Monday, May 20, 2019

The Hussle



Hello Everyone:

Welcome to an abbreviated week on the Blog.  Blogger Candidate Forum will appear tomorrow, instead of the usual Wednesday because Yours Truly has a previously scheduled appointment.

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Nipsey Hussle
usatoday.com

Today we are going to talk about the efforts of the late Nipsey Hussle to beat gentrification in South Los Angeles.  Rapper Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was killed on March 31, 2019 outside his store, Marathon Clothing, in the Crenshaw area of South Los Angeles.  Before his death, Mr. Asghedom was working to revitalizing the Hyde Park community, a section of Los Angeles ignored by the gentrification boom that has affected many communities.  The lack of investment in the area is evident in the facades of the neglected buildings, some still bearing the names of the businesses that once occupied and thrived there.    Before his untimely death, he was working toward bringing economic development to the blighted neighborhood but on his own terms.  He wanted the changes to come from within, not without.

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Map of the Hyde Park Community
Los Angeles, California
latimes.com
 
Around the time of his death, Mr. Hussle was reaching out to a diverse group of potential development partners: fellow musicians, local politicians, and a Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina in order to make his dream of a revitalized Hyde Park come true with long lasting results.  He was part of an investment group that wanted use a recently enacted federal tax incentive law--The Opportunity Zone Tax Incentive Program--designed to revitalize his neighborhood as well as other forgotten neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.  What qualifies as an Opportunity Zone?

An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.  Localities qualify as Opportunity Zones, if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service (irs.gov; date accessed May 20, 2019)

Nipsey Hussle was applauded by celebrities and South L.A. community members for his efforts to use the tools of institutions that long abandoned his neighborhood.  Jay-Z praised his work in a show in New York City's recently renovated Webster Hall.  He rapped,

Gentrify your own 'hood, before these people do it,.... Claim eminent domain and have your people movin'.  That's a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing (latimes.com; May 8, 2019; date accessed May 20, 2019)
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Crenshaw Boulevard
kcet.org

Together with real estate developer David Gross, the partners were scheduled to meet with Senator Scott to discuss rolling an investment fund they established called "Our Opportunity" (Ibid).  According to Mr. Gross, also a native of South L.A., the goal of Our Opportunity "is to work with the hometown heroes 'of every large, majority black city to, in a systematic way, acquire and develop transformative projects'" (Ibid).  Mr. Hussle, an activist long admired for never abandoning his community even after earning a Grammy nomination, also found a way for community members to invest with him and give everyone an ownership stake in every project.

David Gross explained,

He wanted to be a symbol and really spark a movement,.... Basically, it was the economic version of Black Lives Matter.  [That] is what were trying to create (Ibid)

The Opportunity Zone Tax Incentive Program, promoted by Senator Scott, was part of the president's 2017 overhaul of the federal tax code.  "It offers potentially large tax breaks to investors who are willing to pour much needed capital into rebuilding poor and sometimes up-and-coming communities that have been designated as 'opportunity zones'" (Ibid).
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Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
scott.senate.gov
  
The way Opportunity Zones work is:

...providing tax relief to investors.  First, investors can defer tax on any prior gains invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund... until the earlies of the date on which the investment in a QOF is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.  If the QOF investment is held for long than 5 years, there is a 10% exclusion of the deferred gain.  If the held for more than 7 years, the 10% becomes 15%.  Second, if the investor holds the investment in the Opportunity Fund for at least ten years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis of the QOF investment to its fair market value  on the date that the QOF investment is sold or exchanges (irs.gov; date accessed May 20, 2019).

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David Gross and Nipsey Hussle
blavity.com
When the president signed the Executive Order on Establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council (whitehouse.gov; Dec. 12, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019), he declared that the opportunity would deliver job, investment and growth to the communities that need it the most (latimes.com; May 8, 2019).  State, local, and federal lawmakers hoped that this type of long term injection of private sector investment will revive low-income communities that have still not recovered from the Great Recession of the 2000s.

The tax incentive already caught the attention of Wall Street and some affluent families.  To date, about 100 opportunity zone funds have created nationwide, with the goal of raising $24 billion that would go towards housing projects and businesses, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies (ncsha.org; Nov. 9, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019).  However, since the 8,700 opportunity zones were identified by the governors and designated by the Internal Revenue Service last year, there has been questions over which communities on the list truly qualify as economically distressed.  Some communities, such those in Oakland, and Queens, New York have experienced a major infusion of capital and development in recent years landed on the list as has Hollywood, California.

