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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pasadena Charity Plagued By Misdeeds, Politicking

Pity the caring activists working diligently to seek recognition for the Armenian Genocide. Pity the dedicated members of the community seeking to create dignified local monuments to appropriately mark its horrific events.  

Both causes have been dealt a serious blow by allegations that a local charity was abused by campaign operatives under the control of perennial candidate Anthony Portantino.  The calamity at the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Fund Committee will be long remembered as an example of what can go wrong when someone marked by unbridled ambition chooses to manipulate a pure cause, and how such abuse and politicking can sully such causes.  

In a world where skepticism always plagues everything, and other Armenian relief charities have been plagued by similar allegations, this tragic story is the worst possible thing to have happened.

Below is what we know.  Former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino has been raising money for his future ambitions, both Congressional, and State legislative, for about three years now, since at least 2011, however, since he has been out of office now for so long, the money has withered and dried, so he apparently became desperate to curry favor from rich donors especially on causes that he has pontificated on.  Enter the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial efforts and his nefarious plan:  Portantino volunteers his time to them, but allegedly, it was just to get access to their donor lists.  Portantino gets his operative David Gevorkyan appointed Treasurer of the outfit, and he himself also serves on the board charged with overseeing the charity's activities.

There's only one problem.  Actually, we really can't drill it down to one problem, because there are several!  First, Gevorkyan allegedly lied about his qualifications that would allow him to be entrusted with money.  Simply put, he allegedly has none, but allegedly told a series of fibs, in writing, about his qualifications.  Allegedly, similar lies got him removed from the Pasadena ANCA board, an established, respected and most pre-eminent organization.  

Next, Gevorkyan allegedly consistently and repeatedly failed to file the required legal documents with the state to allow the charity to do what it exists to do, e.g., raise money!  The big irony here is that Portantino, who sits on the board, and so desperately wants to be a state elected official, allegedly ignored these fundamental and basic alleged violations of state law.

If the story ended here, it would just be sad and likely illegal, but it doesn't end here, it gets much worse. 

Portantino allegedly exploited the charity for his political ambition, doing such things as controlling the invitation list, allegedly working to omit anyone in a political spat with him from helping the charity, if it meant they might get any public recognition.  

Portantino also allegedly secured the names of the biggest donors from the charity's rolls, and cross-solicited them to contribute to his political campaign, a blatant violation of charity ethics laws.  

Lastly, Portantino allegedly even received funds from the charity that would otherwise go to building the monument, receiving payment for candles that he was allegedly supposed to donate.  Forcing a charity to pay you for candles you were supposed to donate?  You can't make this stuff up.

The tragedy in all of this of course is that the Monument in Pasadena, a beautifully planned marker of the Armenian Genocide, that countless people worked tirelessly on, will not break ground on time.  It is already well behind schedule, and these allegations and potential illegal cross over of the political into the charitable realm will not help the cause.

Memo to ambitious candidates: if you get your campaign operative on a charity board, don't lie about his qualifications, degrees, and training; don't ignore state law when you seek to be a state official; and for the love of God, don't exploit a pure cause for your own political ambition.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sandy Russell Appointed to GUSD Board as Election Looms

By a 3 to 1 vote the Glendale Unified School Board appointed Sagebrush resident Sandy Russell to fill the school board seat vacated by Mary Boger.  The dissenting vote was cast by Armine Gharpetian for Jason Nyhan who we have heard great things about, incidentally.

The way the vote went down was confusing and plagued by odd statements, herd mentality and other such oddities.

Here is our understanding: Some board members said they only wanted to appoint someone who would publicly give up on their right to run for the office, which we kind of understand since that is a fairness thing since it would give that person a leg up in the election.  However, we also don't really think demanding that someone be a short timer is also the wisest course for Glendale schools.  Strange that qualifications were not the primary issue, absent anything else.

Of the candidates for the job, Nayiri Nahabedian said, "Each one is more excellent than the other."  A strange statement.

Todd Hunt and Elizabeth Manasserian tried to split the baby and claimed they were each undecided about running in 2015 if appointed.  One prospective appointee Kevin Cordova-Brookey gets credit for being an honest man, since he said he had considered it.  Ditto for Nyhan, who said he would run if asked bythe board when the temporary term was up.

The voting went in this utterly not transparent fashion which we still struggle to describe and understand:

During the first round of voting, Hunt received three votes, along with Nyhan. Manasserian got two votes and Russell garnered four.  Cordova-Brookey did not get a single vote.

A second round of voting broke the tie between Nyhan and Hunt with Nyhan receiving three votes and Hunt getting one.

