L.A. City Proposes Sales Tax Increase

Watching our government operate in crisis management mode is disappointing considering the issues facing our nation. I mean, was it really necessary for us to have to spend our New Years Eve and New Years Day watching the hourly updates and countdown to the fiscal cliff? In the end, couldn’t our government have come up with the agreement they did a month prior?

We shouldn’t be surprised because this was the same mode of operation when congress was discussing raising the debt ceiling a year ago and it will be the same drama when the debt ceiling, budget cuts and sequestration are discussed in a few months. The last congress kicked the can to the next congress, so what’s changed?

What would be encouraging though is if our president and House and Senate leaders spend less time on television blaming each other for the current fiscal problems and get in a room and work the issues like grown men and women. I thought that’s what we were paying them to do.

As I write this column, our national debt is $16,455,674,641,631 and climbing and has surpassed the debt ceiling that was set at $16,394,000,000,000 in 2012. I write the national debt numbers without abbreviation because I think we have lost perspective on how big these numbers really are. The national debt equates to $52,377 per United States citizen to date. If we took the approach of our government to manage our own day-to-day budgets we would be increasing our personal debt by taking out credit cards, pay day loans, borrowing from family and friends to pay for a lifestyle we couldn’t afford or sustain. In the end, without cutting our expenses, we would probably go bankrupt. Our government must make the same tough choices that individuals do each day to in order to balance the growing deficit. This is also true for our local government.

Back here in Los Angeles, our city council is proposing a 0.5% sales tax increase to cover a $200 million dollar city budget shortfall on the March ballot. This proposed increase comes at a time when many are still finding it difficult to make ends meet. Sales tax hits the rich, poor and middle class, so why is the city council proposing a sales tax increase now? Is there another way to reduce the city debt?

Well, for the past few years our city controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Gruel performed audits of many of the city departments. Her audits came with recommendations to save the city millions of dollars that would help offset the cities debt crisis. It would seem appropriate that each of the audit recommendations be implemented and measured for effectiveness before the city council asked for a sales tax increase from an already over taxed public.

When it comes to sales tax increases, they are sold to us as being temporary and represented as a small percent increase only and never represented as a percent increase of the existing sales tax. For example, when Prop 30 was being proposed, we heard more about taxing those who make over $250,000 per year and rarely about the 0.25% sales tax increase that came along with it. Maybe because 0.25% sounds like an insignificant number, correct? The reality is that a 0.25% increase on the state sales tax rate of 7.25% is a 3.45% tax increase on everyone. As we start 2013, our current state tax is now 7.5%. On top of the state sales tax is another 1.5% local tax bringing our current Los Angeles sales tax to 9%. If the proposed sales tax increase is approved on the March ballot, doing the math again, a 0.5% increase on top of the current 9% sales tax is another 5.6% tax increase. This would mean that between Prop 30 and the proposed 0.5% tax increase, if approved, would result in an 8.95% sales tax increase since November. What happened to protecting the poor and middle class from tax increases?

This 1903 quote from Winston Churchill is still true 110 years later, “We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” spt

2012: A Year in Review (December 2012 Cover Story)

Photo by John Mattera

It was a year of incredible change and transformation for San Pedro.

A year of gains, losses and continued tradition. The waters brought us a new resident, a home for artisans was built, and a new councilman was chosen to lead us. We faced the challenge of the land sliding beneath us, out of control skateboarders, and the constant threat of crime. We saw a lighthouse and a church reborn, milestones surpassed, and parking meters meeting their maker. Even through the good and the bad, when 2013 rolls around, history will look back on 2012 as the year it all started coming together for San Pedro.

The previous year did not end well. We were still reeling from the Paseo del Mar landslide that happened in November 2011. At the time, no one had any answers as to why the land toppled into the sea and we were still getting used to having a neighborhood divided by the ocean cliffs. And then things got worse.

Eva Tice

San Pedrans were stunned and saddened by the killing of Eva Tice, a 60-year-old mentally disabled woman who was stabbed walking home on Pacific Ave. from a Christmas Eve church service. Police would later announce a $50,000 reward for information leading to her killer, who fled the scene and still has yet to be found.