There is also concern that the capitol infusion and the scope of the projects that these types of investments engender would spur gentrification and displacement in actual struggling neighborhoods--the exact thing that Nipsey Hussle was trying to prevent.  Angel Jennings reported in the Los Angeles Times, "Last year, more than 30 community groups sent a letter to then-Gov. Jerry Brown [calreinvest.org; Mar. 16, 2018; date accessed May 20, 2019] urging him to slow down his process of selecting federal census tract to be designated opportunity zones" ((latimes.com; May 8, 2019).

Kevin Stein, the deputy director of the housing advocacy group California Reinvestment Coalition, told the Times,

There are no guardrails around the kind of investments that can qualify for this preferential tax treatment,.... A main concern of ours is that this kind of unrestrained investment is certain neighborhoods that are already feeling gentrification pressures--it will just be fuel on that fire and could result in large scale displacement of low-income people and people of color (Ibid).

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Hyde Park Congregational Church
Los Angeles, California
pinterest.com

John Lettieri, the president and CEO of the Economic Innovation Group, part of the successful coalition that lobbied Congress to create the opportunity zones as part of the tax overhaul, acknowledges the issues.  He worked with David Gross in the coalition, and it was Mr. Gross who shared the plans that he and Mr. Hussle had to for South Los Angeles and like communities across the nation.  Mr. Lettieri told the Times,

We were excited about what they were pulling together,... I think we cand that happening non a national scale thanks to opportunity zones (Ibid).

Nipsey Hussle earned his business acumen on the streets of South Los Angeles.  His ambitions earned him his nickname.  He used to run errands for local hustlers, some of whom were part of the notorious Rollin' 60s--"a street gang that he would go on to embrace in his music while encouraging the peace" (Ibid).  It was a trip to his father's place birth, Eritrea, that inspired him to shift his focus away from the streets and towards music.  He formed the record label All Money In.  Nipsey Hussle sold some of his early work out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot of 3416 West Slauson, which he and Mr. Gross would later pay $2.5 million to buy the building on the lot and open Marathon Clothing.

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Crenshaw Metro rail line map
transportation.gov
   

The anticipated $2 billion Crenshaw Metro Line, steps from his shop, has cause a spike in home prices, pushing out longtime residents and black-owned small businesses.  In the final years of his life, Mr. Hussle work to ensure the African American presence by partnering with civic officials and community members to create the Destination Crenshaw art project (Ibid; latimes.com; Jan. 30, 2019; date accessed May 20, 2019).  Then he brought to his community the very amenities found in areas north of the 10 Freeway--boutiques, grocery stores, safe recreational areas.

Three years ago, Nipsey Hussle and David Gross started an inner-city investment fund.  One of their first projects was Vector 90, a co-work space and STEM center, located in an industrial part of the South L.A., dismissed as too rough for that kind of investment.  That kind of investment was successful,  They went to expand their plan after Mr. Hussle's Hyde Park neighborhood was designated an opportunity zone, spending the final months of the rapper's life meeting with investors and lawmakers to discuss funding "Our Opportunity." (Ibid; May 8, 2019)

Senator Tim Scott wrote,

I was excited when I learned of his interest in Opportunity Zones,.... And I'm saddened that we will never get to discuss out plans and vision for what this initiative could do to partner with and strengthen Nipsey's already amazing efforts (Ibid)

Nipsey Hussle and David Gross had plans to build on the L-shape strip mall (Ibid; Apr. 2, 2019) which they bought in January.  Their plans called for a mixed-use residential-commercial development.  Like with their investment fund, they wanted to make their neighbors stakeholders.  Their plans included setting aside 20 percent of the units for community residents and help them invest so they could own their homes. Mr. Gross said they had plans to unveil the "Our Opportunity" fund later this month (Ibid; May 8, 2019).

California Deputy Treasure Jovan Agee said, "Hussle provided a blueprint to building wealth that can serve as an inspiration to the everyday man who might be working the graveyard shift and selling T-shirts on the side" (Ibid).

