Friday, February 26, 2010

Please Join Me for a Frank Discussion on Campaign Finance Reform

This Thursday, I’m hosting a forum on Campaign Finance Reform in City Hall Chambers beginning at 8 a.m. I have a fantastic lineup of guests, including Kathy Feng, Common Cause; Ron Kaye , RonKayeLA; Bob Stern, Center for Governmental Studies; Xandra Kayden , League of Women Voters; LeeAnn Pelham , L.A. City Ethics Commission; James Sutton , Campaign Lawyers; and Trent Lange, California Clean Money Campaign.

With a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to donate campaign funds to specific candidates causing the City of L.A. to change its own campaign rules, I expect the conversation to be spirited, lively and certainly informative. I’ve long had an interest in looking at what if anything we can do at the City level to implement a better campaign finance system that limits the influence of special interest and allows more candidates the opportunity to run for elected office regardless of financial status or backing.

You can listen to an interview I did with Off the Presses recently discussing this topic. (below).


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Update on City Food Policy Motion

The LA Times recently did a story on evolving public food policy including my motion to donate surplus food from city departments to food banks and organizations. During these tough economic times, people all over Los Angeles are tightening their belts and making sacrifices. As the second largest city in the nation, we should lead by example and help others as often as possible. No food should go to waste.

Food politics in L.A.: Hungry for change
Politicians are taking action to fight hunger and obesity in Los Angeles County.
By Mary MacVean
February 18, 2010

The business of government often has been conducted over a meal, but these days it's food itself that's on the public agenda: how to get more and better food to poor people, how to improve what children eat at school, how to encourage access to farmers' products and community gardens, how to combat obesity, and more.

"There has been a real reawakening about food in Los Angeles," says Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Council president, whose district includes the Hollywood Farmers Market. That's personal as well as political: As a child, Garcetti grew carrots in his family's community garden plot along the Ventura Freeway; these days, he and his wife grow most of their vegetables in their yard.

In a region of great abundance, demand is dramatically up at food pantries, and yet nearly two-thirds of the adults in L.A. County are overweight or obese -- a paradox that experts suggest is the result of such behaviors as eating too much food that's high in calories but low in nutritional value.

"I think we are just finally realizing that obesity and hunger are connected," says Andrea Giancoli, nutrition policy consultant for Los Angeles Unified School District. "Over the last decade, we're starting to gain more information about what is really happening out there in the community."

People are connecting a range of concerns about food -- safety, hunger, health and the environment, says Frank Tamborello of Hunger Action Los Angeles. And local politicians are taking notice too.

"There's a lot of attention" to food by city officials, says L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar. "But we need to do a better job at having a comprehensive approach to all of these issues."

Among the initiatives:

* The L.A. City Council has adopted a measure to make sure that leftover food from city facilities, including the Los Angeles Convention Center (which already donates some food), gets to food banks, "whether it's 20 sandwiches at a local park or on a larger scale," says Huizar, sponsor of the measure. The council is awaiting a report on how such a plan would work.

* L.A. County supervisors have taken steps aimed at getting residents who are eligible for food stamps signed up for them. It's estimated that only half of the county's eligible residents get food stamps, meaning that millions of dollars in federal benefits are going to waste.

* The City Council's moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in some parts of the city (an effort that some have questioned), intended to fight obesity and to encourage independent sit-down restaurants, runs through March. And starting next year, thousands of restaurants in California
will be required to post calorie counts.

* The mayor has announced a food policy task force, which is cataloging public and private efforts in food production, consumption and distribution and considering whether the city needs a permanent food policy council. He chose to announce it at a City Hall celebration of the 30th anniversary of farmers markets in the county.

* The L.A. City Council is looking for ways to to help defray some of the costs for farmers market operators who have seen their reimbursement charges increase significantly for street closures, signs and other city expenses.

* Hundreds of vending machines in county facilities are to carry healthful food and drinks as their contracts expire -- baked chips, low-fat cookies and crackers -- under a motion adopted last year.

But the supervisors stopped short of deciding to develop a plan to prohibit sugar-sweetened beverages from all county facilities, including the Hollywood Bowl. (The L.A. Unified School District board was ahead of the curve, banning soda sales in 2004 and adopting a plan to improve cafeteria food, though some of its goals, including a salad bar in every school, have yet to be realized.)

