Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Reaching 60....

Looking at myself in a mirror – if I am buck naked, wearing a ski mask and standing far enough away - 60 can look a lot like the new 17.

For some perverse reason, my body has elected to take the Dorian Gray approach to aging. Not a line or wrinkle can be found anywhere on my shoulders or chest – or below, but from the neck up…. well, my face more than makes up for the lack of aging on the rest of my body.

I’ve lived 60 physically hard years – and my face reflects every one of those years, and then some – to the point that catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror these days – startles me.

That is first of three odd things about my hitting 60 years of age.

The second odd thing is that hitting 60 means nothing to me. It’s only the attention other people are giving to this unexpected millstone, I mean, milestone – that makes me wonder why getting older has never bothered me. My age or what age I am about to is nothing I’ve ever paid attention to, even though pondering my health is another matter – but we’ll soon get to that.

As for the third odd thing about my turning this new age, possibly that particular anomaly helps explains this lack of concern.

My entire life has been lived by two very different me’s. Well, to be specific, there have been quite a fair number of me’s – but even then – each of those different lives could be placed within one of two different categories.

My life with a brain filled with dopamine and my life with a brain partly or largely deprived of dopamine.

My dopamine fueled brain – and thus a dopamine powered body - even today - is pretty much what it was when I was 17. When properly stimulated, I have the physical and mental capacities I had when I was 17 – the year my life so totally changed on a late night trip to the Owens Valley when I suddenly found myself living the cowboy life.

When my dopamine levels are up, I don’t have a single ache or pain and I can still catapult out of bed each morning with the same energy I once had every moment of my life.

And even after 20 operations to remove all the scar tissue and tumors caused by my 10 years of underground fighting, wild horse breaking and even more dangerous activities (and the complete replacement of my lower vertebrae with hip bone) – whenever my dopamine level is up, I have no physical pain or discomfort of any kind – much less anything resembling arthritic or rheumatoid problems.

I still can swim a full hour – non-stop - each day without ever breathing hard. And, on the days I have the time, I can still do non-stop laps for 2 hours – without even a 60 second water break – and still not be breathing hard.

I can also still hit the heavy weights in the gym for a full hour, then do an hour swim and then spar on a wrestling mat with a 250 pound wrestler less than half my age (and sometimes one-third my age) who is almost twice my weight for another full hour – and in ten minutes, he’ll be the one panting for breath.

And as for my better half – Mr. Cowboy – well, Mr. Cowboy still thinks and acts as if he’s 17 years old - and his endless enthusiasm continues to embarrass me in ways regular readers of mine will recall. So I’m certain his fans will be pleased to know my organ donor card has been updated with special instructions to find him a suitable new home once my time finally comes

But now there are my far too typical dopamine deprived days – and nights.

On the really bad mornings, it will take me two or three hours to even roll my body out of bed and onto the floor, my muscles are so frozen. Walking up a single flight of steps can be almost an impossibility for days at a time and breathing or swallowing – particularly at night – is often a constant ordeal.

On the worst days, though, I barely even know who I am and once, when I had to abruptly stop wrestling due to an injury some years ago – I walked out of my loft – and that sudden loss of dopamine caused me to end up living on the streets for over a year.

But none of this is (directly) age related. The first time a had a full dopamine crash (long before I realized what my problem was), I was hospitalized by doctors who were convinced I had polio.

I was in the first grade at the time.

Starting then – throughout my life – large chunks of my brain have just… vanished… overnight when I have crashed - usually to never open again – but other times those parts of the brain have reopened once I got sufficient physical or mental stimulation. As one example – I lost the ability to draw or paint when I was in the first grade – and that has never returned.

And ever since my cowboy – and fighting days - suddenly ended – my life has been an unconscious search for the mental dopamine rush to survive. The problem was, every time I succeeded at anything from writing TV pilots to feature films to doing real estate sales to doing development - or whatever – once I was successful at anything - there was no longer a challenge, and I couldn't do it any more – and I crashed and lost everything.