He really had to scratch and scrape to get into a position of acknowledgement,.... What did is a blue-collared approach to economic development and self-wealth building that others can replicate (Ibid).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Economic Message



Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
rollingstone.com
Hello Everyone:

It is a May gray Wednesday and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  What to make of a trade war between the United States and the People's Republic of China?  Good for both countries, just the United States, just China?  One thing is certain, no in the White House seems to have a clue how to deal with American farmers and workers who are dealing with the fallout of tit-for-tat tariffs.  That might be something for the next president, whoever he or she may be, to deal with.  This brings us to today's subject.

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Who is running for president, so far
youtube.com
Will Mr. Donald Trump be re-elected, be replaced by a moderate Republican, or one of the 21 Democrats vying for the nomination?  Good question. One thing is certain, there is no perfect candidate.  Get rid of that notion immediately because if you scratch the surface of any of the challengers for Mr. Trump's job, you will find a skeleton or two in the closet.  One candidate is too handsy (VPOTUS Biden), another candidate is the mean boss (Senator Amy Klobucher), minimally experienced candidates (take your pick), and some that simply do have a chance (again, take your pick).  What does the last nomination Democratic candidate standing need to do to win over the voters?  Let us take a look at how the Democrats need to address one of the president's key issues, the economy.

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Who?
newswest9.com
  
Right now, the 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination are trying out policies and slogans to see what works before going into the caucuses and primaries, beginning in January.  That may seem far away but the prudent candidate will have a solid message ready before January.  The problem is all the candidates appear to have similar messages: universal healthcare, regulations to curb climate change, reduce inequality, improve life for the American middle class.  These are all very popular policy issues but really, to paraphrase James Carville, it's the economy.  It is hard to sell policy issues like reducing income inequality when members received a nice tax refund and pay raise.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
politico.com

The president has an amazing gift for not quite burning through the prosperity he inherited.  For all of the ill-conceived trade wars and regular assaults on financial regulation, strangely, he has managed to strengthen the recovery begun under President Barack Obama by passing giant fiscal stimulus and forcing the Federal Reserve into easing up on rate hikes (nymag.com; Apr. 29, 2019; date accessed May 15, 2019).  All expansions, like good things, must come to an end.  "Global growth is slowing, much of corporate America looks over-leveraged [cnbc.com; Nov. 21, 2018; date accessed May 15, 2019] and the stimulative impact of the Trump tax cuts are starting to fade...." (nymag.com; Apr. 29, 2019).  When the Federal Reserve backed off interest rate increases earlier this year, the leading stock market indicators rallied to greater heights, while gross domestic product growth has remained consistent, and unemployment remains at a historic low, prompting analysts to downgrade the risk of imminent recession (Ibid).  Be that as it may, a lot can happen between now and November 2020 and whoever the Democratic candidate is may have to face a president at the helm of the longest uninterrupted period of growth.  What does a Democratic candidate do.

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Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)
theatlantic.com
  
A Democratic candidate needs a robust national message.  Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist and pollster told Politico,

We don't really have a robust national message right [on the economy]...We will tend to talk about things like paid leave and equal pay--and those things are all very popular policies.  But they don't add up to an economic messages that is robust enough to win the presidency and beat Donald Trump, who talks about a very robust economic policy (politico.com; Apr. 28, 2019; date accessed May 15, 2019)

The Democrats inability to focus is largely due to the expansive field but may be curable once the nominee is chosen,  Every top tier candidate has spoken about a significant parts of the economy from income inequality to the cost of higher education.  The more progressive  candidates are advancing broader concerns for a fairer economy.  California Senator Kamala Harris told the Service Employees International Union forum in Las Vegas, We have an economy in this country that is not working for working people (Ibid).  At the same event, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) succinctly put it, Let's make the zillionaires pay a fair share (Ibid)

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VPOTUS Joe Biden
nytimes.com
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It remains to be seen which economic message will stick and what policies will resonate with the voters.  If the midterms were any indication, healthcare is going to be a big talking point.  Mary Kay Henry, the president of the SEIU said that despite

good, specific ideas for certain sectors of the economy that have been put forward, [labor organizers still] are looking for a comprehensive response on the economy (Ibid).

