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Jim Newton is editor at large of the Los Angeles Times. He serves as a member of The Times' editorial board, advises on editorial matters ...

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Jim Newton

Jim Newton

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Newton: L.A. County's five angry bosses

Newton: L.A. County's five angry bosses

July 14, 2013

It's perfectly understandable that county supervisors are frustrated by the continuing travails of the Department of Children and Family Services. Its failings have profound consequences: children who die because they are left with abusive parents; children placed in foster care situations that are dangerous or even deadly. So the supervisors' impulse to hold the department accountable is commendable.

  • Newton: Harmony at City Hall

    July 7, 2013

    Over the last 20 years, there has been a lot of change in the top two offices of Los Angeles government. Mayors and city attorneys have been Republicans and Democrats. They've been political insiders and outsiders, and they've been ethnically diverse. Throughout all that, however, one thing has remained constant: No mayor and city attorney have worked well together.

  • Newton: Garcetti and the DWP

    June 30, 2013

    Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was sworn in Sunday, has made it clear that no department head from the Antonio Villaraigosa years is safe (except for Police Chief Charlie Beck, who has a term of office that only the Police Commission can cut short). And Garcetti has signaled his particular focus on three of the city's agencies, each of which has had its struggles: the Fire Department, the Information Technology group and the Department of Water and Power.

  • Newton: Failing our children, in and out of court

    June 23, 2013

    Over the years, Judge Michael Nash, who supervises the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, has been tough and persistent. Bucking a long-standing tradition of secrecy, he opened courtrooms in Dependency Court, where the futures of young people in foster care are decided, and he waited out the uproar that ensued without wavering. He regularly confronts some of society's most dispiriting failures and yet he's remained a tireless — and generally upbeat — advocate for children.

  • Newton: The real test for Garcetti

    June 16, 2013

    City Councilman Eric Garcetti campaigned for mayor for 622 days. He raised more than $8 million and secured the votes of 222,300 residents of Los Angeles. Now comes the hard part: governing.

  • Newton: Can Garcetti calm the waters?

    June 10, 2013

    After a campaign of smart politics but small ideas, Eric Garcetti is poised to take the office that he won last month. As he does, here's an item worthy of his agenda: Make peace with the Owens Valley.

  • Newton: In a hurry to pull the 'parent trigger'

    June 3, 2013

    What's happening at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts is undeniably divisive and stressful. A slim majority of parents there, fed up with the lack of progress toward a satisfactory education for their children, signed petitions and exercised their right under California law to oust the principal.

  • Newton: After 12 years, a better LAPD

    May 27, 2013

    Although it was drowned out by the mayor's race, Los Angeles quietly marked a historic moment this month: On May 15, after 12 years of policing the city under the eye of a federal judge, the Los Angeles Police Department at last was allowed to return to managing itself. That marks the end of a contentious yet intensely productive era, and it is a signal triumph for the man most responsible, Gerald Chaleff, who negotiated the consent decree in 2001, who oversaw its implementation and who witnessed its expiration.

  • Newton: Where Greuel went wrong

    May 22, 2013

    Smart and capable, City Controller Wendy Greuel has been a high-profile public servant who believes in Los Angeles and has devoted much of her career to improving it. But boy, did she run a lousy campaign for mayor.

  • Newton: Decision time for L.A.

    May 20, 2013

    As the campaign for mayor of Los Angeles has played out over the last two years, the complaints I've heard most often are that none of the candidates has reached for big ideas, that the field has lacked big personalities and that the two finalists are hard to distinguish from each other. There's some truth to each of those, but with the campaign concluding Tuesday, it's also worth noting that all of them also are overstated.

  • Newton: The mayoral money trap

    May 13, 2013

    There are good reasons for most of the city's campaign finance laws. Individual contribution limits are intended to keep a single donor from purchasing the support of a candidate. Public financing is intended to level the playing field between incumbents and challengers. Limits on gifts help deter graft.

  • Newton: Labor's agendas

    May 6, 2013

    This has been a complicated season for organized labor in Los Angeles.

  • Newton: What about the Port of Los Angeles?