I then had to start my life over with whole new challenges until I finally gave up trying to make a living – and decided to devote myself to fixing LA and helping rebuild Downtown – pro bono. I finally realized that was the only job complex enough for me to always be challenged.

Unfortunately , though, the very last drugs that had worked to help my dopamine have just stopped working at the same time getting anything done in this city is getting harder and harder and finding local wrestling partners has gotten harder and harder - so everything has gotten tougher and tougher – but not because of my new age.

This is just one more time I need to find another way to return me to being 17 again – just like I have found that path back to who I used to be so many times before.

So the fact it’s my physical birthday is no interest.

My only interest is if there is a doctor who has found the new dopamine drug or if I can find those willing to tackle the 25 Projects for Downtown or if I can find the next opponent on a wrestling mat big enough to put the ‘fight’ back in my ‘fight or flight’.

And as soon as any of those things happens – that will be my new birthday.

And that’s when you can really wish me a happy birthday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Free Downtown Comedy Walk + Downtown Mixer Both Thursday Night!

From 8:30 PM - 10 PM Thursday October 16th, Comedy Walk presents 24 top stand-up comedians in six different venues at 8th and Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles at the Tower Theater and the Chapman Lofts.

Prior to that, the Downtown Community Mixer will be held at the Broadway Bar just 1/2 block away at 830 S. Broadway from 6 PM - 9 PM with drink specials staring at $5.


COMEDY WALK Oct. 16th, 2008

"Venue #1

" 8:25 Host Warm-Up
Host: Sasha Faynor 8:30 Paul Jacek
"The Main Stage
The Tower Theater
802 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1927, Seats 906" 8:40 Mary Kennedy
8:50 Laurie McDermott
9:00 Stephanie Blum
9:10 Sardia Marley
9:20 Sasha Faynor
9:30 Celeste Davis
9:40 Grace Fraga
9:50 Michael Goldstrom
"Venue #2

" 8:25 Host Warm-Up
Host: Johnny Dam 8:30 Keith Michael Ashton
"The Launch Pad
The Chapman Building
756 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1911, Seats 40" 8:40 Pat Branch
8:50 Brian Farrell
9:00 Johnny Dam
9:10 Rene Garcia
9:20 Stogie Kenyatta
9:30 Jodi Miller
9:40 D'Sean Ross
9:50 Johnny Dam
"Venue #3

" 8:25 Host Warm-Up
Host: Stevie Mack 8:30 Stogie Kenyatta
"The UFO Room
The Chapman Building
756 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1911, Seats 40" 8:40 D'Sean Ross
8:50 Willis Turner
9:00 Stevie Mack
9:10 Grace Fraga
9:20 Keith Michael Ashton
9:30 Sardia Marley
9:40 Stephanie Blum
9:50 Stevie Mack

"Venue #4
" 8:25 Host Warm-Up
Host: Bill Word 8:30 Cesar Cervantes
"The London Room
The Chapman Building
756 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1911, Seats 40" 8:40 Celeste Davis
8:50 Jeff MacKinnon
9:00 Bill Word
9:10 Laurie McDermott
9:20 Pat Branch
9:30 Willis Turner
9:40 Aurelio Bocanegra
9:50 Bill Word
"Venue #5
" 8:25 Host Warm-Up
Host: 8:30 Jodi Miller
"The Candy Room
The Rialto
812 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1923, Seats 40" 8:40
8:50 Aurelio Bocanegra
9:00 Michael Goldstrom
9:10 Cesar Cervantes
9:20 Jeff MacKinnon
9:30 Brian Farrell
9:40 Paul Jacek
9:50 Rene Garcia
"Venue #6

" 8:30pm-10pm
Host: Gabrielle Pantera
"The Hot Box
The Chapman Building
756 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Built 1911, Seats 40" Gosh! TV Talk Show

Three-minute interviews with each of the comedians in a talk show format.

