City Council (D4): Wally Knox
I grew up in a suburban family in New Mexico and enlisted in the U.S. Army for four years during the Vietnam War. I served in Germany and in Vietnam as well a several assignments here in the States.
In 1994, I was elected to the California State Assembly, where I served for three terms -- six years. I represented Sherman Oaks, Studio City, parts of Encino and Toluca Lake in the Valley. I also represented much of West L.A., Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Larchmont, Windsor Square and Hancock Park.
Top three goals
List the top three things you would seek to accomplish as a city council representative.
Reform the City’s broken planning process for development. I will discuss this at length just below.
Shift the business tax from the current gross receipts method to a net receipts model designed to generate the equivalent City revenues. I will discuss this at length in the section discussing the City’s budget.
Initiate and follow-up (and follow-up, and follow-up) a process of Continuous Improvement in City services. For half a century, some of the most successful private sector businesses have pioneered what they call Continuous Improvement. They implement an ongoing commitment to fostering a climate of continuously questioning how things are done at every level of an enterprise. They look for little victories as well as the big ones. They value improvements proposed at every level as opposed to relying on a “top-down” approach that is often dependent on purchasing costly new technology. Here in L.A., we are going through collective bargaining with the City unions with NO proposal on the table to cooperate on improving services. As you certainly know, governments in general, and L.A.’s in particular, have notoriously low increases in productivity, far, far below increases in the private sector. In prior eras, that stagnation might have been tolerable. Today, with massive, ongoing structural deficits we must improve, and improve every year, the quality of our government. Inculcating this cultural change will take the better part of a decade, and I will dedicate much of my time to pressing that effort forward.
Is City Hall doing a good job handling development projects? If so, why? If not, how would change it?
You have asked about the centerpiece of my campaign. We pretend we have a planning process in L.A. and that our Community Plans and zoning rules actually govern development. In fact, in our system every member of Council has virtually unfettered ability to bless any project they wish and deny any they dislike. They serve as a kind of elected dictator of development. The result is utter uncertainty and anxiety among homeowners and developers. Homeowners have no idea what unexpected development will plop down in their midst despite all the then-current rules and regs. Developers are faced with a “political risk” on top of all their other risks. Developers’ risks always include a business risk that their project will simply not generate the revenues they expected. And, they always have the risk that the national economy will go into a tail-spin just as their project comes on line. Here in L.A. they also face a layer of political risk that the project in which they have invested tens of millions and years of their lives will unexpectedly lose the blessing of the local Councilmember.
The result of this uncertainly is a war between developers and homeowners in which both sides have no alternative. Homeowners are forced to fight each development fight one at a time, and developers must pursue their interests and hope for the best. Homeowners oppose every new development not just because of the impacts of the development itself, but also because they have no certainty as to what will come next. Developers propose oversized projects in anticipation of downsizing them as the Councilmember makes deals with them.
LA deserves better. If elected I will lead a development planning process in CD4 resulting in community plans and zoning that will be placed in law and which I will be prohibited from tinkering with. I will reach out to adjacent Council Districts and their Members to partner in planning that crosses our borders, and in which we will mutually commit, by ordinance, to refrain from tinkering with the plans once completed. And, if necessary, I will lead an initiative measure to place these new procedural rules in our City Charter. Bluntly, nothing short of this kind of massive reform will end the emerging war between homeowners and developers.
My rivals, nice people all, completely disagree with me. They say they should be elected because they are nicer than others and will sincerely try to figure out which projects should be developed and which should not. I say, that is not the solution, that is the problem. We have 15 Council members, supplemented by the Mayor, who make every single development decision.
In addition, I believe there are two additional needed changes. First, the size of our community plans is too huge. We have 35 such plans but should have at least 100. Smaller plans allow real community input, giant plans make real input a charade. And, small plans can be moved to completion far more rapidly than the behemoths we currently generate.
Finally, we send out developer fees downtown. Wrong. Developer fees should primarily remain in the area impacted by a project and should be expended on a list of projects created and prioritized by the local residents. In that way, we will all see a community benefit every time a project comes on line.