In the final voting among the four board members, Russell garnered three votes and Nyhan received one.   Are you following at home?

This is not to say that Sandy Russell is not an excellent choice.  She is.  She is clearly very qualified and what we love is that she is a long time PTA devotee, and since one of us is a Burbank PTA mom, we are happy PTA is "representing." 

However, as you can see from the above, the process was shrouded in mystery and left a lot of people alleging conspiracies and such, most having to do with the ever controversial Sagebrush issue.

So, now who runs and who wins?  Your thoughts?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Burbank School Board Race A Quiet Affair

Despite candidates for Burbank City Council quietly working the rooms around town, very little has emerged about the upcoming school board race despite rumors of rampant retirements ergo many open seats.

Here's the lay of the land: There are five members on the school board.  Charlene Tabet, who scored a powerful victory with some outside financial help in 2013, and Larry Applebaum, who also won in 2013 and who has posted here before; neither are not up for reelection this time.

That leaves 3 seats, and they are those of Ted Bunch, Roberta Reynolds, and Dave Kemp.  Reviews from parents and politicos are mixed.  Kemp is pretty beloved from what we can tell by both parents and local politicos.

As for the other two Bunch and Reynolds, the most regular complaint we hear can be summed up as "clueless" or perhaps that is a bit harsh and the proper words would be "tone deaf" or "could do more to get it."  In summary, what we mean is that locals often say things like "Bunch and Reynolds mean well, but they don't understand politics, they don't get along well with others, and therefore, they don't get much done."  We've heard some version of that refrain many many times.

Coincidentally both are rumoured to be retiring. So the question is (and we don't mean that terrible cable TV show LOL) who will replace them?

The only names that have come up so far are Armond Aghkanian who ran last time and finished short, and perennial also ran Steve Ferguson who has a whole lotta fences to mend around town.

In a town where so many care about schools and with some of the longer serving members of the school board retiring, we are not the first people to wonder outloud about the lack of interest so far.  Well as we always say, stay tuned...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Neel Kashkari Jumps The Shark

In case you haven't heard, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari visited our fair little burgh Wednesday to give away gas cards and smash little toy trains.  No we're not making this up he really did.

Sadly despite offering 25 buckaroos in free gas which is a pretty good deal, only about a hundred people showed up and many didn't seem to be aware of who the crazy bald guy was.  The smashed toys of course were a reference to Jerry Brown's high speed rail proposal.

This blogger stopped by out of morbid curiosity and watched the spectacle or lack thereof for a while.  The whole thing had a tone like I have gotten before from similar richie rich candidates' campaigns and occasionally too from certain elitist campaign consultants. 

The feeling and vibe was "The people are stupid.  The people like crazy spectacles.  We need to dumb it down for the people."  [So let's do this really cheeseball demagogic display] which then comes across as a very rich educated guy dumbing down his schtick in a naked appeal, quite insulting, to the people, who aren't really that dumb.

The headline of this post of course is that Kashkari has "jumped the shark," a reference from TeeVee that indicates when a show has run out of plotlines and henceforth does something so outlandish and not credible that it makes one never want to really watch again.  The question here should really be whether Kashkari was worth watching in the first place.

[And why he chose Burbank, other than our closeness to medialand?]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Massive Campaign Contributions Reveal the Power of PG&E

In a week when two sitting lawmakers demanded an additional criminal probe into Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. (PG&E), some very sizable contributions to a local candidate revealed the raw power and campaign finance might of the beleaguered utility.  The contributions have raised several questions, and have left local activists wondering just how bottomless PG&E's war chest is.

Here's the background:  PG&E has been widely criticized for their activities and poor safety record, that was revealed all too painfully in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.  That explosion killed eight human beings and destroyed countless homes of local residents.  The utility giant's response to the tragedy was widely panned too.

The explosion came at a bad time for PG&E politically.  Editorial boards around the state were already upset at the giant utility for its "cynical power play" at the ballot box.  PG&E had spent millions lubing the political loins for a "fraudulent initiative" to take away the ability of customers to contract with plucky solar startups.  The papers were uniform in condemning the political and campaign chutzpah of PG&E.

And Erin Brockovich thought she was up against millions of dollars.
Despite the controversies, PG&E kept an unlimited wellspring of campaign funds ready to flow into Sacramento, there to lube and grease the pols willing to do PG&E's bidding.  To community activists trying to fight the good fight, it seemed like their local politicians were just, well, beholden to the giant utility.

