Mayoral Candidate Kevin James Answers Resident Questions

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Category: City News
Published on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 23:19
Written by Dianne Lawrence

Kevin James is a true anomaly in Los Angeles mayoral contests.  A long-time conservative, talk show host, attorney and former federal prosecutor, he has declared that he wants to be the first openly gay Republican mayor in Los Angeles and believes the people of Los Angeles will embrace his vision.  Although he successfully raised large amounts of money while on the board of Aids Project LA between1995 and 2000, he falls behind the mayoral fundraising of the big three, with Wendy Greuell and James Garcetti taking the fundraising lead and Jan Perry following closely behind.  But we have learned that  huge amounts of cash, although helpful, does not a winner make.  He declares that he is a “fiscally responsible, socially moderate Republican with a real streak of independence”.

In your view what is the primary reason for Los Angeles’ current financial crisis? What do you think could have been done differently?  Is there anything that can be done that is currently not being done?

The Executive Employee Relations Committee entered into contracts, year after year, that the city could not afford, and the City Council gladly rubber-stamped their actions.  Neither the EERC nor the Council can legitimately feign ignorance, or blame the bad decisions on an "unknown"

recession -- numerous community members, bloggers and radio broadcasters (including myself) warned the Council and the EERC that we could not afford the overly-lucrative contracts they were about to enter into.  These same Councilmembers regularly received huge financial support for their campaigns from the very employee unions that benefited from the employee contracts.

 

Whatever the unions wanted, the unions received - even in crisis.  Whether it was ERIP (Early Retirement Incentive Program), "transferring" general fund employees over to the DWP budget to avoid laying them off, or "shifting" costs to future years to make the budget appear balanced, the unions got what they wanted.

In addition to the questionable planning referenced above, overly optimistic investment forecasts have also contributed to the crisis.  Current forecasts of 7% to 8% are no longer realistic (if they ever really were).  As you know, CalPERS just reported a 1% return at the state level for the year ending June 30.  As you also know, anything below the fund's discount rate of 7.5% (which most public pensions in the U.S. use as their rate) forces the taxpayer to cover the difference.

There is also a culture of corruption in City Hall that current leadership has allowed to grow.  Salary reform and real pension reform must be implemented.  City leaders have, thus far, been unwilling to make the decisions needed to solve the city's financial crisis.  I am the only candidate that is independent enough to implement the necessary reforms.

City Council and the way it is run is often perceived as dysfunctional by residents interacting with it.  Councilmembers ignore public comments.  There is little debate or discussion over motions which are unanimously, or close to, it approved, sometimes without any awareness of the background or issues involved with the motion.  What are some of the problems you perceive with the way the council is run and what, if anything will you be able to do to change it once in office?

The City Council under the leadership of former Council President Garcetti and President Pro Tempore Perry (both of whom are running against me for Mayor) has been publicly criticized for rigged voting procedures and back-room deals.  Here is a story from the LA Times containing the headline "Automatic 'yes' votes allows time for back-room dealing at City Hall".

Here is a link (See p. 5 of the Study) to a study from the Center for Governmental Studies about back-room dealing in the LA City Council (under Garcetti's and Perry's leadership) results in the City Council voting unanimous over 95% of the time.

As Mayor, I will work to expose the questionable procedures put in place by the City Council and will use the Mayoral podium to publicly speak out against such questionable tactics because public knowledge and public pressure results in the kind of true transparency and accountability that is necessary to clean up city government.

How would you help marginalized communities with persistent quality of life issues like graffiti abatement, illegal vending, commercial vehicles parking on residential streets and larger issues like crime, violent crime and gang activity? What is your vision for community development?  Which neighborhoods do you feel need immediate assistance?

I would help these communities by making enforcement of city laws (including municipal codes, etc.) a priority.  Making enforcement a priority requires personnel and the funds to pay for such enforcement (in employee time, etc.).  In order to have the funds to focus on enforcement, we must implement the salary and pension reform I discussed above.