    April 29, 2013

    It's fun for mayoral candidates to imagine eliminating potholes or building new trains to link the Valley to the Westside. It's not hard to support a spiffed-up LAX (really, what's hard to believe is that it's taken this long) or legions of new police officers making Los Angeles safe. What you don't often hear from these candidates, however, is a thoughtful vision for the Port of Los Angeles.

  • Newton: Mayoral candidates, show us the money

    April 22, 2013

    The complaint I hear most often about this race for mayor of Los Angeles is that the candidates, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, spend too much time talking in generalities without providing details about what they'd do. But when it comes to the city budget, the two candidates are so lost in the details that they often seem to be missing the big picture.

  • Newton: Villaraigosa's legacy

    April 15, 2013

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delivered his final State of the City address last week, and as these speeches go, it was fairly typical. He boasted of progress in environmental protection and public safety, both genuine hallmarks of his work and legitimate sources of pride. He engaged in a bit of false humility: "I have been fortunate and blessed to partner with you." Villaraigosa has some good qualities, but humility isn't one of them.

  • Newton: Endorsement games

    April 8, 2013

    Over the past few weeks, the race for mayor of Los Angeles has been less a contest of ideas and leadership than it's been an endorsement roulette, with Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti trotting out their latest pledges of support as evidence of their fitness for the city's top job.

  • Newton: An all-male City Council?

    April 1, 2013

    Imagine if Los Angeles, with a population that is roughly half Latino, had just one or even no Latinos in elected office. There would be protests and political recriminations in every election cycle. There would be lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. The Justice Department would be scrutinizing voting procedures.

  • Newton: Left-right tension under Greuel's tent

    March 25, 2013

    Controller Wendy Greuel pulled off a surprising coup last week when she secured the endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor despite an acknowledgment by many labor leaders that they feel closer philosophically to her opponent, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

  • Tim Leiweke: L.A. muscle man

    March 18, 2013

    How significant was Tim Leiweke to the deal between Anschutz Entertainment Group and Los Angeles for a football stadium? This is how significant: There is an escape clause in the agreement that makes the deal's closing contingent on either Leiweke's still being in place as chief executive officer or "a qualified replacement" having been named as his successor. The city gets to make that call, though it promises to "act reasonably" in determining whether the replacement is qualified. That language was placed in the agreement specifically because the city's trust in the deal was based largely on its faith in Leiweke.

  • Newton: Some questions for Greuel and Garcetti

    March 11, 2013

    There was plenty to grouse about in the first round of the Los Angeles mayor's race. Instead of real discussion of the city's issues, the candidates offered evasive cliches. A deluge of debates reduced almost every serious policy position to a sound bite. The crowded field made it hard to focus on those with a realistic chance of success.

  • Newton: What now in the mayor's race?

    March 7, 2013

    The first round of the mayoral election ended Tuesday much the way it began, with Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti fighting for the lead while facing the complicated task of defining themselves to voters and assembling a majority in an exceptionally diverse city.

  • Newton: Decision time in the L.A. mayor's race

    March 4, 2013

    The candidates for mayor of Los Angeles have been at it for more than a year, some much longer than that. Together, they have spent nearly $15 million. They've participated in so many debates that they can now address just about any topic — from pension reform to public safety to the quality of schools — and they can do it in exactly one minute, with 30 seconds for rebuttal.

  • Newton: Schools and City Hall

    February 25, 2013

    To the cynically tuned ear, two remarks by Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti in recent days seem to suggest the perils of a mayoral candidacy dependent, at least in some measure, on support from United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents local teachers.

  • Newton: An MTA power play

    February 18, 2013

    The transportation future of this region rests, in no small measure, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. And that body's board is about to change.

  • Newton: An opening for the outliers

    February 11, 2013

    The most remarkable proposal of the mayor's race to date took most of the field by surprise last week. On Tuesday, Controller Wendy Greuel announced that, if elected, she intends to add 2,000 officers to the ranks of the LAPD and 800 firefighters to the Fire Department over the next seven years.

  • Newton: Courting the Valley

    February 4, 2013

    It was just over a decade ago that the San Fernando Valley tried to break away from Los Angeles and become its own city, one roughly the size of Philadelphia. The effort was a fairly resounding flop. The city as a whole rejected secession by a two-thirds vote, and it only barely passed in the Valley.