According to Ms. Henry, the real challenge for Democrats is to

unpack that the economy is working for the few [while] the overwhelming majority of Americans, they're working two or three jobs and can't make ends meet (Ibid)

In absence of an economic slowdown, the president is benefiting from largely positive numbers that the Democrats have having difficulty undermining.  "According to a recent CNN poll, 71 percent of Americans rate the nation's economic conditions favorably" (Ibid).  On this issue, the president's otherwise grim approval ratings remain steadily above 50 percent.

Matt Bennett of the center-left organization Third Way told Politico,

Our view is that Democrats would be very wise to recognize how steep the mountain is on the economy,... There are things about this economy that very popular--low unemployment, a lot of jobs, there's been some real wage increase.  We attribute zero, zero percent of that to good Trump policy... But he will claim credit, as he does for the sun rising and everything else, and we have to be aware that that could be potent.  (Ibid)

Mr. Bennett distilled the matter,

What that means is that we need a very clear economic narrative that resonates deeply with voters that we have to win, and we better not be caught up in our own blue bubble world.  (Ibid)

An obvious reference to the rhetorical position then candidate-Trump found himself in during the 2016 election cycle.  Then candidate Hillary Clinton kept pointing to unemployment and wage growth as indicators of a strong economy under the tenure of a Democratic president while Mr. Trump discounted the positive economic data.


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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
rollingstone.com


Now, the economic message landscape is reversed, the data the president dismissed as fraudulent is being used by him to taut robust economic message while the Democrats are trying to argue that the data is not fully appreciated.  Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA summed up the challenge for "Democrats ahead of 2020 is to focus on what people are actually experiencing. (Ibid).  

This is not rocket science and if they can do that, then people are going to change their mind about how they connect Trump to this economy (Ibid).  If whoever the nominee is can focus his or her message on the present, then it is gold.

We will continue to look at what campaign the Democrats have to put forward to connect with voters.  Spoiler alert: impeachment and removal from office is not one of them. 


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Restore It To Its Original State Or Something Else?




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Cathedral Notre-Dame
Paris, France
parisianist.com

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely spring afternoon and Blogger thinks that May gray has finally gone away.  We are going to spend this lovely spring afternoon in Paris.  Well not literally, although spring time in Paris does sound wonderful.  Today we are going to consider the restoration of the spire and roof of Cathedral Notre-Dame.  The concepts range from insane (something that resembles a spaceship landing on the building) to modern (a rooftop greenhouse).  The rooftop greenhouse actually sounds like a practical concept.  Designer Mathieu Lehnneur has something else in mind.

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Mathieu Lehanneur's concept for the Notre-Dame Spire
domain.com.au

On April 23, a week after the catastrophic fire that destroyed the roof and spire of Notre-Dame, Mr. Lehanneur posted a suggestion for a new spire: "a gleaming 300-foot flame, made of carbon fiber and covered in gold leaf, that would be a permanent reminder of the tragedy" (nytimes.com; May 10, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  He posted the concept on Instagram and did not get many likes; some called it blaspheme.  He told The Times, "The idea was meant as a simple provocation: to show the absurdity of rebuilding the spire as it was in the 19th century,..." (Ibid).  Since then, Mr. Lehanneur has become more serious about the plan.  He said,

A few days after I put it online, I thought, 'Why not?'... The flame is actually a very strong symbol in the bible,...it's powerful (Ibid).


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Some of the proposals for rebuilding the roof and spire
nytimes.com

Mathieu Lehanneur's inspired suggestion is one of dozens that have gone public since the fire, most conceived by small design firms.  Most of the designs are glass towers, except for one.  Vizum Atelier, a design firm from Slovakia, designed a new spire with a light shooting up into the sky.  Firm architect Michal Kovac described it in a email to The Times as a lighthouse for lost souls (Ibid).  He added that  "It would fulfill the aim of the architects of Gothic cathedrals around Europe who to touch heaven with their spires" (Ibid).  Another concept, with religious overtones from Alexandre Fantozzi, a Brazilian architect, who envisioned a new roof and spire made entirely from stained glass. 

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Roof proposal by Alex Nerovnya, Moscow Architectural Institute
nytimes.com

Alex Nerovya, a lecturer at the Moscow Architectural Institute, proposed a diamond-shaped roof surrounding a rebuilt Gothic spire.  