Photo by John Mattera

The good news arrived, when, after months of campaigning and a special run-off election against Assemblyman Warren Furutani, former LAPD Harbor Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino was sworn in as councilman of the city’s 15th District on January 31, replacing Janice Hahn, who won a seat on Congress the previous year.

Residents also freaked out for a bit when false rumors of a serial killer in the Harbor Area spread on Facebook. It turned out to be the end result of a game of telephone after a young woman was found slain in Wilmington.

Later in January, talks began about a proposed a skatepark in Peck Park. After months of planning, the project got a monetary boost from the Tony Hawk Foundation in October. Construction bids should go out this month. Supporters hope the project will be completed before overpass construction will temporarily close the existing Channel Street Skatepark later next year.

Speaking of skating, the increasingly familiar sight of packs of un-helmeted skaters “bombing” hills at high speeds in traffic around town became a forefront issue this year when Caleb Daniel Simpson, a 15-year-old from Palmdale, became the second teen to die engaging in the activity in San Pedro. A few months earlier, 14-year-old Michael Borojevich died after he crashed skating near 25th St. and Western Ave. The deaths gained widespread media attention and prompted officials to eventually ban bombing throughout the city in August.

In February, the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities announced its new home at the Warner Grand Theatre. In November, the theatre company announced an indefinite suspension, pulling out of the Warner Grand and leaving existing subscribers in the dark.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club

Students at San Pedro High School and the Boys & Girls Club got a visit from ballerina and alumnus Misty Copeland, a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland returned to her hometown in February to share her experiences getting her start at the Boys & Girls Club and rising to the top of the ballet world, where she is ABT’s first African-American female soloist in decades.

After months of restoration work, St. Peter’s Church, San Pedro’s oldest place of worship, reopened its doors on Easter Sunday at its new home at Green Hills Memorial Park. Originally built in 1884, the church was moved to Green Hills in 2011, where it underwent badly needed repairs.

A much-improved Angels Gate Lighthouse was unveiled in April after a six-month restoration project spearheaded by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, who fixed the lighthouse’s rusting exterior. Steel reinforcements, a new paint job and zinc coating were just some of the repairs made to help protect the lighthouse from erosion for another 25 years. The Boosters also hope to restore the crumbling interior in time for the lighthouse’s centennial next year.

Point Fermin Lighthouse also made headlines this year when in May, the federal government declared it to be surplus property, basically putting it up for grabs for new ownership. A handful of groups and nonprofits have applied, including the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society. We’re still waiting to see who will be chosen to run one of San Pedro’s iconic landmarks.

Arguably, the biggest story of the year for San Pedro was May’s arrival of the historic battleship USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles. Only two years ago, the Port had rejected a proposal to berth the ship as a floating museum and tourist attraction. Robert Kent, who founded the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, got the community to rally around the project, eventually getting the Port to come around. With funding in place and the Port’s blessing, the Pacific Battleship Center made a bid for the ship, and was later granted it by the Navy. Repairs were made in Northern California before the ship was towed to Los Angeles.

On June 9, the ship made its final journey down the main channel to its permanent berth as thousands of spectators on shore lined Harbor Blvd. The ship hosted a Veteran’s reunion and opened for public tours in July.

On the heels of the Iowa’s arrival, the Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (commonly known as the PBID) put on a Swingin’ Salute Block Party in downtown San Pedro. Residents decked out in their 1940’s best came out for free swing music and dance lessons under new decorative lights crisscrossing over 6th St. The San Pedro Bay Historical Society also put together a series of historical window exhibits displayed in shops downtown.

Also in June, nonprofit Harbor Interfaith Services opened a new, three-story facility on 9th Street, where it relocated its headquarters and expanded services supporting struggling families.

Seven months after a 600-ft. stretch of Paseo del Mar slid into the ocean after a rainstorm, the City released a geotechnical report assessing the causes of the landslide and future of the site. Both natural and manmade factors like irrigation and wave erosion played a role in the slide, but no further ground movement was detected. The City later secured funds to stabilize and grade the area and install drains. Whether or not the road will be re-routed is to be determined with the input of a new 50-member community advisory committee appointed by Councilman Buscaino.

