Bill Boyarsky
 
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May 30, 2012

London and L.A., sister cities

On the last day of a London vacation, I took a tour of the 2012 Olympics site, drawn there by a feeling that I wanted to see in person the venue I’d be watching on television later this summer. Being interested in cities, I also wanted to see how London was remaking a vast and polluted area of east London into something that would remain great after the Olympics. I wondered, as I always do, whether there were any lessons for Los Angeles here.

I took the underground to the Bromley-by-Bow station, several stops away from our South Kensington area apartment. Outside the station, a guide was waiting. Our group walked across the street to the parking lot of a Tesco super store, big as Cosco or Wal-Mart and probably looking the same inside. This is definitely not tourist London.

London’s East End has long been home to the working poor, including generations of immigrants who worked in its factories and on the docks. Years ago, the factories polluted the ground, the Lea River and other streams. Women working in a match factory in the 19th century glowed, and then died, from the phosphorous they handled.

The Olympics required a massive cleanup. Afterwards, there will be a park and thousands of housing units, more expensive than the current low-cost homes. We walked along a fence and over a bridge, forced to look at the stadium and aquatic center from a distance. Only workers are permitted on the site. The stadium and the center are simply designed and utilitarian. Nothing impressive and elegant like Beijing’s 2008 Olympic stadium, the Bird’s Nest.

I shook my head in wonder when we finished our tour at a Westfield mall that dwarfs our local Westfield’s. Same stores, same goods. But huge. It’s very popular, as is the Tesco super store. What makes this Westfield different are the trains and buses linking it to the rest of the city. I found my way to the Stratford underground station in the mall, helped by a London transit employee who saw me looking at a map and very kindly guided me to my train.

London sprawls like Los Angeles, but it has a huge rail underground rail network, packed during rush hours and in the evening. It will probably be impossible during the Olympics. The fact that the London underground has existed and grown since the 19th century in such a sprawling city is a great argument against the complaints of the diminishing band of L.A. transit skeptics who maintain our city is too spread out to support a train system.

I also thought about the development of London’s Olympic site. L.A. has no such huge stretch of land available. Playa Vista was the last. Development here is occurring in settled neighborhoods, and few want to return to the urban renewal-redevelopment days of ripping down older homes and buildings for something new. Development here will follow the transit lines, which eventually will take people to their homes, jobs and shopping, although hopefully nothing as big as the London East End Westfield’s. Playa Vista will be begging for a transit connection. What works in London can work in Los Angeles.

May 4, 2012

Behind the pro-Berman super PAC

Marc Nathanson had reached the $2,500 federal limit on money he could contribute to his candidate in the San Fernando Valley’s 30th Congressional District, Rep. Howard Berman.

“I had maxed out,” said the wealthy investor. “It would have been illegal to give more. A lot of friends had maxed out. The best I could do was form my own PAC.” So he did, the super PAC Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, which supports Berman over Rep. Brad Sherman in a hard-fought and expensive race.

I had called Nathanson to ask him about attacks by Sherman’s campaign manager, Parke Skelton, who has been blasting the PAC in e-mails and interviews with reporters.

Super PACs can collect unlimited contributions. They were born after the U.S, Supreme Court Citizens’ United decision, allowing individuals and corporations to give as much as they want to political campaigns.

Federal regulations require super PACs to be independent of campaigns, operating separately from the candidate. But Skelton said that’s not the case with the Berman campaign. He singles out a longtime political campaign consultant, Jerry Seedborg, whose Long Beach firm, Voter Guide Slate Cards produces cards for Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Seedborg also managed Berman’s campaign. But Brandon Hall, who managed Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election in Nevada in 2010, replaced him two months ago. “ “A big get” for Berman is how Politico described the move. Seedborg was paid $132,000 for severance.

Skelton said that the super PAC supporting Berman had then paid Seedborg $23,595 for a slate mailer, “How is this legal? “ he asked in an e-mail. Hall said, “Parke’s allegation is proved to be false.”

Nathanson told me “I hate super PACs.” But he said he started the Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman because while Berman has been a major fundraiser over the years, he has used the money to help other candidates and found himself at a disadvantage when challenged by Sherman when reapportionment placed them in the same district. Because of Berman’s long congressional record and his “strategic support of Israel,” Nathanson said, it’s necessary “that Howard Berman be returned to Congress.” The super PAC, he said was “the only way to assure Howard be returned.”

Nathanson heads Mapleton Investments and runs 40 radio stations. He founded Falcon Cable TV, which he sold to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Mapleton donated $100,000 to the Super PAC and “I may contribute more. Others may contribute more.”

The others so far, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks these matters, are David Bohnett, Peter Lowy and Jack. M. Mayesh. Bohnett is a technology entrepreneur who sold his Geocities.com to Yahoo in 1999 for $3.6 billion. Lowy is co-chief executive officer and executive director of the Westfield Group, which operates many malls. Bohnett and Lowy each gave $100,000. Mayesh donated $1,000. He is a veteran political operator who has worked with Howard Berman over the years and for Jerry Brown.

Nathanson said he asked Mayesh, who is now retired, to help with “the technical part of the campaign.” Mayesh said he arranged for the super PAC to buy a spot on Seedborg’s slate. He said he is also writing and helping produce the commercials being shown on Valley cable system. Buying the time has cost the super PAC almost $500,000 so far.

Helping Mayesh on an unpaid basis, he said, is Carl D’Agostino, who for years was a partner with Howard Berman’s brother, Michael Berman. Michael, insiders say, is the main strategist in the Berman congressional campaign, a role he has fulfilled for his brother for years. It’s just one big family.

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