How deep are PG&E's pockets?  So deep that it can contribute $17,500 to a state politician who hasn't been in office since 2012, and who isn't running for anything until 2016.
Yes that's right.  PG&E has lavished local loser, Anthony Portantino, the perpetually campaigning,  always on the trail, overambitious gladhander, whose main contribution to life in our neck of the woods has been his overbearing need to seek love from locals despite being out of office for a long time, with enough to buy a damned nice car.

Why did PG&E duke Portantino with $10 grand in September 2014?  Why did they duke him with a further $7500?   If PG&E can afford to spend this kind of money on politicians who are out of office it begs the question as to just how big their politico-lobbying complex is.  
And why Portantino?  What did he do for PG&E that they would be willing to give his slush fund over four times the legal maximum to give to a candidate?  We noticed that PG&E was the only
entity, person or corporation, in the state of California and the world, to fund that Portantino committee.

We feel some of the coverage to PG&E lately has been unfair, particularly the exaggeration of certain phrases in emails to Michael Peevey, husband of beloved local official Carol Liu, and who has done a fine job as CA's top utility official.  However whether you think recent coverage of PG&E has been fair or not there is no doubt the utility is in trouble.  
PG&E watchers now have to wonder just how huge a political budget they are up against.  Giving to an official who has been out of office for years just looks bad, it looks like a payoff for services rendered in the past.
Campaign finance and transparency activists have to wonder why PG&E would funnel tens of thousands into a committee that they effectually control, becoming the only funder, under a misleading and different name.  Can another investigation be far behind?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beneath The Radar Bill Would Halt Seafood Mislabeling

Legislature Approves Padilla Bill Focused on Seafood Mislabeling

Smell somethin fishy?  Under a kinda quiet, unappreciated bill, you wouldn't anymore anymore.  Two weeks ago during the final flurry of lawmaking, the state legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 1138. The bill, by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

“SB 1138 addresses the growing problem of seafood mislabeling by making sure that seafood is labeled accurately.  Mislabeled seafood threatens public health, honest businesses and imperils the sustainability of sea life in the Pacific Ocean and oceans around the world,” said Senator Alex Padilla.  “My bill will ensure that seafood is labeled accurately,” added Padilla.

"The seafood we buy at the grocery store should be what the label says. The seafood we order at our favorite restaurant should be the seafood we are served," said Senator Padilla.  "To protect our health, oceans, and economy, it is essential that seafood be accurately labeled,” said Padilla. "Honesty is always the best policy," added Padilla.

While spending on seafood in the United States has grown to more than $80 billion annually, state law does not provide clear guidance regarding accurate labeling of seafood.  The lack of standards has led to high rates of mislabeling throughout our state.  A recent study by Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation, found 52% of all fish sampled in Southern California and 38% of all fish sampled in Northern California were mislabeled.

SB 1138 would make it unlawful for any person to knowingly sell or offer to sell at wholesale or retail any fresh, frozen, or processed food fish or shellfish without identifying the species of food fish or shellfish by its common name. The bill also makes it illegal to mislabel seafood as farmed or wild caught, and its country of origin.  A violation would be punishable by $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.  The bill is modeled after similar legislation approved in the state of Washington.

“Today is a win-win-win for public health, honest businesses and ocean health,” said Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Manager of Oceana. 

Joe Cappuccio, President of Del Mar Seafoods, one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the United States and founded and located in California said, “In order to ensure imported seafood is treated the same as exported sea food, Del Mar Seafood’s is supportive of requiring consistent seafood labeling requirements for both foreign and domestic entities. Lack of labeling requirements on imported seafood creates an uneven playing field for California companies.”  (Capuccio is also a former football star and married to a TV star!)

In 2013, Oceana released the results of its nationwide study on fish sampled at retail outlets, such as restaurants, grocery stores and sushi bars including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Monterey and found:

•           84% of sushi samples were mislabeled in Southern California
•           58% of restaurants visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
•           52% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Los Angeles and Orange Counties
•           38% of all fish sampled were mislabeled in Northern California
•           27% of grocery stores visited in Northern California sold mislabeled fish
•           Southern California leads the nation in mislabeled fish

While seafood is an excellent choice in a healthy diet, seafood mislabeling can lead to the consumption of seafood that is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Certain species of fish can have unhealthy levels of mercury or can cause severe allergic reactions.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives a clear warning about the dangers of mercury to fetuses, infants, and children.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that women of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding avoid eating certain fish such as swordfish and shark.

