to the city of Ontario as that change would free up Los Angeles officials to concentrate on making LAX the world class airport it could be. The price should be negotiated in good faith and if we can’t come to an agreement, we should look at entering into binding arbitration to set a fair price.
Which company do you believe should be awarded the Greek Theatre contract – Nederlander-AEG or Live Nation? Why?
I would prefer to withhold judgment until I could review all the relevant information regarding the two proposals and how the contract award process has been conducted thus far. However, in making any decision of this type, it would be based on what I believe is in the best interest of the city and its residents, businesses, and visitors. Also, how the different proposals would impact the surrounding community would weigh heavily in any decision. Honestly, anyone who offers an opinion on this without looking through every proposal and talking to the community one on one is not making a fully informed decision, I promise- I will read through all the proposals and contracts to make certain it is to the community’s best interests.