If The Word Downtown Is In A LA Times Headline - You Can Be Sure Some Fact Will Be Wrong In The Headline! UPDATE!!

(The below needed correction has how been actually corrected - but the link and the dateline of the story was not changed - so it goes to the corrected story as opposed to the original story. So read the below story - then below that is the now corrected story. And whether some editor spotted the mistake - or if someone saw my post - I don't care. The point is that the story is now correct)

Now there are a number of possible definitions of the phrase high-rise in Los Angeles. Most people think a high rise is 15 or 20 stores - or more. Some think it is anything taller than the old 13 story high limit. But the legal definition is a grand total of... 10 stories. Except, of course.... in the Los Angeles Times...

Fire in downtown L.A. high-rise quickly extinguished

No injuries are reported after flames erupt in a garment manufacturing business on the top floor of a nine-story building. The cause is under investigation.

By Richard Winton and Catherine Chang-Hsin Ho, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
6:19 PM PDT, October 15, 2008

Firefighters extinguished a small blaze at a downtown Los Angeles high-rise within minutes this afternoon, officials said.

The fire was reported about 4:15 p.m. on the top floor of the nine-story building at 830 S. Hill St., where a garment manufacturing business operated, said Asst. Fire Chief Robert Franco of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Now here is the corrected version:

Fire in downtown L.A. building quickly extinguished

No injuries are reported after flames erupt in a garment manufacturing business on the top floor of a nine-story building. The cause is under investigation.

By Richard Winton and Catherine Chang-Hsin Ho, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
6:19 PM PDT, October 15, 2008

Firefighters extinguished a small blaze at a downtown Los Angeles building within minutes this afternoon, officials said.

The fire was reported about 4:15 p.m. on the top floor of the nine-story building at 830 S. Hill St., where a garment manufacturing business operated, said Asst. Fire Chief Robert Franco of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Monday, October 13, 2008

LA Times Gets Location Of Double Murder - Wrong - Then Right - Then Wrong Again!

Below is a story that demonstrates why the LA Times local coverage is deeply handicapped by it's policy of hiring people without roots in our city. The first headline is on the front page of the website is where the problem starts:
11-year-old among 2 slain downtown

Then clicking onto the story - as usual - the shootings were NOT in Downtown, despite the claim on the front page. Instead, they were in the heart of the gang controlled Pico-Union district west of the Harbor Freeway which, while near Downtown - is light years away when it comes to crime.

But the below headline is correct in that the nearest major landmark is the LA Convention Center:
11-year-old boy is one of two shot dead near L.A. Convention Center
The other victim is a 25-year-old man. Police say the Sunday night shooting is believed to be gang-related.
By Andrew Blankstein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

10:33 AM PDT, October 13, 2008

An 11-year-old boy was one of two people killed when gunmen opened fire on a group gathered west of the Los Angeles Convention Center, police said today.

The fatal shooting Sunday night of Steven Munoz and a 25-year-old man was believed to have been gang-related, said Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Norma Eisenman.

OK - so far, so good. The correct neighborhood the shootings took place in is still not mentioned - nor is it ever mentioned in the article, but a correct near-by landmark is identified. But then comes the next major blunder:

It occurred in the 1400 block of Connecticut Street near Western Avenue at about 8:30 p.m., when unidentified men got out of a car and fired at the group several times, police said.

Umm - the 1400 block is near Western Avenue? The Convention Center is near... Western Avenue?

Uh - no. First anyone who know anything about the Central Los Angeles area knows the 1400 block of an east/west street is just west of the Harbor Freeway. Second, anyone who knows... anything.... knows the Convention Center is nowhere near Western Avenue. So with these two things being true - how the hell could the LA Times say the 1400 block of Connecticut is near Western Avenue?

Well, easy! Now long time readers know I have pleaded - for years - for the LA Times to buy Thomas Brothers Guides for their reporters - and - more importantly - their editors. Well, I neglected to have added that the LA Times should also give courses on how to read maps.

