In the small world of Westside politics, activists hold certain truths to be self-evident. Jack Weiss is a sellout. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a sellout and a goof-off. Development is bad because it increases traffic. Billboards are bad because they’re…billboards.
And Proposition B, the solar initiative on the March 3 ballot, is so awful that there are no words to describe it, not even the powerful words of Ron Kaye. He’s the former Daily News editor who is now an angry populist blogger and community activist.
Aware of these deeply held, but not necessarily rational, beliefs, I drove a mile or so from my Westside house to Webster Middle School to hear Kaye and others debate Proposition B. The measure would authorize the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to install solar panels on commercial, industrial and other buildings and in parking lots. The power would flow into the DPW system, I like Proposition B but I thought the debate might give me some reason to vote against it.
Nobody beat up on Weiss, the city councilman who is running for city attorney. Any criticism of the mayor was mild. Nobody took on the Expo line although a couple of people blasted the flashing electronic billboards illuminating buildings and intersections. A couple of people from Venice complained about permit parking around their houses. The subject had nothing to do with Proposition B. But self -involved Los Angeles Venetians have their own agenda, no matter where the rest of the world is going.
There were some mild fireworks. Nick Patsouras, a former DWP commissioner now running for city controller, read from detailed reports he felt showed the DWP in a bad light. Patsouras opposes Proposition B. Sneering at Patsouras’ insistence in reading the reports, Brian D'Arcy, the union business manager and an author of Proposition B, said, “Can I get the phone book and read it?” When Kaye renewed his attack on B, D’Arcy said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, as usual.”
Kaye made a strong case for the “no” side He noted that all the work on the proposition was done far from public scrutiny, in the union hall and Mayor Villaraigosa’s office. Kaye hates secret government and the clique of lawmakers, business people and union leaders who run L.A. He said the proposal should have been the subject of extensive council hearings and discussion by the neighborhood councils as well as detailed and public examination by experts.
He and other opponents also objected to the fact that DWP union workers will do the solar panel installations. “Union power grabbing,” he said, drawing cheers from many in the crowd but not from the union members who were there.
I agree with Kaye that the process stinks, although I doubt if the city council would have been capable of holding intelligent hearings on the matter. But that isn’t a reason to vote against Proposition B. Solar panels on building roofs and vacant land are a good idea. We need solar. And what’s wrong with union labor, anyway. My wages up when we organized the American Newspaper Guild at the Oakland Tribune years ago.
Most of the crowd stuck around until the end. With a hot primary race for the Westside Fifth Council District seat, and Weiss running for city attorney, this area may have a comparatively high turnout for a low turnout city election. The activist, fussy Westside is tough territory for the Proposition B campaigners but they may have to carry it to win the election.