Seafood mislabeling also undermines conservation efforts and threatens at-risk species. Conservation efforts rely on an informed public making responsible and sustainable choices.  However, it is difficult to make sound choices if seafood is mislabeled. Between 1950 and 2006 the world’s annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons.  The Census of Marine Life, a decade-long international survey of ocean life completed in 2010, estimated that 90% of the big fish had disappeared from the world’s oceans, victims primarily of overfishing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Muni Elections in Burbank & Glendale Post

OK gang of assiduous followers, we need your thoughts by email or comment on upcoming election is our fair little burgh and next door.

We've heard a lot of chatter about Glendale School Board.  Here's the background: Mary Boger recently retired and left the Board, so the talk has been who does the Board appoint?  There are so many candidates interested in seeking an appointment and running in April 2015.  The question is whether the Board appoints someone who previously sat on the Board and/or someone who will commit to not seeking the post in election (think what Frank Quintero did on Council), or whether it will appoint someone without regard to whether that person will seek the full time elected post.  Expect some drama, mama.

In Burbank the question has been how big the Council field will be, as there is strong interest for the first time in a long time and credible challengers.  For School Board it has been shockingly quiet so far but perhaps that is because no one has made an announcement yet on the current board one way or another as to whether they will retire or stay.

We welcome all tips!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Los Angeles Council District 4 Race Heating Up

Neighbors to our west and south will have a passing of the guard election in the spring as they will choose a successor to Councilman Labonge, who was in many ways a spiritual as well as historical successor to John Ferraro, who served on the LA City Council since time immemorial.  The election will be a big change...

The field as LA council races tend to be is vast.  Here are the PLAYERS so far and their dough:


Wally Knox   

Joan Pelico   

David E Ryu   

Steve Veres   


And now for the word on the STREET.

Teddy Davis has sent out a lot of emails with clear attempts to engender Kennedyesque images in the readers' minds.  He has also worked the district pretty hard.  A chance to make the runoff as he has ties in the community but has to fight the dilettant label.

Wally Knox was a Member of the State Assembly for years but his district was considerably farther west.   If he won, he would be the 8th member of the council, a majority, who were in the state government.  Kind of an odd run people say, but certainly a favorite of some oldsters on the westside.

Tomas O'grady is a charming and good looking Irishman, who made lots of money and now spends lots of time doing things like community gardens and other improvements at "eastside" schools.  He almost forced Labonge into a runoff last time but the question is whether he can run a professional campaign.  He has major cred in Silverlake and Los Feliz.

Joan Pelico works for Paul Koretz and Koretz is savvy and operational and wants to empire build.  She will put together city hall money and has a great base in Sherman Oaks but most people do not consider her a runoff contender.

Carolyn Ramsay is the establishment candidate to the extent by establishment you mean Councilman Labonge since she serves as his staff chief.  She's put together serious money, has a base in Hancock Park and points east, and most people expect her to be fighting for 1 of the 2 slots in the runoff.

David Ryu has put together a crap-ton of money from the Korean community but it remains to be seen whether he can run a campaign showing community ties.  The API community certainly wants a councilmember in LA but the candidates in recent memory have not been great.  Paging Mike Woo.

Steve Veres works for State Senate Speaker Kevin Deleon and it would be a huge embarrassment to Deleon if Veres didn't kick butt and take names.  Veres has put together money but no one in the community I talk to seems to know him or what he stands for.

If you analyze the race geographically you assume that Pelico and Knox compete for the western portion of the district and cause MAD.  You assume that Ryu doesn't quite have enough to make the runoff.  That leaves Veres, O'grady, Davis, and Ramsay.  Assume that Veres doesn't make it because of a lack of deep longtime community supporters in the very parochial district.  Assume that O'grady doesn't have appeal outside the eastern half and doesn't run the most expert campaign.  That leaves a potential runoff of Ramsay against Davis.

As noted before another Sacramento pol Adrin Nazarian is widely thought to be considering a run.  He hasn't done much of anything in state government and folks say he doesn't play nice in the sandbox.  We've also heard from some that he is actively polling and likely seeking a deal with Veres, like, Veres heads to the assembly if Nazarian wins but the question is what fool would take that deal since another person might very well take the Assembly seat and Veres would need to back out of his council run before he even knew if Nazarian could win the council seat.  If Nazarian gets in to CD4 race he would have to get in soon and we don't even think he makes the runoff.  Pelico, Davis, and others would take away Sherman Oaks votes from him and after that, it's not like Silverlake or Hancock Park goes for him.

There aren't too many interesting races this fall what with the Governor ahead in the polls by like 30 points.  Expect this one to heat up and get very interesting even for those of us who are mere spectators!