Because the Thomas Brothers Guide does show Connecticut Avenue being right next to Western Avenue. Unfortunately, for the LA Times credibility - that is the 3200 block of Connecticut Avenue...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Michael A. Hiltzik - One Last Reason To Still Read The Los Angeles Times

Without realizing it, I have - like almost everyone I know - stopped reading the LA Times.

Oh, I still read many of the blogs on the website and I still read most of the feature articles on-line, but I just abruptly realized I have recently stopped reading any actual 'news' stories in the newspaper.

One reason is that I have other on-line sources to choose from - and each of them has far more detailed - and often more reliable - coverage and so I click on them long before I ever open up the LA Times website each morning.

Real Clear Politics and Politico (among others) have every possible point of view on the election (and I always prefer to read opinions that differ from my own), other sources cover state government in far great depth, local neighborhood affairs & politics are covered by local blogs in a way no print paper ever can and many business sites cover the financial situation.

But I suspect the main reason why I - without ever realizing it - no longer use LAT as a source for any kind of hard news seems to be that too many of the reporters and editors are only interested in indoctrinating us with their own partisan views and no longer have any interest in the old fashion concept of giving us the facts we need to make up our own minds.

Today, any actual facts - which I can easily find on other sites - are increasingly buried - or hidden - in carefully edited and staged stories that only 'push' one side of the story to a degree which would have been unthinkable even a year ago. And, even more so than in the past, photos and particularly headlines are chosen to so advocate for one specific point of view that the paper often seems like a deliberate satire of slanted political coverage.

There are several reasons for this. But mainly each new generation of reporters and editors increasingly no longer see themselves as mere reporters of the news – but, instead, they visualize themselves as heroic crusaders of their own personal version of the truth; truth tellers with a mission to educate us, the unwashed masses.

And with all the new hires, there is now far less diversity of opinion within the LAT's newsroom than there used to be; so increasingly there is no one left to say anything when the emperor has not a stitch of clothing on him.

So if the facts sometimes get in the way, well, it's OK as long as it’s in the service of the greater good. And, even worse, one recent hire launched his career with a series of outright fabrications, but that - luckily - is still a rarity though in his case - it has become a well rewarded career path.

But there are, of course, still many, many exceptions to this decline in traditional news coverage within each edition of the paper but the question yet remains –how do you know what – and who - you can believe when you read the paper? So, too often – the answer is – not to read any of the news sections of the paper.

Increasingly, within this context, Michael Hilzik's business articles dramatically stand out. Hilzik not only presents a rigorous examination of the basic facts - but he also accurately reports the two - or more - points of view within each story.

What makes this even handedness even more noteworthy is that he long had a highly opinionated opinion column in the business section; a column where he usually had - in my mind – a decidedly anti-business point of view; a point of view I often disagreed with.

I did, however, respect him as a writer and I respected his opinions (moronic as they occasionally were) as exactly what they were supposed to be - opinion pieces. But in reading any of his recent news coverage of the recent financial turmoil - it's impossible for me to tell what he personally thinks about what is happening.

In the below story - he moderates a classic debate among the differing points of view on the future of our economic system - and he gives each side the chance to make their best points - and allows for the nuances of their differing opinions – and he also brings out the ways in which they agree. He also brings his sweeping knowledge of the subject matter to the piece.

It is a superb example of what journalism can - and should - be.

Lastly, the below article also has the by-line of Ken Bensinger and several other reporters are listed at the end. And I do not wish to in any way minimize the contributions of Mr. Bensinger in this remarkable article- or the other mentioned reporters - but the specific qualities of Mr. Hiltzik I reference are also found under all of his solo by-lines.

Bank rescue plan to test capitalism
The government's plan to take stakes in financial institutions could backfire, some analysts say. Proponents say it's an efficient solution.
By Michael A. Hiltzik and Ken Bensinger
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

October 12, 2008

Are we witnessing the erosion of capitalism, or its salvation?

That question is swirling around the federal government's latest proposed intervention in the private financial markets since Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson announced Friday a plan to take equity stakes in banks as a quick and efficient way to pump them with new capital.