Several of the designers said in interview "that their designs were merely artistic responses to the shock of the fire.  But some also hope that their plans will be chosen" (Ibid) and the competition is on.  A mere two days after the fire, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced an international competition for a spire to replace the 19th-century iteration by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc that was destroyed by the fire.  PM Phillippe spoke to The New York Times, This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility (Ibid).  No contest details have been released.

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President Emmanuel Macron
en.wikipedia.org

Last month, President Emmanuel Macron said that was not opposed to a a a contemporary architectural gesture (Ibid) that would make Notre-Dame even more beautiful (Ibid).  Support for a contemporary architectural gesture that would enhance the cathedral's beauty aside, many in France want the Viollet-le-Duc spire restored to its original state.  Last Thursday, the daily newspaper Le Figaro published a survey that found that 55 percent of the French people want the spire restored to its original state and that has the backing of several politicians.  Herein lies the paradox of building a modern world is simultaneously to build an ancient one.

The destroyed spire was the work of Viollet-le-Duc, a designer, and scholar and architect Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus between 1844 and 1864.  Viollet-le-Duc drew on his travels around rural France, making engravings of old churches, villages, and the Alps.  He had a preference for the piquant and picturesque (newyorker.com; May 13, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  His spire was 300 feet tall and built from approximately 750  tons of lead-coated oak, referencing the wind-damaged 13th century original removed in 1786, three years prior to the French Revolution.

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Eugene Viollet-le-Duc
en.wikipedia.org
No sooner had President Macron announced his ambitious plan to repair the cathedral in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, his Instagram feed was full of concept designs.  Most of these proposals seemed fanciful exercises in imagination however, Jorge Otero-Pailos, the director of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, questioned the very thought of a contest.  Mr. Otero-Pailos described it in The Art Newspaper as,

...completely at odds with the fact that heritage is a bottom-up social process through which we make and remake our society,... If you thought the fire was bad, wait for the damage from the spire that will come out of the spire (theartnewspaper.com; Apr. 19, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was a man of his time and his time was the 19th-century an era of political and industrial revolution.  His restoration practice mixed Gothic Revival and medieval Gothic, mixing artifice with authenticity, placing him on the side of "The Scrapers," in opposition to the "Anti-Scrapers" who favored conservation over intervention.  Viollet-le-Duc's captured The Scraper sensibility with this surprising 1854 definition of restoration in the Dictionnaire Raisonne de l'Architecture Francaise du XIe au XVIe Siecle:

Both the word and the thing are modern.  To restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, not to repair it, not to rebuild it; it means to reestablish it in a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed any given time.  (newyorker.com; May 13, 2019).

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John Ruskin
ruskinmuseum.com
 
Viollet-le-Duc's contemporary and British architectural historian John Ruskin was on the side of "Anti-Scrapers," those who favored conservation over intervention.  In his seminal 1849 book The Seven Lamps of Architecture, he wrote,

Do not let us talk then of restoration.  The thing is a lie from beginning to end.  You may make a model of a building as you may of a corpse and your model may have the shell of the old wall within it as your cast might have the skeleton... but the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust. (Ibid).

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?  

Cathedral Notre-Dame has become a historic-cultural symbol for all of France.  President Macron is quite determined to have the restoration, in some form and fashion, completed in five years which may seem unrealistic.  In response to this timeline, 1,100 architectural professionals and art historians published a letter in the April 29 issue of Le Figaro calling the president to take time to find the right way that restores the structure and respects heritage laws (nytimes.com; May 10, 2019; date accessed May 14, 2019).  French culture minister Franck Riester told Parliament that the restoration would not be done in haste and the government would consider critics' opinions.  No prominent architect has stepped forward with a serious proposal and several said they would consider entering a competition.

We will what happens next. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Could SB 50 Destroy A City's Unique Historic Character?



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Duplexes in Carthay Circle
Los Angeles, Ca
duplexes.com
Hello Everyone:

A sort of May gray Monday and a fresh week on the blog.  Today we are going to take the question whether or not high density housing can co-exist with historic neighborhoods?  This is a question facing Los Angeles as Senate Bill 50 (leginfo.legislature.ca.gov; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed May 13, 2019) makes its way through the California State Legislature.