* The state has limited the use of trans fats in restaurants, and there has been talk about whether to propose a tax on sodas. At a hearing in City Hall last year, some state legislators heard from advocates of such a tax and also from opponents, who argued for consumer choice and for encouraging people to get more exercise to combat obesity.

The rates and costs of obesity have made the nation more food-centered as well. The Obamas planted a garden on the White House lawn, and the first lady last week announced a campaign to take on childhood obesity. State and local governments around the country have taken up food-related legislation.

"Things have reached a tipping point," says Zev Yaroslavsky, a county supervisor who cites a 41% increase in demand at food pantries since the end of 2008.

He was among the public officials who have asked for a better coordination of public agencies' efforts to fight hunger, based in part on two dozen recommendations issued by the Jewish Federation late last year, including getting people the services that are already available.

Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate with California Food Policy Advocates, says nearly 1 million county residents don't get the food stamps they are eligible to receive.

"It is absolutely criminal that we don't get these folks who are eligible what they are eligible for," Yaroslavsky says.

One way to overcome the language and cultural barriers to seeking food stamps, he says, is to send county workers out into the community, to food pantries and other places hungry people are likely to be. To that end, the county is working to get laptops, so workers can sign up people for food stamps wherever they are.

Some of what's required is better coordination, Yaroslavsky says. And the supervisors have asked county officials to look at how departments and nonprofit and faith-based agencies can more effectively work together.

Solutions to other problems have for years remained elusive. The scarcity of supermarkets in neighborhoods that are being called "food deserts" continues to trouble many people, within and outside of government. A report is due soon to the City Council assessing what it can do, through land use powers, to encourage supermarket construction. Council member Jan Perry's office supported Fresh & Easy's efforts; a new store opens next week in South L.A.

Availability of fresh, nutritious food is a long-standing issue. After the 1992 riots, researchers found that the availability of fresh, nutritious food was a top concern of people living in South Los Angeles, says Robert Gottlieb, director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College and the author of a book coming out later this year on food and justice.

A few years later a food policy body was formed but dissolved. Now the idea is back.

"There has been a deepening and maturing and expansion of the food movement in Los Angeles," Gottlieb says.

People are coming to "realize how unhealthy a lot of our food is," Garcetti says, and they're doing something about it in ways that also provide urban meeting spots -- by working in community gardens and shopping at farmers markets.

At the same time, he says, there has been "a recognition by government that it's not going to happen on its own," that through permits and regulations for such disparate things as restaurant grease traps and new grocery stores, the "city has a huge impact on food."

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Saturday, February 20, 2010

3rd Annual Senior Snowball

Last week we held our 3rd Annual Senior Snowball, an event I initiated to honor the seniors of CD14 who do so much to improve our communities and who so willingly volunteer their time at several events throughout the year.

When people ask me why I support our seniors, I think of my parents and grandparents, I think of “the Greatest Generation” – who lived through the horrors and sacrifices of WWII with little complaint. This year, thanks to a private donation to the event, we were able to raffle off three 27 inch TV’s and three karaoke machines! Thank you to the Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church in El Sereno for hosting us, everyone who participated, and to the amazing Chico Band and Belinda Linda for performing and getting everyone on the dance floor! If you have a senior in your family that would like to get involved, below is a list of groups in my district. Enjoy the slideshow!
For a complete list of Senior Centers in Los Angeles: Click HERE!

• Amistad y Alegria
• Boyle Heights East L.A. Seniors
• Boyle Heights Evergreen Seniors
• Boyle Heights Golden Years Seniors
• Club Azteca
• Club Bueno Amigos
• Costello Seniors
• Eagle Vista Seniors
• El Sereno Senior Club
• Glassell Park Senior Citizen Club
• New Friends Club
• Rose Hills Seniors
• Ramona Gardens Seniors
• Resurrection Parish Seniors
• Nuevo Amancer
• Art Snyder Villa
• Los Abuelitos de Boyle Heights
• St. Marys Church Seniors
• Boyle Heights Estudiantes

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Discussing Budget on NBC's News Conference

Councilmember Alarcon and I discussed budget cuts this past Sunday on NBC's News Conference morning show with Conan Nolan.