I would also improve City Hall's relationship with Neighborhood Councils, Homeowners Associations and other important community groups to enlist their support, manpower, and direct knowledge of their specific communities.  There are also new technologies that are available to significantly improve notice of these problems and enforcement procedures.

The communities that need immediate assistance include South Los Angeles, parts of central Los Angeles near downtown, as well as parts of the Valley including the East Valley.

At the moment, response from city agencies to calls from the public regarding illegal alterations to historic properties are mostly ignored; by the time anyone responds (if at all) it is usually too late to have any effect. Most of these agencies have little understanding of regulations regarding historic preservation, so that their responses are ineffective. What will you do to strengthen Historic Preservation in the city?

Once again, a lack of priorities is the root cause of another problem.  The special interests that have run City Hall for too long through their outrageous political contributions to council members and citywide officeholders contributes to numerous systemic problems throughout the city, including the lack of importance placed on Historic Preservation.

The City of Los Angeles has adopted a "so sue me" attitude in its willingness to ignore existing city plans, including the city's General Plan and numerous Community Plans.  For too many years now, city officials have ignored city residents and taxpayers while focusing their priorities on the wishes of their biggest campaign contributors and political insiders and lobbyists.  My opponents have all been in office for over a decade and have already proven to you that they will only listen to the special interests first.

I will strengthen Historic Preservation by actually holding the Planning Department (and other related departments including Building and Safety) accountable, by listening to the concerns and ideas of neighborhoods groups, Neighborhood Councils, Homeowners Associations and other important community groups and concerned residents.  Finally, as the only candidate in this race independent of the special interests that have been running City Hall, I will require that the department heads actually follow the city's General Plan and Community Plans and enforce the existing codes and laws that relate to Historic Preservation.

The Bike community is growing and a viable answer to the growing traffic problems. Do you have awareness of and desire to improve conditions for the Bike community?

Yes.  In order to increase mobility through increased bike usage, the first thing we must do is accelerate the implementation 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 – 35 years!

The more people that ride bikes in LA, the fewer cars that motorists that are not able 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.

The poverty issue was a question that several residents were concerned about.  Especially children living in poverty in Los Angeles.  What are your thoughts on this and do you have an action plan to address it?

As the former Co-Chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles, I have worked extensively in the non-profit arena with agencies that serve residents living in poverty.  APLA's Housing Assistance Program was one of the agency's most important programs -- so I have experience in addressing these important problems.

My action plan includes making Los Angeles a much more business-friendly city through the implementation of a business improvement package (details available on my website at www.kevinjamesformayor.com), adding job training and job placement services, and ending the culture of corruption that has given well-funded special interests priority in City Hall at the expense of lower income communities.  For example, here's a link to a Los Angeles Times story exposing the fact that Councilwoman Jan Perry transferred one million dollars in federal grant money away from skid row (where it was intended to benefit Angelenos living in poverty) and gave it to the Gensler Architecture Firm, one of the city's most prominent and accomplished architecture firms.

My plan to deal with issues related to skid row (that has been referenced by various media outlets) points out that the first priority in providing housing assistance has to be families with children.

The streets of Los Angeles have become a serious problem for drivers.  We understand that fixing sidewalks and streets has been compromised by the budget but what new thinking can you bring to the solution?

Our City streets are the second worst in the nation. Shockingly, 63% of all of the City's streets are rated as "poor" by Federal Highway Administration data. The same data shows that the average urban motorist in Los Angeles spends $746 annually in automobile maintenance due to LA's poor roads. The poor condition of our roads also diminishes road safety for drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

The state of the City's sidewalks is not any better. The reported wait for sidewalk repairs varies anywhere from 15 years to 75 years, depending on who you talk to – which is unbelievable to say the least. Additionally, the City wants to burden homeowners with the cost of sidewalk repairs and to shoulder homeowners with liabilities resulting from damaged sidewalks. I disagree with the City’s position here. Homeowners should not be burdened with the added responsibility of repairing the City’s sidewalks outside of their homes. I will make street and sidewalk repairs a top priority.