The goal of SB 50 is to ease alleged land use barriers to increasing density and streamline the construction of multi-family housing units.  If passed, SB 50 "would override local land use restrictions, allowing multi-family buildings to up near 'high quality' train and bus stops" (laconservancy.org; date accessed May 13, 2019).  This will make it easier for four- and five-story  residential developments to go up in areas currently zoned for single family residences (Ibid).Senate Bill 50 is the successor to last year's failed Senate Bill 827 (Ibid), which failed to clear committee.

  If passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom,  the bill, among other things, would require cities to permit multi-story buildings to be up in neighborhoods, like Carthay Circle, near mass transit (latimes.com; May, 8, 2019; date accessed May 13, 2019).  The goal is to alleviate the state's housing shortage and reduce the number of cars on the road as the effects of climate change intensify.  Admirable goal but not everyone is thrilled about it.


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Carthay Circle Theater (demolished)
laconservancy.org
Ann Rubin told Times columnist Steve Lopez, 

We've got Wilshire right there, and they can go as high as they want (Ibid), 

pointing toward the direction where she believes new housing should be built, along the commercial corridors instead along the the historic, quiet, upscale, leafy streets of Carthay Circle.  Ms. Rubin and others believe that multi-story residential buildings would alter the look and character of the neighborhood.

Fellow resident Walter Dominguez remembers a time when the neighborhood was in decline during the eighties and the neighbors feared that developers would swoop in and upset the neighborhood's historic fabric.  Mr. Dominguez and a coalition of residents undertook the three-year process to earn historical preservation overlay zone status from City Hall.  They believed that HPOZ status would ensure the neighborhood's historic character for future generations.  If SB 50 (Ibid; Apr. 23, 2019), some of the protections from designation could be lost.  Steve Lopez notes, "Even with preservation status, structures that don't contribute to historic integrity of the neighborhood could meet up with a wrecking ball" (Ibid; May 8, 2019)

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Map of Carthay Circle
en.wikipedia.org
  
Brad Kane, a neighbor of Walter Dominguez, told the Times,

To put an eight-story building in the middle of this district virtually nullifies the integrity,.... And there's nothing the city can do to protect us because state law trumps municipal law. (Ibid)

Carthay Circle is not the only neighborhood taking sides over SB 50.  Around California, residents and civic officials have been taking sides over the bill, introduced by state Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) maneuvers its way through the state legislature, where passage is not a sure thing.  Senator Weiner said,

We have a 3.5 million-home deficit in California,.... It's undermining our economy.  It's undermining our climate goals.  We have to be bold in solving this problem (Ibid).

Senator Weiner does have a point but Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz (CD-5), whose district includes the tony neighborhood, considers this bold initiative a misguided overstep (Ibid; Apr. 16, 2019).  Council member Koretz spoke to Mr. Lopez, ""...the purpose of SB 50, as he see it, is to destroy single-family home neighborhoods ins Southern California" (Ibid; May 8, 2019).  He spoke at a recent Carthay Circle meeting attended by those opposed to SB 50, making reasonable arguments.  Steve Lopez reported, "He thinks putting multi-story apartment buildings on lots where a single-family homes now stand would be out of scale and little or nothing to address the state's greatest need--more affordable housing.  He called Weiner's bill a handout for developers, some of whom happen to be big supporters of SB 50" (Ibid).

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Carthay Circle home
Los Angeles, California
preservation.lacity.org

Council member Paul Koretz also is unsure whether the bill would really mitigate traffic or the housing shortage, "noting that developers would inclined to build luxury housing" (Ibid).  That would result in little or no relief for those who need affordable housing, near transit lines the most and it would undermine the state's efforts to reduce carbon emissions, "because those who can afford the rent might be more likely to drive than ride a bus or train" (Ibid).

UCLA professor Mike Manville has a different perspective.  Senator Weiner's bill has already been been modified in response to its critics and there is no telling what the final draft of the bill will look like once all the revisions are completed.  Be that as it may, Prof. Manville appreciates the intent behind it.  He told the Times that "he understand the concerns of Carthay Circle residents but thinks everyone has to contribute to solving the housing crisis, including those living smack dab in in the middle of the nation's second-largest city" (Ibid).