  • Newton: Paths to victory -- or defeat -- in the L.A. mayor's race

    February 1, 2013

    Governing requires vision, competence and administrative know-how. But none of that matters if a candidate never gets the chance to govern. Do the four leading contenders in the race for Los Angeles mayor have plausible strategies for getting themselves elected? Here, in alphabetical order, is how each might pull it off — or fail.

  • Newton: In L.A. politics, money still talks

    January 31, 2013

    Money is a measure of political viability. Those candidates seen as having potential attract it; those seen as long shots struggle to fill their campaign coffers. And with money, once you've raised some, it's a lot easier to raise more. In the money race among the mayoral candidates, Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel are in one league, Councilwoman Jan Perry trails significantly, and lawyer Kevin James is a far-distant fourth.

  • Newton: Which mayoral team will it be?

    January 29, 2013

    The job of mayor requires a governing philosophy in order to guide the city and its policies. But it also requires administrative competence, the ability to manage effectively. It is the mayor's job to smartly choose the managers and commissioners who run city departments and then delegate large parts of the mayoral agenda to them.

  • Newton: The city that could be

    January 28, 2013

    Over the last couple of weeks, I've spent considerable time with the leading candidates for mayor, asking them about their approach to governance, watching them campaign and trying to get a feel for what distinguishes each from the others.

  • Newton: Dennis Zine talks back

    January 21, 2013

    When I wrote a few weeks ago that City Councilman Dennis Zine seemed an odd fit with the office of city controller, I was fairly sure I'd get an earful from him. He is, after all, running for controller.

  • Newton: Villaraigosa's numbers game

    January 14, 2013

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has every reason to be proud of his public safety record. He worked well with Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, who had been hired by the mayor's predecessor, James Hahn. When Bratton left, Villaraigosa oversaw a thoughtful process to vet potential replacements and settled on the capable Charlie Beck. Over the course of Villaraigosa's nearly eight years as mayor, crime has significantly declined; in each of the last three years, there were fewer than 300 murders in the city, a sea change from a generation ago. Villaraigosa will leave Los Angeles far safer than he found it.

  • Newton: Putting children first

    January 7, 2013

    It was nearly a year ago that Philip Browning was named head of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services. He accepted the post with some reluctance — the department has a history of controversy, and has been battered again and again by reports of children dying in its care. Browning had been running DCFS on an interim basis, but when the county could not find a suitable permanent head, he yielded to the arm-twisting of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and took the job.

  • Newton: Dennis Zine and the race for city controller

    December 31, 2012

    City Councilman Dennis Zine has never struck me as a controller type. He's garrulous, outgoing, street-smart — the remnants of his first career as a Los Angeles police officer and union representative. He was a forceful personality at the Police Department, where he often squabbled with his then-boss and now-colleague on the City Council, Bernard C. Parks. Zine was combative then and still is, more of a brawling, glad-handing pol than a cerebral, numbers-driven type.

  • Newton: L.A.'s giving season

    December 24, 2012

    The work of a local political columnist is critiquing: analyzing which candidates make sense and which don't, explaining which agencies are effective and which aren't. But there is another aspect to reporting on this region's issues: getting to know the good work of people and organizations on the outskirts of Los Angeles government that succeed in easing the city's burdens. With the season in mind, here are a few of those organizations.

  • Newton: Justice overwhelmed

    December 17, 2012

    If there are constants in the world of the Los Angeles Dependency Court, they are haste and confusion. Reports swirl through the building, hauled around on carts stacked high with papers. Lawyers scramble for translators, rifle through documents, dash in and out of courtrooms.

  • Newton: The LAPD's overtime issue

    December 10, 2012

    The struggle to expand the Los Angeles Police Department to 10,000 officers has occupied three mayors over two decades. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has brought the department right to the verge of that benchmark — the force today numbers 9,824 — but an important budgeting decision a few years back has quietly whittled away at the achievement, undermining some of the LAPD's crime-fighting efforts and creating a growing long-term liability for the city that will hamstring the mayor's successor.

  • Newton: Off and running in the L.A. mayor's race

    December 3, 2012

    A new poll on the Los Angeles mayor's race confirms the conventional wisdom: Most voters have yet to make up their minds, but among those who have decided, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel remain locked in a close match with a hefty lead over their nearest rivals.