View more news videos at:

Monday, February 1, 2010

L.A. can't go it alone on pot

L.A.'s new ordinance on pot dispensaries attempts to answer the needs of the ailing while ensuring public safety and abiding by state and federal law.

By José Huizar
February 2, 2010

The Los Angeles City Council last week finally adopted a medical marijuana ordinance. Though not perfect, it balances the needs of local communities with those of patients who truly need access to medical marijuana. And it will rein in an out-of-control situation in which a federally banned substance has been sold for the last four years as hundreds of dispensaries proliferated in the city of Los Angeles, with no local regulations and ambiguous state laws to guide us.

To make the new ordinance work as effectively as possible, legislators need to clarify the state's medical marijuana laws -- Proposition 215 and its accompanying SB 420. Both are silent or vague on critical issues for the practical implementation at the local level.

As cities throughout California draft ordinances, they are grappling with issues that they have no power over and that should be handled at the state level. Moreover, they are trying to pinpoint evolving and changing court rulings interpreting state law.

In Los Angeles, one of the most difficult issues was what constitutes a "sale." My colleagues on the City Council and I addressed this by stipulating that although no collective shall operate for profit, "cash and in-kind contributions, reimbursements and reasonable compensation" are allowed as long as they comply with current state law. However, we don't know how this provision will be enforced because we are relying on state law that is unclear and in litigation.

It is also unclear whether the over-the-counter dispensary model was what voters intended when they approved Proposition 215. The law might have intended a much more limited distribution of marijuana, such as having either patients or their caregivers grow their own product or having collectives grow a small amount and reimburse members for their labor.

Without clarity from the state, the council also had to punt on the issues of cultivation and transportation of marijuana by saying that the ordinance would abide by state law.

Cultivation is important because the ordinance as written does not address where the collectives will obtain their marijuana. Will it be grown locally, imported from Northern California or bought on the black market? And are people who transport the marijuana to and from collectives immune from prosecution?

Another issue that is not being addressed locally but perhaps is the biggest impediment to properly regulating dispensaries relates to the wide discretion and relative immunity that physicians have in recommending medical marijuana to patients. When most of us have a medical issue, we don't look through the pages of alternative weeklies to find a physician. We go to the doctor who knows the most about our medical history -- our primary-care physician.

Yet under state law there is no requirement to curb abuse by having people see their primary-care physician first, or, as Oregon does, to require that a patient get a note from an "attending physician" with whom he or she has an established patient/physician relationship.

It's interesting to note that Oregon, like several other states, only allows medical marijuana for a narrow list of conditions. In contrast, in California, marijuana can be recommended for anything from cancer to writer's cramp. So, although California voters have not (yet) directed the state to legalize marijuana for nonmedical use, the state medical marijuana law has created de facto legalization because practically anyone can become a qualified patient.

Given these ambiguities, the city has provided an ordinance within existing state law that does its best to create access for medical marijuana patients while protecting local communities from potential negative consequences.

The council voted to support a requirement that dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet from sensitive-use areas where children and families gather, such as schools, playgrounds and places of worship -- and from other dispensaries.

We also capped the number of collectives at 70 (instead of the estimated 700-plus that exist) and required notification to neighborhood councils before new dispensaries open in their areas. To control profiteering, we also required annual audits and outlawed common ownership of multiple collectives.

I, like a majority of California voters, voted in favor of Proposition 215 because I believe that patients dealing with cancer, AIDS, chronic pain and other serious ailments should have access to medical marijuana.

However, I remain concerned about profiteers looking to make a quick buck, recreational users looking to use an ambiguous state law to their advantage and less-than-scrupulous doctors willing to play along by writing quick and unverified recommendations. Though seemingly innocuous to some, these unchecked activities can lead to real problems in local communities should the state refuse to further regulate medical marijuana. I encourage state legislators to immediately amend SB 420 to deal with its ambiguities.

In the future, if the voters legalize marijuana for recreational use, I would hope that the state provides clear and practical rules for local implementation, unlike what has occurred with medical marijuana.

José Huizar represents the 14th District on the Los Angeles City Council.