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SB 50 Town Hall meeting at Temple Beth Am
Los Angeles, California
beverlypress.com


Prof. Manville said,

We have people in our city living in tents.  They live in their cars.  They live under our highway overpasses and they die on our sidewalks,... At a certain point, the pedigree of your house has to matter a little bit less if you live within walking distance of major transit stops and jobs.  You ought to have to share some of these opportunities your location offers.  (Ibid)

In previous conversations with Prof. Manville, Steve Lopez writes that "he argued that homeowners have benefited for decades from mortgage deductions, Proposition 13 tax relief and zoning restrictions that have limited new construction and driven up the value of homes, turning thousands of Californians into paper millionaires" (Ibid).  Prof. Manville breaks down the arguments pro- and con-SB 50 to a give-and-take: "If we want more affordable housing,..., maybe those homeowners can contribute a small fraction of their wealth to construction fund when they sell their homes" (Ibid).

Council member Paul Koretz said "Los Angeles voters have already taxed themselves to build more  affordable housing, and thousands of units are in the construction pipeline" (Ibid).  Council member Koretz believes that Los Angeles should "build more density along commercial rather than residential corridors, offer more assistance to those in danger of becoming homeless and require developers to include more affordable housing in their developments" (Ibid).

The Los Angeles Conservancy issued the following position statement:

While the intent of providing more housing may be good, the bill and its approach is highly problematic.  It poses a one-size-fits-all solution and a blunt, statewide fix that would outstrip local authority and planning.  It also does not recognize the diversity of development statewide, let alone throughout Greater Los Angeles.

As part of a statewide coalition of preservation organizations, the Conservancy has requested amendments to the SB 50 to ensure safeguards to protect structures and districts placed on, or that have been identified by a public agency as eligible for, inclusion on a national, state, or local historic register.

The Conservancy wants to ensure that the revised bill language will not impose a one-size-fits-all approach and unnecessarily harm California's historic resources and potentially entire neighborhoods. (laconservancy.org; date accessed May 13, 2019)

Both sides make credible arguments but Los Angeles, as well as many cities around California, are made up of unique neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods, like Carthay Circle, are historic in their own way.  Together, they make Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and so forth the great places that they are.  If signed into law SB 50 could strip away that unique historic character that help define cities.    

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: This Ride Just Got Bumpier



Hello Everyone:

It is a May Gray Wednesday afternoon and time for a brief Blogger Candidate Forum.

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The president
politico.com

It is edging toward high noon in Washington D.C.  A showdown between the president and Congressional Democrats.  Today, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to testify and release the unredacted version of the Special Counsel's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  Further, Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin has refused to release the president's tax returns and financial records after being subpoenaed.  Meanwhile, the New York State legislature has advanced a bill that would release the president's state taxes.  Finally, the president has invoked executive privilege to prevent former White House legal counsel Don McGahn from testifying and providing relevant documents.  The Republicans are standing firm behind the president's claim of no collusion, turning a blind eye to multiple examples of obstruction of justice.  Did you follow that?  Let us start at the top

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Attorney General William P. Barr
vox.com

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-16, along party lines to hold AG Barr in contempt over the Department of Justice's refusal to comply with the Democrats' subpoena for the unredacted version of the SCO's report (cnbc.com; date accessed May 8, 2019).  AG Barr is not the first sitting attorney general to be held in Congressional contempt.  Former Obama administration AG Eric Holder was held in contempt in 2012 for not releasing information surrounding the ill-fated "Fast and Furious" operation.    The vote took place not long after Mr. Trump asserted  executive over the SCO report, ratcheting up an intense situation even higher (Ibid).  Never at a loss of words, Committee Chairperson Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said after the hearing,

We did not relish doing this, but we had no choice,... turning  the entire Department of Justice into an instrument of Trump personally,... We've talked for a long time about approaching constitutional crisis.  We are now in it. (Ibid)

Rep. Nadler accused the attorney general of misleading Congress during his testimony.

Democrats emphasized that they were holding AG Barr in contempt while they demanded the full report.  Committee members argued over whether the assertion of executive privilege was legitimate and questioned the legality and political motives behind the contempt.  Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) incredulously declared, This is all about impeaching the president (Ibid).  Equally incredulous Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan (R) added, Bill Barr is following the law, and what's his reward?  Democrats are going to hold him in contempt (Ibid).