  • Newton: Supt. Deasy, head of the class

    November 26, 2012

    Of all the jobs in Southern California, it's hard to think of one that is harder to do well than serving as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The mission — to educate hundreds of thousands of young people of varying backgrounds, classes and languages — is staggeringly complex. The constituents — from parents to reformers to teachers unions — are varied and sometimes at odds. The budget is regularly whipsawed. And the superintendent's bosses — the seven members of the school board — are highly politicized and driven by interests that sometimes conflict with educating children.

  • Newton: Owens Valley dust-up

    November 19, 2012

    Los Angeles owes an old debt to the Owens Valley. It was there, a century ago, that representatives of this ambitious city quietly bought up water rights from unsuspecting farmers and then diverted the Owens River into a newly built aqueduct that brought Sierra snowmelt south and made Los Angeles possible. Owens Lake was emptied so that Los Angeles might prosper.

  • Newton: Jan Perry's path to power

    November 12, 2012

    An essential element of a successful political campaign, whether for U.S. president or mayor of Los Angeles, is that it identifies a path to victory. Candidates have to differentiate themselves from competitors and appeal to constituencies sympathetic to their message.

  • Newton: Court warfare

    November 5, 2012

    For months, the Los Angeles County Dependency Court has buzzed with a mystery: Lawyers for the county counsel's office repeatedly refused to allow Judge Amy Pellman to preside over their cases, but they wouldn't say why. The office's use of challenges, known as 170.6 motions, disrupted the courthouse, burdened families and troubled many observers.

  • Newton: Clear the Expo Line tracks

    October 29, 2012

    Few tensions more regularly complicate the political life of Los Angeles than those between neighborhood residents and "outsiders" wanting to alter those neighborhoods for what they see as the larger good.

  • L.A.'s mayoral race just got more complicated

    October 22, 2012

    With the first round of the Los Angeles mayoral election still more than four months away, the race has taken shape in recent weeks, largely because of two developments that have scrambled the handicapping of the contest.

  • Newton: Fighting the good fight

    October 15, 2012

    The ability of Californians to scrutinize their government may rest on the outcome of a little-known case unfolding in a tiny Northern California town.

  • Newton: The bitter battle for L.A. city attorney

    October 8, 2012

    In this city election cycle, most of the attention so far has been devoted to the big event: the early maneuvering in the mayor's race, as the field takes shape and the leading contenders attempt to define themselves. While that's going on, though, the undercard has been largely overlooked, and there the contest for city attorney pits two of the region's better-known — and quite different — public officials against each other in what promises to be a tough and consequential bout.

  • Newton: Porn, safe sex and Measure B

    October 1, 2012

    At first glance, the county's Measure B, which would require the use of condoms in adult films shot in Los Angeles, seems fairly hard to rebut: Other than a few self-interested pornographers, who could be against mandating safe-sex practices?

  • Newton: L.A.'s pension peril

    September 23, 2012

    There are a couple of assumptions guiding much of the civic conversation about public employee pension reform: first, that organized labor would fight any reform tooth and nail; and second, that labor's strong presence in Los Angeles would doom such measures to defeat.

  • Newton: For LAPD, a question of force

    September 17, 2012

    Back in the early 1990s, when the Los Angeles Police Department was the source of much fear and brutality, about 1% of its arrests involved the use of some force, from a firm grip to a gunshot. Over the last two years, during a period when the LAPD has been justifiably lauded as a restrained and professional agency, about 1% of arrests involved the use of force.

  • Newton: Will L.A. tackle AEG?

    September 10, 2012

    The debate over whether to build a football stadium downtown is largely about costs and benefits. Are the additional traffic and other inconveniences associated with bringing one, or perhaps two, football teams to downtown worth tolerating in exchange for upgrading the city's Convention Center, creating thousands of jobs and infusing new tourist dollars into the tax base? That's a complicated but straightforward calculus, and at this point, most people who have studied the proposal think it's a worthy and important project.

  • Adelanto School Board's judicial defiance

    September 3, 2012

    When Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ruled on an attempt to convert Desert Trails Elementary School into a charter school, he made it very clear what he wanted done. He ordered the Adelanto school board to accept petitions from parents of the failing school and, as he put it, to allow those parents "to immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting charter school proposals." He gave the school board 30 days to act.