Photo by John Mattera

Another major story of the year happened in late June, when the first of two WWII-era warehouses near 22nd Street Park re-opened as Crafted, an indoor craft marketplace dreamt up by the same developer as Santa Monica’s successful Bergamot Station. With a 35-year lease, dozens of vendors and far-reaching media coverage, Crafted has already proven to be a one-of-a-kind regional draw. After gripes about its $5 parking fee, Crafted gave away free one-year parking passes to local residents and later offered free parking on Fridays.

After planning this year’s Taste in San Pedro festival for Ports O’ Call Village, the Chamber of Commerce announced its cancellation in July. It would be the first summer without one in more than a decade. The Taste wasn’t the only foodie event cancelled this year. Weeks later, organizers of the Ćevapčići Festival announced its cancellation due to lack of funds. It was especially a bummer since the Balkan sausage fest had some big press lined up. The Port’s annual Lobster Festival went on as usual, drawing thousands of sea foodies to the waterfront.

In early August, an 18-year-old former Mary Star of the Sea High School running back confessed to stealing cash registers from several businesses on Western Ave and Gaffey St. He ran into a slight problem when his dad recognized him on the surveillance video that made the media rounds and convinced his son to turn himself in.

More than 600 parking meters were axed in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington this summer, a move by Councilman Buscaino’s office after a study concluded they did more harm than good. Rates on remaining meters also went down. Business owners had long complained that the overabundance of meters and rate hikes discouraged consumers from shopping downtown. The issue was a talking point in the special election to replace former Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

This year’s Navy Days went much smoother than last, drawing 5,000 people over the course of two days (2011’s event was longer and larger, causing a traffic nightmare and long lines). Tour goers got an inside look at the USS Wayne E. Meyer destroyer and the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb.

The same weekend, reports came pouring in of a man spotted jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge shortly after 12:30 p.m. on August 19. A few hours later, Port police announced they had recovered the body of Top Gun director Tony Scott, whose car was found on top of the bridge with a note left inside. His suicide drew national media attention. A coroner’s report later confirmed that contrary to reports, he was not battling cancer at the time of his death.

Photo by John Mattera

Thousands of young San Pedrans went back to school weeks earlier than usual this year, part of an early start schedule adopted by the L.A. Unified School District that’ll have them out for summer in early June (they were originally slated to get out by the end of May, but Prop. 30 changed that). This was also the first year for the new John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, an environmentally innovative annex campus built to relieve overcrowding at SPHS. Shortly after school started, there was a bit of a traffic controversy in the surrounding neighborhood.

Also in August, San Pedro native and LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon announced his retirement after 34 years on the force. A few months later, he took a new job as Chief of Airport Police at LAX.

Seventeen-year-old Monica Bender, a senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School, made headlines when she swam the 20-mile Catalina Channel the last week of August.

After a string of residential burglaries over the summer had residents on edge, eight new police officers were assigned to LAPD Harbor Division to help curb property crime. Police eventually arrested an 18-year-old San Pedro man linked to one of the crime scenes.

Astronaut and first-mom-in-space Anna Fisher returned to her hometown in September for the fundraiser opening of Harbor Day Preschool. She also took time to speak with students at several high schools. In other San Pedro space news, the ashes of Allyson Diana Genest, an avid Star Trek fan from San Pedro who died in 1999, were sent to outer space with Space X’s Dragon launch in May. It was her dying wish.

Who could forget the refinery burn-off freakout on September 15? When a power outage set off a controlled burn-off at the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington, shooting flames and smoke high into the air, many residents wondered if there was a raging blaze to worry about. Some later filed complaints about pollution emitted during the burn-off.

On a related note, the Rancho LPG facility on North Gaffey Street – those two big gas tanks across from the Home Depot – got in trouble with air quality officials after neighboring residents reported smelling what turned out to be a gas leak in October. The facility has been subject to criticism and protest from neighboring residents for decades. Councilman Buscaino held a hearing addressing their concerns earlier this year.

Also in October, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor and Point Fermin Elementary School celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 75 and 100, respectively.

On Columbus Day, eight new inductees were honored at the annual San Pedro Sportswalk to the Waterfront. Later that the day, hundreds gathered outside the Italian-American Club for the councilman’s first Buscaino Block Party and Spaghetti Dinner.