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Former White House Legal Cousel Donald McGahn
cnn.com

Also getting hot under the collar is former White House Legal Counsel Don McGahn who refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the SCO's investigation, deferring to last minute instructions from the White House to disregard House Democrats' demands (politico.com; May 7, 2019; date accessed May 8, 2019).  Mr. McGahn's refusal to comply with the subpoena prompted Rep. Nadler to threaten him with a contempt citation after Mr. McGahn's attorney William Burck said his client would defy the subpoena, due yesterday as part of the committee's investigation into obstruction of justice allegations against the president (Ibid).  The House Judiciary Committee subpoena also demanded that Mr. McGahn testify before the panel in two weeks. Mr. Burck said,

Where co-equal branches of government are making contradictory demands on Mr. Gahn concerning the same set of documents, the appropriate response for Mr. McGahn is to maintain the status quo unless and until the committee and the executive branch can reach an accommodation (Ibid)

Rep. Jerry Nadler responded to William Burck in a letter, in great detail, outlining the reasons for the request and consequences for failure to comply (judiciary.house.gov; May 7, 2019; date accessed May 8, 2019).

Current counsel Pat Cipollone alluded to Mr. Burck earlier yesterday "that the White House considers the documents in McGahn's possession to be subject to executive privilege and that any discussion  abut sharing them with Congress should be between law makers and the White House."  Mr. Cipollone wrote to Mr. Burck,

The White House records remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because the implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege,.... For these reasons, Acting Chief of Staff to the President, Mick Mulvaney, directs Mr. McGahn not to produce these White House records to the committee's April 22 subpoena (politico.com; May 7, 2019).

So far this does not sound like the same White House, who only a mere few weeks ago, was proudly announcing to the world "No collusion.  Total exoneration."  It sounds more like a White House with something to hide.  Speaking of something to hide, how about those tax returns.

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Cover of The Art Of The Deal
abebooks.com
Since the beginning of his campaign, the president has danced around the subject of releasing his tax returns.  To be clear, no candidate for office is required to make public his or her tax forms, but there was something rather odd about then-candidate Trump's hesitation.  First he said that he was instructed by his accountant and lawyer to release his returns because they being audited.  Not true, an Internal Revenue Service and state tax agency audit does not prevent someone doing it.  Then he said, he would eventually get around to it.  By that point, conventional thinking was it was never going to happen.  Then, he said it was useless, nothing to see.  Finally, for some odd reason, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was not going to release his returns because they were complicated for anyone to understand.  She does know that Congress has members that are very well versed in state and federal tax law, does she not?  Well, it seems we might finally have a reason.

In an explosive investigation in yesterday's New York Times, reporters revealed that between 1985 and 1994, private citizen Trump's tax figures showed over a $1 billion in business losses (nytimes.com; May 8, 2019).   In the interest of full disclosure, The Times reporters used printouts from Mr. Trump's official IRS tax transcripts, with figures from his federal form for the years in question.  The losses came from his core businesses--casinos, hotels, and retail spaces in apartment buildings.  These enterprises continued to annually lose money, totaling $1.17 billion for a decade (Ibid).  Mr. Trump lost so much money, more than the average American taxpayer, that he was able to avoid paying taxes for eight out the ten years (Ibid).  What does this mean?

For a long time the narrative put out by Mr. Trump is that his success is tied to his wealth.  The reality is that instead of trying to recreate and build on top of the successful model laid out by his father, the president did something different and through a series of bad deals making decisions, hemorrhaged money.  These shocking revelations puncture a massive hole in the image of Trump the smart, successful, wealthy businessman.  It also makes you wonder who bailed him out?  If Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin has his way, we may never find out because he has refused to authorize the release of the returns, citing no legitimate legislative purpose.  However, the New York State legislature may approve the release of the president's state returns and we may begin to get answers to all the questions surrounding the president's actual wealth.  In the meantime, the I-word is echoing through the halls of Congress.

Calls for Articles of Impeachment are getting louder by the day.  The White House's actions are part of an overall strategy to force the House of Representatives into beginning the Impeachment process.  This may spectacularly backfire on the White House because the more they refuse to cooperate, the louder the calls for the release of documents and witness testimonies become.  For the House Democrats, the ongoing investigations threaten to suck up all the energy from doing the work of the people who elected them.  Looking down the road to the 2020 election cycle, the administration's recalcitrance is giving the president's eventual Democratic challenger more ammunition while Democratic lawmakers facing re-election may find their path back to the House more difficult.  Stay tuned, this ride is about to take a a sharp twist followed by a deep dive.