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?
As I have made clear, I am very concerned about the influence of developers on the Council process. But, I lay the primary blame at the feet of our government itself for a structure that invites, indeed, demands that.
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?
Homeowners in every part of CD4 have told me they have very great problems obtaining the most basic services.
In Sherman Oaks, the massive dally commuter traffic jams are going unaddressed. About 500,000 trips a day run from the Valley to the City side. Some say the solution is a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass with a rail line in it. This concept is not even funded for a study by Metro. It might come into existence in time for our grandchildren to use it, but we need relief now. I propose developing a system of electric high-end buses running between the Valley and Westside designed to lure professionals out of their cars into public transit for the first time. Conventional buses will not do the trick. I can see buses where the commuter gets on the bus, purchases a good cup of coffee and a light breakfast, sits down in what is a spacious, well organized work station, accesses the internet and begins their business day on their commute. They arrive at work having billed or worked about an hour, their boss is happy, they are not rattled from fighting traffic for an hour. A premium fee would be charged for the service, but I am convinced we will find tens of thousands, perhaps as many as one hundred thousand, commuters anxious to use such a system.
A high-end bus system will help us solve our problems in the here-and-now for the next thirty years. If, down the line, the Sepulveda rail line comes into existence, fine. Buses are our bridge to that future time.
My bus proposal could, of course, work elsewhere as well, but the Sepulveda Pass is a perfect test case.
In Hancock Park, Windsor Square and Larchmont, Silver Lake, Franklin Hills, the Hollywood Hills, parts of Toluca Lake, and many other parts of CD4, the streets are a shambles. The local residents in these areas have tried for years to get the City to begin to restore the roads. I hear they have commitments from the Department of Public Works to innovate how to begin those repairs but they have been unable to get our current office and its staff to assist them.
In Los Feliz, the Boulevard has become a major commuter freeway. And, recently the community’s wishes are being utterly disregarded as the Recreation and Parks Commission pushes to replace the current beloved operator of the Greek Theater, the Nederlander organization, with the largest concert promoter around, Live Nation.
What do you see as the three biggest issues facing CD4, and what concrete proposals would you make to address those issues?
I have discussed development at length.
I have also discussed traffic congestion and a novel proposal for high-end buses that I am bringing to the debate.
The local Councilmember needs to spend large amounts of personal time working with local, community leaders in solving their problems. Much more hands on work is needed.
What three steps would you take to help balance the city budget?
First, do not repeal the business tax with no replacement. All my major rivals have repeatedly called for the complete repeal, a wildly irresponsible policy that would blow a $470 million hole in the budget and drive the structural deficit from $165 million to over $600,000. It would require a massive reduction in City employment and services. I just stood before the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and told them I was against giving them this tax cut. I said that I believed that what they really wanted was a city that does what a city is supposed to do — provide services competently. We have just come out of a massive recession, and now candidates are calling for the elimination of 9% of City revenues. I said I did not believe they wanted a City in perpetual decline. In short, last week I told them I was against completely eliminating their taxes, and they endorsed me. Our business leaders understand that calling for the elimination of the business tax is not just wrong, it is dangerous. I congratulate Mayor Garcetti for backing off his hasty proposal made in the heat of his campaign.
I propose a shift from the current gross receipts model to a net receipts model with no loss of funding. By the way, this will require a tweak of California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 17041.5, but that is easily doable.
Next, I have long favored what I call a “rolling tax increment” method of financing projects such as the L.A. River parkway. As you know, Council has begun a close look at using tax increment funding, made available by recent legislation, for the River project. The key concept is to capture the additional taxes reaped (the tax increment) over and above expected revenues when a public benefit, like a River park, drives tax revenue increases. It is a way of shifting incremental revenues from the State to the City without imposing a revenue reduction on the State.
Third, the City has the largest concentration of research universities on the planet. We should partner with Cal Tech, USC and UCLA in moving research from their labs into businesses in L.A., thus increasing our business tax base (assuming my rivals do not have their way on dumping the business tax).
Are there any major decisions in CD4 over the past three years that you would have opposed?