Combined with the government's takeover last month of the mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and its huge ownership stake in the crippled insurance company American International Group, the bank plan represents perhaps the largest federal intervention in private enterprise since President Truman's attempt to nationalize the steel industry to avert a strike in 1952 -- a move blocked by the Supreme Court.

The idea of taking direct stakes in financial institutions was adopted last week by Britain, which will in effect partly nationalize banks with as much as $87 billion in capital infusions and an additional $350 billion available for short-term loans. Some of the country's biggest banks have signed up, including Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The Italian government has also authorized a recapitalization package to be enacted if the need arises. Germany, with Europe's biggest economy, has resisted such plans, but there were reports Saturday that Chancellor Angela Merkel might unveil a recapitalization plan as early as today.

A consensus seemed to be emerging among leaders of the world's top economies meeting Saturday in Washington that whatever economic or political differences existed among them, all countries must act aggressively and in concert in guaranteeing deposits in their banks and pumping government capital into faltering institutions to help ease the global crisis.

A stubborn seize-up of bank lending to businesses, individuals and each other has sharply heightened the prospects of a deep and lengthy recession in the U.S. and abroad.

The fact that devoted supporters of laissez-faire economics are falling in line to bless the aggressive foray into free enterprise by the U.S. government is a sign of the seriousness of the crisis.

"I'm against the government owning anything . . . ," Stanford University finance professor Jonathan Berk said. "That said, buying an equity stake may be the cheapest way" to achieve a banking recovery.

But others believe that scrapping free-market principles in a crisis atmosphere may doom the banking industry to a future of inefficiency.

"It's a move in the wrong direction, both economically and ideologically," said Casey B. Mulligan, a conservative economist at the University of Chicago who believes that predictions of an economic meltdown are overblown. "Government enterprises don't do well, because public management doesn't pay attention to the bottom line."

Paulson said the Treasury's investments would be in nonvoting stock, an important concession to conservatives and others who might be uneasy about giving government officials more direct sway over management of private institutions.

Whether the Treasury will stay out of management decisions -- or even whether it should leave the institutions in the hands of the executives who turned them into beggars for a federal lifeline -- is one of the greatest uncertainties of the program.

"I've got big reservations about the government deciding which banks need help and how they should be administered," said Bert Ely, an Alexandria, Va.-based banking consultant. "We haven't heard about the strings tied to this program. This is not going to be free capital."

Proponents contend that the new plan is sure to be a more efficient and cheaper solution to the banks' ills than the main proposal of the economic rescue package passed by Congress less than two weeks ago. That arrangement granted Treasury's request to spend as much as $700 billion to take soured assets, especially mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, off the banks' hands.

A little-noticed provision of that plan authorized direct investments in financial institutions of the sort Paulson now plans to pursue. As the rescue unfolds, the pace of the new program may well outstrip that of the original asset-purchase approach. Paulson said the government could begin these equity purchases within weeks; the mortgage securities acquisitions might not begin for a month or more.

Details of the government's bank intervention are unclear. But the Treasury may try to link its investments with parallel capital infusions by private investors, offering to contribute a stake equal to the private capital a bank raises on its own.

In a fundamental way, the Treasury plan contradicts two centuries of American economic orthodoxy. Americans have always been wary of giving the government a direct role in the banking sector. These concerns date to the first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, who founded the nation's central bank, the Bank of the United States, in 1791, but ensured that the government would be a minority stakeholder by contributing only one-fifth of its $10 million in capital.

As president, Andrew Jackson, who yielded to no one in his suspicion of bankers, essentially abolished the bank's successor in 1832. The U.S. went without any central bank until 1913, when Congress established the Federal Reserve System. The new institution, however, was a regulatory weakling, rendering it all but powerless to address the Great Depression. It was a complete overhaul during the New Deal that gave the Fed the almost unlimited monetary and regulatory authority it has been aggressively deploying in the current crisis.