  • For Zev Yaroslavsky, a familiar end to a familiar saga

    August 27, 2012

    It was more than 20 years ago that I covered my first meeting of the Los Angeles City Council. As I headed to the chambers, a colleague advised me to take special note of two members: Richard Alatorre, he said, understood city politics better than anyone, and the expert on all matters relating to money was Zev Yaroslavsky.

  • Newton: Anaheim's ballot battle

    August 20, 2012

    When Disneyland first opened to the public on a sweltering July day in 1955, the city of Anaheim wasn't much more than an orange grove. It had all of 15,000 residents and was known mostly for its Halloween parade.

  • Newton: Culture clash in Chinatown

    August 13, 2012

    At one level, the debate over whether to allow Wal-Mart to open a grocery store in Chinatown seems like a big fuss over something fairly small. The store would be just 33,000 square feet and would sell only groceries and sundries; it would not be a "superstore." The new market would create some jobs and offer some inexpensive products, but it would hardly revolutionize the local economy or bring relief to a food desert. Chinatown already has more than a dozen markets, as well as bakeries and other food outlets.

  • Newton: L.A.'s sniping supervisors

    August 6, 2012

    There is a serious conversation worth having about term limits and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Supporters of the limits — currently three terms of four years each — argue that they are necessary because once supervisors are in office, they're impervious to challenge. Their districts are too big, scrutiny too light, their ability to raise money too great. Critics say term limits deprive voters of choice, imbue the bureaucracy with too much power and ensure that the government is run by inexperienced leaders.

  • Newton: Targeting an L.A. judge

    July 30, 2012

    Last week, when a boy in Los Angeles foster care appeared before Judge Amy Pellman, she welcomed him warmly and clearly knew his history. Pellman asked how his martial-arts class was going, complimented him on his grades and urged him to enroll in a program that would help prepare him for college.

  • Newton: Getting L.A. growing again

    July 23, 2012

    There is no more consistent refrain among elected officials and candidates these days than that they will do everything they can to create jobs. It's a worthy goal given the sluggish state of the economy, and it's particularly crucial in California, which has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation (behind Nevada and Rhode Island).

  • Newton: Villaraigosa's tarnished transit triumph

    July 16, 2012

    The recent passage of the federal transportation bill — and its inclusion of the program known as America Fast Forward — is a perfect microcosm of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's tenure. The program is good for the city and a credit to the mayor's efforts, but it also falls short of the goals he set for it. That, in a nutshell, is the Villaraigosa record.

  • Newton: Jan Perry, L.A.'s refreshingly candid mayoral candidate

    July 9, 2012

    Los Angeles city and county governments are full of officials who profess to be candid but who are, in fact, evasive or even deceptive. City Councilwoman Jan Perry is not one of them. She is refreshingly open, even blunt. She's affable, but she takes her politics seriously.

  • Newton: L.A.'s neighborhood councils

    July 2, 2012

    When neighborhood councils emerged from the Los Angeles charter reform movement in the late 1990s, they were the subject of that effort's greatest hopes and most serious anxieties. Supporters viewed them as a vehicle to engage participation in government and to make government more effective and representative. Critics worried that the councils would become obstacles to efficiency and growth, prone to NIMBYism and interposing yet another barrier in a system already better at saying no than yes.

  • Newton: Water ethics and a peripheral canal

    June 25, 2012

    Jeff Hart is a scientist who knows the history of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta better than most. He explains its emergence from the Ice Age, traces it through the arrival of the Spanish, recalls the figures of the California Gold Rush and points out the reeds that give shelter today to its wild fowl and fish. Last week, as we skimmed across the breezy waters of Steamboat Slough, a rivulet of the delta just south of Sacramento, he reflected on all that and argued for a "water ethic" that would re-envision humanity's relationship to its most basic substance.

  • Newton: A.J. Duffy in exile

    June 18, 2012

    A.J. Duffy is, at least for the moment, a man without a country.