Villa Toscano should not have been approved in Sherman Oaks.
The Recreation and Parks Commission should have structured their request for proposal for an operator of the Greek Theater to emphasize relations with the local community. Instead, they slanted the proposal against the community.
In such a crowded race, what makes you different?
I bring a breadth of life and public experience on a level that no other candidate can offer. I have learned important lessons at every stage of my life, from my service in the Army in Vietnam, to my years on the L.A. College Board including as its President, to my years as Chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee (and other committees) of the California Assembly, to my years in City government at senior leadership positions. I would include my recent years at UCLA obtaining a masters degree in econometrics studying the decline of the American Middle Class.
What steps would you take to address L.A.’s failing pipes and other aging infrastructure, and how would you fund those steps?
The failing pipes are an immediate DWP problem. As you know, DWP operates on electric and water rates, not City taxes. The current deplorable level of maintenance is the result of at least 40 years of neglect. It has been a long time coming, and it will take us a long time to fix. Funding that maintenance and repair comes from one source, ratepayers.
It will take a long, long time to bring our streets up to par. Restoring those repairs will be costly, and, I must say once again, pretending that we can make progress on infrastructure repair while eviscerating the business tax, a full 9% of the City’s budget, is a fantasy. Too often political campaigns are about fantasies, but government should never be about fantasies. If we shepherd our resources, do not waste them, and hang in on the economic recovery for the long haul, we can begin to make progress.
Do you support increasing the citywide minimum wage, and if so, to what amount and by what year?
I support Mayor Garcetti’s proposal to implement a minimum wage of $13.25 in three steps: $10.25 in 2015; $11.75 in 2016; and $13.25 in 2017 with increases thereafter to offset the effects of inflation.
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?
First, do not repeal the business tax with no replacement. All my major rivals have repeatedly called for the complete repeal, a wildly irresponsible policy that would blow a $470 million hole in the budget and drive the structural deficit from $165 million to over $600,000. It would require a massive reduction in City employment and services. I just stood before the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce PAC and told them I was against giving them this tax cut. I said that I believed that what they really wanted was a city that does what a city is supposed to do — provide services competently. We have just come out of a massive recession, and now candidates are calling for the elimination of 9 percent of City revenues. I said I did not believe they wanted a City in perpetual decline. In short, last week I told them I was against completely eliminating their taxes, and they endorsed me. Our business leaders understand that calling for the elimination of the business tax is not just wrong, it is dangerous. I congratulate Mayor Garcetti for backing off his hasty proposal made in the heat of his campaign.
I propose a shift from the current gross receipts model to a net receipts model with no loss of funding. By the way, this will require a tweak of California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 17041.5, but that is easily doable. I am familiar with this issue from my two years as Assembly Revenue and Taxation Chair.
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?
I favor the sale of the Ontario airport, not a transfer. L.A. has accumulated very large bond obligations and those must be dealt with either in purchase price or by transfer of debt service responsibility which may be difficult to achieve. Your paper just reported on the dimensions of the issue. It would be irresponsible of me to pretend that I have weighed all the arguments over the value of the airport. Here is the principle on which that determination should be made: what is past is past. Benefits received by L.A. or Ontario in the past are not the issue. What is the value of the facility today, and how can we deal with the associated debts? L.A. should come away AT LEAST fully funded to deal with any debt it retains.
Which company do you believe should be awarded the Greek Theatre contract – Nederlander-AEG or Live Nation? Why?
Nederlander should get the contract. I believe an honest redoing of the proposal process would achieve that result. Live Nation is a gigantic company specializing in some of the noisiest events on the planet. They have no place at the Greek. Three months ago I stood up twice at Commission meetings and urged them to reject Live Nation’s proposal. I pointed out that their bid was probably fatally unresponsive because their only response to the requirement that they present a community relations plan was that they said they would spend $300,000 a year on … wait for it … something. They did not even specify what that sum would be spent on. Three months ago I was alone among the six leading candidates in opposing Live Nation. I strongly suspect that today others will sign on board. If so, I congratulate them on joining in.