By then the perils of a loss of confidence in the banking system had become all too clear. The most vivid example was the failure of another Bank of the U.S., this one a small Depression-era institution with a grandiose name that served mostly Jewish merchants in Lower Manhattan. When J.P. Morgan rebuffed regulators' pleas for a rescue, it collapsed, shattering trust in the nation's banks. The loss of faith helped trigger the Depression.

Similarly, a determination to instill confidence in banks so that they will keep credit flowing underlies the Treasury's extraordinary new steps.

"Nobody . . . believes in the rule of the 'free market' in a financial crisis," UC Berkeley economics professor J. Bradford DeLong wrote on his blog Friday.

DeLong points to the example of Sweden, which nationalized its banks during its financial crisis in 1992. After the government disposed of their troubled assets, it refloated them as public companies.

The Treasury's plan does not look quite as drastic as Sweden's. Instead, it is designed to conform more to the traditional American aversion to outright ownership. To many economists and business experts, the key is the nonvoting nature of the equity that Paulson proposes to acquire.

"It's not nationalizing the banks," said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and former chief economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission. "It would only be nationalizing the banks if we bought warrants, converted them into common stock and started voting the shares."

James Barth, senior fellow at the Milken Institute and former chief economist at the Office of Thrift Supervision, contended that the government should take further steps to remain a silent partner in any investment.

"There's no need for the government to change a company's directors or vote on anything," he said, "because you have a great backstop: prompt corrective action with federal regulators taking control should things get too bad."

Clearly, economic ideologies have taken a back seat to calls for quick action.

"Many countries have nationalized their banking systems over the years, then reprivatized them and become very strong," said Lawrence E. Harris, a finance professor at USC and former chief economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission. "The government will undoubtedly want to get out of the business as quickly as it can. This is certainly not the end of capitalism. Extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions."



Times staff writers Peter Y. Hong, Martin Zimmerman and Henry Chu contributed to this report.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mear One Show Opens at 01 Gallery Tonight!

Opening Exhibition. October 11th 7-10pm

Mear One, who is among the most prominent artists in the world(and not just the grafitti world)today, with numerous successful shows under his belt in galleries(his last two solo shows were in Paris, France and Portland, Oregon)and museums(he was in a major three person show at the Orlando Museum in Florida with Andy Warhol and Keith Haring a few years back, for example), is coming back to the gallery he started out in fifteen years ago, the legendary Zero One Gallery.

01 Gallery at Barker Block
Artist District of Downtown Los Angeles

530 South Hewitt Street #141 / Los Angeles CA 90013 213.689.0101

Show runs through December 6

After Party @ Far Bar

Please join us at The Far Bar, 347 East First Street, CA 90013, for the after party. A VIP pass will be handed out at the opening for a reduced admission, just $5!

Enter the alley and follow the Christmas lights to the lounge from 10-2 am.

Friday, October 03, 2008

What Works - And Doesn't Work - In The Mayor's New Housing Plan!

Below is my article in today's CITYWATCH about the newest housing plan for the City of Los Angeles. However, if you click the link above - the on-line version has live links to the plan itself and related stories. So read that instead.

Here are the four things you need to know about the proposed 40 page housing plan just announced by the Mayor.

First, much of it is common sense, well vetted ideas. Rebuilding crime ridden public housing projects into mixed income neighborhoods, developing specialized, supportive housing for the homeless with substance abuse and mental illness problems, bringing housing closer to jobs and transportation and making it easier for developers to get building permits while providing proper safeguards for neighborhoods, are all no-brainers. The only problem in the past has been the city's inability to make these often proposed policies actually (and, more importantly, effectively) happen.

Second, equally on the good news front, the plan proposes that all the various agencies, departments and fiefdoms that deal with housing in LA actually – in theory, at least – work together. And this is genuinely good news, assuming it really happens.