I am well aware that the most significant hurdle in solving this problem is funding. With federal and state funds becoming harder to obtain, we are forced to rely more on local funding. The funds that we are able to apply towards street and sidewalk repairs must go a very long way. We must, therefore, be smarter in the choices we make regarding street and sidewalk repairs.  Furthermore, my opponents have drained the city's special revenue funds (used to pay for such repairs) and transferred hundreds of millions of dollars into the city's general fund to pay salaries that the city cannot afford to pay.  The bad decisions made in the past few years by my opponents, even while the city was operating in deficit, has resulted in this infrastructure crisis.

I recently met with representatives from the cement industry to learn about new technologies available for long-term and cost-effective road and sidewalk repairs. In Los Angeles, we need to implement a pavement preservation program that postpones the need for significant rehabilitation by performing initial maintenance on road surfaces while they are still in stable condition.  I've also met with representatives from Terrecon - a local company that manufactures rubber-based sidewalks.  This technology saves money due to the ease of replacement and lower maintenance costs and enables the city to better deal with tree root problems.

Two additional 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. The benefits of full depth reclamation are numerous.

Pervious concrete is simply concrete that allows water and air to pass through it. Pervious concrete reduces storm water runoff and recharges the underground water supply.  Pervious concrete, when installed with tree root barriers, allows the tree trunks to get the water and air they need so the tree trunks will not “heave” as rapidly through the sidewalks.

Finally, in order to prioritize street and sidewalk repairs we must prioritize a plan for long-term fiscal solvency for the City, including further pension reform. It has been reported that over the last six years, City payroll and related benefits have increased by $720 million, a 24% increase, as average salaries have increased to $82,000 a year, excluding benefits. Contributions to the City’s pension plans have increased by $540 million as pension liabilities have grown to almost $10 billion, a reported 40% increase.

Bloomberg News just reported that DWP employees earn on average 40 percent more than other municipal workers, even those with identical job titles. California’s Little Hoover Commission has estimated that L.A.’s retiree costs could swell to 37% of the City’s budget by 2015. Quite simply, we cannot continue on this track of financial recklessness and expect to have funds to repair our streets and sidewalks (or a whole host of other items in desperate need of repair).

Does a politician have any obligations toward the public regarding their private life?

Yes.  Elected officials are entrusted with the public's money and establishing public policy.  Therefore, certain aspects of their private lives are relevant.

What criteria will you be using to appoint all the commissioners?

I will seek individuals with extensive and diverse experience at varying levels with respect to the issues related to each department/agency covered by the commission -- individuals that bring a passion for both the industry and the agency, as well as a sincere desire to serve their community and reflect the great diversity of our city.   I will end the current culture of handing out such important appointments to friends, family members, and campaign contributors.

The criteria that I will use include confirmation that the prospective appointees have sufficient time to devote to the board's work, confirmation that the appointees believe in the work and vision of the agency/department. I will confirm that the prospective appointees fully comprehend and understand the legal rules and regulations covering the issues they will face on behalf of the agency/department.

I will confirm that the prospective appointees possess the necessary specialized skills needed by the agency/department, including financial skills, planning skills, and marketing skills, etc. I will ensure that the prospective appointees fully understand the industry within which they will be working, including comprehensive familiarity with state and federal regulatory agencies (including funding sources) that frequently work with the agency/department.

I will include Neighborhood Councils in the commission selection process as well by making sure that qualified Neighborhood Council board members are appointed to commissions, and by permitting Neighborhood Council board members to vote on qualified candidates for appointment to certain commissions.  I will also utilize the talent from members of Homeowners Associations throughout the city as well as other important community organizations.

While the city is extremely honored to receive the service of qualified individuals, service on these boards and commissions is a privilege and should be treated as an active job, and not a passive absentee experience for someone seeking only to build their resume.


 

 

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