  • Newton: L.A., land of 'Don Giovanni' and the Playboy Mansion

    June 11, 2012

    No event in Los Angeles is too grand to be above a snotty skewering from a New York critic. Last month's historic production of "Don Giovanni" at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was no exception. There's a moment near the end where Mozart offers a sly reference to his earlier work. It apparently slipped by the crowd. "It was," the New York Times critic wrote, "an opera in-joke in search of an opera audience."

  • Newton: What dependency court delays do

    June 4, 2012

    In the weeks since Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash opened this county's dependency proceedings to the press, there have been a number of revelations about a system that, until now, has been largely shielded from scrutiny. For the first time, the public is getting a broad look at the consequences of sloppy social work, the defensiveness of lawyers used to operating in secret, the agonizing decisions of judges, even the occasional happy outcome in which a family, once torn apart, is successfully reunited.

  • Newton: Greuel's hot hand

    May 28, 2012

    It's still very, very early in the campaign to become the next mayor of Los Angeles, but right now, it's City Controller Wendy Greuel who's playing the hot hand.

  • Newton: A split among Democrats

    May 21, 2012

    Gloria Romero is a Democrat. She was elected to the California Assembly as a Democrat and later to the state Senate. She served as Democratic leader of the Senate, the first woman to do so. Ben Austin is a Democrat too. He worked in the White House under President Clinton and was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. Both Austin and Romero support reform of the nation's education system, and when Romero helped found an organization to push that effort, she and her co-founders (fellow Democrats) called it Democrats for Education Reform.

  • Newton: 'Parent trigger' unhappiness

    May 14, 2012

    Acase underway in a nondescript Victorville courtroom lacks the trappings of a trial of the century — there's no celebrity in the dock, no DNA evidence or CNN trucks broadcasting from the parking lot. But the case could have monumental consequences for California children.

  • Newton: L.A.'s political football

    May 7, 2012

    Consider two projects that could have profound impacts on Los Angeles: Both would create thousands of jobs. One would increase traffic a bit; the other would significantly decrease it. One would be "carbon neutral," meaning it would not help the global environment but wouldn't hurt it either; the other would powerfully reduce emissions. Both could create some inconveniences to their immediate neighbors while delivering tax revenue, jobs and services to the city at large.

  • Newton: Treating L.A.'s spending addiction

    April 30, 2012

    City Councilman Bernard C. Parks likes to describe Los Angeles' budget woes as the consequence of an untreated addiction — the city's habit of adding workers in good times and then being unwilling to let them go in bad times. The result is ever-increasing personnel costs and ballooning pension and healthcare obligations for retired city workers.

  • Newton: The night the LAPD failed

    April 29, 2012

    The Los Angeles riots represented the culmination of many failures: the failure to provide hope for young people; the failure to supply education and jobs in the numbers that would stabilize communities; the failure to engage those communities in their own protection instead of relying on harsh and coercive law enforcement.

  • Newton: Nurturing hope at Homeboy Industries

    April 23, 2012

    Imagine Los Angeles without Homeboy Industries. Imagine that the 350 or so men and women who work at Homeboy's various operations instead had no help finding jobs. Imagine that the 500 or so young people in the pipeline for work at Homeboy were suddenly deprived of that chance for gainful employment, security, support and stability. Imagine that the thousands of young men and women who every year have tattoos removed at Homeboy instead showed up for job interviews with necks and arms and shoulders boasting of a life they'd prefer to put behind them.

  • Newton: How L.A.'s shortfall adds up

    April 16, 2012

    As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa works to bring the city's finances under control, he's made some laudable moves, but his actions today are constrained by two decisions from earlier in his tenure that limit his options.

  • They're off and running in the L.A. mayor's race

    April 9, 2012

    If the Los Angeles mayoral election were held tomorrow, three candidates would be elbowing for the lead: City Councilman Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. That comes from a new poll, conducted by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles and based on interviews of 1,600 city residents. The results of the survey will be formally released this week.

  • Newton: A tale of two tax plans

    April 2, 2012

    In a state where Republicans have all but disappeared from decision-making, this is what constitutes a debate today: Two leading liberals are arguing over how best to raise taxes to rescue the state from its economic and social decline.

  • Newton: Is Eric Garcetti mayoral material?