Third, though, on the bad news front, where bold new ideas are desperately needed to find ways to make housing more affordable for all the people of Los Angeles – no attempt was made to examine the root causes of the problem: nor was there any critical review of the many present policies that do not work. And if there was even one new or remotely innovative idea in entire 40 pages - I couldn't find it. But I did find a lot of the failed old polices that make our housing problems – worse and not better – in this 'new' plan.

The single biggest flaw is the plan's bringing back the discredited inclusionary zoning proposal but with a new name. In truest Orwellian Newspeak it is now called – mixed income housing – which is the single most dishonest aspect of the program.

Mixed income housing – when financially practical, is an excellent concept – but it is an end result; it is not a process. And there are many ways that mixed income housing projects can be successfully developed for the betterment of the overall community. But - to try and use inclusionary zoning to successfully create mixed income communities on any kind of meaningful scale will not only fail, but - as several independent studies have demonstrated – it will very likely make all housing in our communities more expensive.

So to try and force us – and the press - to call the process of forced inclusionary zoning – mixed income housing – is dishonestly designed to make it look as if people who support mixed income housing, but who oppose forced inclusionary zoning to achieve that, are opposed to mixed income housing. This is the type of blatant dishonesty that makes it hard for the public to believe anything politicians say.

And even if the independent studies on inclusionary zoning (as opposed to the studies done by people trying to push the program – and there is some legitimate debate on both sides of this issue) – do not convince you this type of program does not work in any meaningful way - common sense should tell you that any program that makes it more expensive to build housing – and far harder to get financing – is only going to raise housing costs in Los Angeles.

Now for some more details on why this type of program does NOT work to lower our overall housing costs, take a look at my earlier CITYWATCH article .

This article explains a way in which housing costs can be reduced for everyone in the city of Los Angeles – and how true mixed income communities can be developed. And that is only one of many changes in our current, failed housing policies that can create true mixed income neighborhoods.

But this 'new' plan does not examine any real world, pragmatic solutions because that would take actual thought and some real work as opposed to just having bureaucrats waving a magic wand and expecting developers to magically produce affordable housing out of thin air without their having to pass on their additional costs to those who rent or buy their other market rate housing.

That brings us to the fourth thing you need to know about the Mayor's Housing Plan; the part that explains why there are no new or innovative ideas – and explains why dishonest proposals such as the' mixed income' proposal are still being pushed – and explains why this plan will ultimately fail to work on the scale we need it to work.

The reason is that this entire plan was drawn behind not just closed, but locked doors at City Hall. And the only people allowed in the room were a handful of special interest groups; the people who will profit financially or politically from these proposals. And from the very start, the general public and the neighborhood councils have been carefully and totally excluded from the actual drafting of this plan. For an example of how one reporter has discovered policy is developed at City Hall – and how neighborhood councils are ignored at City Hall – click here . - and if you cannot read the full article, just read the second half of page 5 and the start of page 6 here.

Now, granted, before the actual drafting of the plan, there was a carefully controlled 'Listening Tour' where the public was invited to testify before the process started; but even then only those people who agreed with their plans were specifically invited to attend. And even then, when it came to the one neighborhood which has built the most affordable housing – and almost all the supportive services homeless housing – Downtown - even though we have been the only neighborhood to consistently welcome such housing – we were – as usual – specifically and deliberately excluded from this 'Listening Tour'.

And, as usual, the nearest meeting was over the river in Boyle Heights and a city provided list of the attendees shows a long list of subsisted housing advocacy groups and politically connected organizations (all of whom should, of course, be listened to on this issue) – but there was also a total absence of any groups that represented a broad range of people in our neighborhood. Nor was even one person listed from any organization that represented Downtown businesses or builders or home owners –or any of our local neighborhood councils.

Coincidence? I think not.

But even if we had been listened to during that tour – or even if we are listened to during the next series of carefully staged propaganda rallies, I mean community input meetings – it still will be meaningless because all the major policy decisions have already been reached in meetings behind the closed doors of City Hall; meetings that the neighborhood councils will always be excluded from unless there is a major policy change in the Mayor's Office.