After the Port put out a call over the summer for commercial developers to fix up Ports O’ Call Village, it announced in October that eight had taken interest. A decision on a developer should arrive early next year.

The San Pedro International Film Festival made its debut in October, screening dozens of films and hosting workshops.

On October 10, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Betsy Cheek, announced her resignation after not having her contract renewed by the Chamber Board of Directors. The Chamber will begin the search for a new president/CEO early next year.

Many San Pedrans were bummed when organizers of the Railroad Revival Tour announced its cancellation weeks before it was set to roll through town (2011’s sold-out Mumford and Sons performance drew thousands to the waterfront). Willie Nelson, Band of Horses, Jamey Johnson, and John Reilly and Friends were set to perform at Ports O’ Call Village on October 27. Band of Horses still wanted to play however, putting on a show at the Warner Grand Theatre the same night instead.

Congresswoman Janice Hahn defeated Congresswoman Laura Richardson in early November in the race to represent California’s newly drawn 44th Congressional District.

Yet another version of the proposed housing development for the long-abandoned Navy housing property along Western Ave. surfaced in early November. The new Ponte Vista is more scaled back than previous incarnations and includes additional lanes to address traffic concerns that have shot down the project in the past.

This month, of course, marks two San Pedro holiday traditions, the 32nd Annual Spirit of San Pedro Christmas Parade, and the 50th L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.

We know we missed a few items of note from the past year, but we couldn’t fit everything in. Needless to say, it’s been a year of intense change and challenges. Let’s hope 2013 is just as exciting and full of positive, forward thinking progress as we continue to push San Pedro towards a more prosperous future.

They Shall Be Missed

Sadly, we also lost a number of notable San Pedrans this year. Here’s a list of noteworthy deaths:

Steve Saggiani, longshoreman
Rudy Svorinich Sr., community leader and father of former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
“Cheerful” Al Kaye, owner, Union War Surplus
Dr. H. Michael Weitzman, optometrist and philanthropist
Tom Phillips, painter of iconic San Pedro scenes and landscapes
Joseph M. Mardesich III, entrepreneur
Stancil Jones, longtime fire captain
Joe Caccavalla, Tri-Art Festival founder
Ray Patricio, community leader and nature preservationist
Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, dermatologist
Tony Perkov, owner, Ante’s Restaurant
Geoff Agisim, sea chantey singer
John Greenwood, school board member, community leader
Cindy Rutherford, owner, Century Motorcycles
(apologies to those we may have omitted by accident)

Can Government Be Run Like A Business?

Over the last few months we’ve all heard and read a lot of political rhetoric advocating that government should be run like a business, and that electing a president with extensive business experience would be good for the country. As a business owner, and someone who has dealt with many government agencies and elected representatives over the years, I have trouble subscribing to that theory.

Business and government are two very dissimilar professions – one being based on profits, the other on public service. They require different skillsets and different mindsets.

When most people say, “We should run government like a business,” I think what they really mean is: “We should run government more efficiently.” There’s little doubt that there is, and always will be, plenty of room for improved governmental efficiency. However, unless we’re willing to give up our democratic system and install a dictator, democratic government will continue to be inherently inefficient and, at times, downright messy. The Founding Fathers designed it that way.

Remember all that stuff about the three branches of government and “checks and balances” from civics class in high school? That model has worked for the U.S. government for over two hundred years, but no one in his or her right mind would use it as a business model.

The power to act, and the obligations, of a corporate CEO, is dramatically different from those of the President of the United States. A corporate CEO is empowered to unilaterally make all primary corporate decisions (subject to Board approval, of course). His or her obligation is to make the maximum profit for constituents (shareholders) by being as efficient and competitive as possible. That’s how he or she is judged. Achieving maximum efficiency and competitiveness, however, usually means paying little attention to externalities such as how many workers become unemployed, whether employees can support a family on what they are being paid or how much environmental damage is caused by company operations.

The president, on the other hand, is empowered to do very little unilaterally. In order to get something done, he or she must convince a majority (or in many cases, a supermajority) of 435 congress members and 100 senators to back a decision. Each of those 535 elected representatives has a different viewpoint, constituent base, degree of party loyalty and personal agenda. Building consensus requires diplomatic skill and compromise… not skills required of, or possessed by, most CEOs.