And it is ironic that the one group of organizations that can most help the Mayor achieve meaningful housing reform in this city is the one group his staff refuses to allow him to meet with – and the one group they refuse to allow to take part in the policy decisions that most impact our neighborhoods.

We represent the people most impacted by the lack of affordable housing, the lack of jobs in our communities – and the horrendous traffic caused by the disconnect between jobs and housing. We are also the people best able to ask the questions that need to be asked before any policy is even drafted. But we are also the only people who are never invited to help draft the solutions to these problems.

Luckily, though, it is not too late.

With the collapse of the local housing market and the current inability for developers to get financing – even the most regressive members of the city council must realize that forced inclusionary zoning is dead on arrival – and that we have to find other ways of creating meaningful mixed income, workforce and low cost housing in our communities.

So I propose that there be not a meeting, but a series of working sessions between the mayor's housing team and representatives from the NC's – selected by the NC's – to reexamine the more controversial parts of his proposal and to look at some new ideas on how to solve our jobs/housing/transportation problems. And then open the locked doors of City Hall and invite not just the NC's – but a true cross selection of this city - to debate these issues and come up with a plan that will actually work in the real world.

(Brady Westwater is a writer, a long-time downtown and neighborhood council activist and Chair of the LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee. Westwater is a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at: bradywestwater@gmail.com ).

(Photos courtesy: Curbed LA)

(Other perspectives on the Mayor’s Housing Strategy: LA Times “A foundation at least” and Bill Boyarsky “Affordable Housing in the Worst of Times”

Vol 6 Issue 80
Pub: Oct 3, 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How The Whole Mortgage Mess Started!

There is a lot of blame to go around for the current financial meltdown, but it's increasingly clear as to how it all started. When Fannie Mae - and Freddie Mac - decided - for political reasons - to dramatically lower credit requirements in the late 1990's - the road to hell was opened.

Then once profits started flowing in from all these new borrowers and once real estate prices started to skyrocket due to all this easy credit - even lenders who initially resisted the sirens of temptation - jumped overboard. And then greed and quick profits attracted the crooks who made the bad situation even worse.

But without pressure from politicians in Washington to lower credit standards - none of this would have - or could have - happened.

And read about how it all happened - in a 1999 article in the New York Times...

September 30, 1999
New York Times
Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending

In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements,'' said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. ''Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.''

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's.

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

Under Fannie Mae's pilot program, consumers who qualify can secure a mortgage with an interest rate one percentage point above that of a conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgage of less than $240,000 -- a rate that currently averages about 7.76 per cent. If the borrower makes his or her monthly payments on time for two years, the one percentage point premium is dropped.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, does not lend money directly to consumers. Instead, it purchases loans that banks make on what is called the secondary market. By expanding the type of loans that it will buy, Fannie Mae is hoping to spur banks to make more loans to people with less-than-stellar credit ratings.

Fannie Mae officials stress that the new mortgages will be extended to all potential borrowers who can qualify for a mortgage. But they add that the move is intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners who tend to have worse credit ratings than non-Hispanic whites.

Home ownership has, in fact, exploded among minorities during the economic boom of the 1990's. The number of mortgages extended to Hispanic applicants jumped by 87.2 per cent from 1993 to 1998, according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. During that same period the number of African Americans who got mortgages to buy a home increased by 71.9 per cent and the number of Asian Americans by 46.3 per cent.

In contrast, the number of non-Hispanic whites who received loans for homes increased by 31.2 per cent.

Despite these gains, home ownership rates for minorities continue to lag behind non-Hispanic whites, in part because blacks and Hispanics in particular tend to have on average worse credit ratings.

In July, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed that by the year 2001, 50 percent of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio be made up of loans to low and moderate-income borrowers. Last year, 44 percent of the loans Fannie Mae purchased were from these groups.

The change in policy also comes at the same time that HUD is investigating allegations of racial discrimination in the automated underwriting systems used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to determine the credit-worthiness of credit applicants.