The president’s constituency is comprised of every U.S. citizen (not just the 53% who voted for him, as one current candidate seems to believe) and his or her obligation is to provide for the security and the physical, economic, environmental and social sustainability of the entire country. Among other things, that means being concerned with all of those externalities those CEOs can ignore. The president can’t fire or lay off inefficient, unproductive citizens who are infirm or too senior to work; is obligated to provide a safety net for those in poverty; and has to ensure that the infrastructure and environmental protections are in place that will support a sustainable society. Efficiency is still a goal, but within the framework of public service.

Very few of our presidents have come from the business world, and three of the more recent ones, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, have not had what most people would consider successful presidencies.

The father of modern political economics, Adam Smith, once wrote, “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from people who make money by the employment of stock, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention.” spt

Hahn’s Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus

A rollercoaster of emotions might be the best way to describe Janice Hahn’s entry into the United States Congress.

When she first announced her intention to run, many political pundits framed Janice as the underdog in the primary with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen expected to get a majority of the Democrats’ votes and Republican Craig Huey getting GOP ballots. However, Janice took home the most votes in the primary election and was well on her way to a run-off victory over Huey when life intervened.

On the day before the election, Janice’s mother Ramona Hahn passed away. The next day Janice was elected to Congress. On election night, I recall being in a long line of people who first offered Janice their condolences and then their congratulations. With tears in her eyes she accepted both sentiments graciously and began her work representing our district in Congress.

However, Janice had barely arrived in Washington D.C. when it was announced that her district had been re-drawn and she would be forced to run against an incumbent, Congresswoman Laura Richardson in the 2012 election.

With only one in ten Americans approving the work of Congress, one might wonder, why go through all the trouble to get elected?

Much of the disgust with Washington stems from the belief that the politicians have put party before country and the dysfunctional gridlock that has been created prevents our nation from moving forward out of two wars and the Great Recession into a better future. Janice would not disagree. “When I got to Congress I found myself in the middle of a very partisan, toxic environment that did not lend itself in any way to facilitate efforts by Congress members to work across the aisle. It was more of a team sport, us against them,” she says. “People want us to find a way to put aside our partisan bickering for the good of the nation.”

One of the criticisms that I occasionally would hear people whisper against Janice when she was our councilwoman was that she wanted to please everyone and was too concerned with building complete consensus before making decisions. Janice acknowledges that she always strived to build consensus, in fact she takes pride in it. “I think I was known for being able to work with environmentalists, labor, business, and neighborhood councils to figure out what we have in common to get things done,” she says.

I believe that it is precisely Janice’s great quality: to be able to listen to opposing points of view that might allow her to provide the type of leadership that the American people know we require.

She’s already begun that work in her very first year in Congress. Janice, a Democrat, and Ted Poe, a Republican from Houston, co-founded the bi-partisan PORTS Caucus to raise awareness among their Congressional colleagues about the importance of the nation’s seaports. “Surprisingly, in 112 congresses the subject of our nation’s seaports really had not been elevated to a level that I thought was appropriate considering the economics of our ports and the job creations of our ports,” says Janice. She adds, “I wanted to find something that I could do in a bi-partisan way when I reached across the aisle and asked Ted to consider forming the caucus. He said yes and we now have over 80 members of Congress that are part of the caucus.”

The PORTS Caucus has already given Janice a platform to promote the issues of our Harbor Area. Bi-partisan issues that the caucus advocates include strengthening port homeland security from terrorist attacks, pushing transportation bills that include necessary infrastructure improvements around the ports, creating grants to incubate small business start-ups that create green technology solutions for port pollution, and the creation of a national freight strategy.

The work has already begun to make its mark. President Obama recently created the first-ever White House task force on ports to create a future ports strategy and target infrastructure investments that increases the competitiveness of America’s ports. This task force can pay huge dividends for the continued economic strength of our community and is precisely the type of issue that our elected officials can work on in a bi-partisan manner to speed up our nation’s recovery from the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

Janice may have had a bumpy road into Congress, but it is my hope that she enjoys a long ride as our representative. On November 6, I urge you to vote for Janice Hahn as our Congresswoman. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com