    March 26, 2012

    Eric Garcetti is one of the city's more likable public officials. He's smart, dapper, quietly confident, attentive to detail, seasoned enough to be taken seriously by power brokers but boyish enough to tend his Twitter feed. He's quite liberal but also a member of the Navy reserve. He's a good listener. And he's deeply immersed in Los Angeles history, with roots in Italy and Mexico, heir to a significant family name and a three-term member of the City Council, where he spent six years as the council president. So, is he a mayor?

  • Newton: Does secrecy serve the children?

    March 19, 2012

    We're in the second month of a vitally important experiment at the Los Angeles County Dependency Court, where court officers and others are wrestling with what it means to be watched. So far, so good: The public has gotten a look, not one child has been hurt, and awareness is slowly growing.

  • Newton: Refighting California's water war

    March 12, 2012

    When Gov. Jerry Brown wrapped up his tenure last time through, he left a huge unresolved question for California: In the wake of a failed 1982 initiative to fund the so-called peripheral canal, how would the state distribute and safeguard its water supply?

  • Conservatism's two faces

    March 6, 2012

    Last week, the nation lost an elegant inquisitor and a nasty pugilist. Both were conservatives and natives of Southern California, and they agreed about many matters of policy. But James Q. Wilson delved deeply on matters of significance and left a vast and consequential legacy. Andrew Breitbart raked for muck and accelerated the nation's unhappy race to replace civility with furor. They represented two distinct veins of our national discourse, and of the tensions within modern conservatism.

  • Newton: L.A.'s mayor under the microscope

    March 5, 2012

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is playing well to the nation: The New York Times recently declared that he had compiled a record that "is substantial and is positioning him for advancement." And Time magazine, proclaiming the mayor's "resurrection," compared his run to a "practically scripted" tale that once threatened to be a "box-office bomb" but now, because of his selection as chairman of the upcoming Democratic National Convention, was back on top (one predictable fact of national coverage of Los Angeles is its rote reliance on Hollywood metaphor).

  • Fighting L.A.'s gangs with families

    February 27, 2012

    In a large conference room at City Hall East, more than 100 gang-intervention workers gathered last week to hear about a new approach to heading off gang violence and the destruction it causes. They had come to hear a family tell its story.

  • Parsing the downtown L.A. divide

    February 20, 2012

    Downtown Los Angeles today is divided between two City Council districts, with Jose Huizar representing one part of the city center and Jan Perry representing the other. Despite maneuverings and tweaks, when a city commission and the council finish redrawing the council district boundaries, Huizar will still represent one part and Perry will still represent another.

  • For L.A. Dependency Court, a first: the press

    February 13, 2012

    I have been attending trials in Los Angeles for 20 years. I've covered torture and murder, drug smuggling and bank robberies. I covered the trial of the officers who beat Rodney G. King and the rioters who beat Reginald O. Denny. I covered the murder trial of O.J. Simpsonand the child molestation investigation of Michael Jackson. I've been put on the stand and been told to reveal my sources for some unflattering documents regarding Police Chief Willie L. Williams (I refused). But one type of hearing has remained presumptively off-limits.

  • Newton: Free speech and L.A. County's supervisors

    February 6, 2012

    The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors oversees a vast operation: It incarcerates thousands of inmates; it cares for children whose parents have abused or neglected them; it runs hospitals, clinics, beaches, harbors, parks and a welfare system. So it's no surprise that the board's meetings draw animated commentary. What is surprising is what those commenters want to talk about.

  • Newton: LAPD's impound dilemma

    January 30, 2012

    At first glance, a proposal by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to clarify the way police handle cars they impound from unlicensed drivers doesn't sound controversial. But his proposal touches one of the city's hot-button issues — illegal immigration — and it reopens a larger, historical question: Who's in charge of the city's police?

  • Newton: Herb Wesson, City Council's new boss

    January 23, 2012

    The Los Angeles City Council has a new president, Herb Wesson. But does a new president change anything?

  • Newton: Who's on 1st (and Spring)?

    January 16, 2012

    I can't say for sure whether Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will run for mayor in 2013. I don't even know with certainty whether he's already made up his mind and is just stringing the rest of us along. What I can tell you without any question, though, is that he's enjoying being asked.

  • Newton: Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?

    January 9, 2012

    Two weeks ago, I wrote about a lawsuit working its way through the state courts that poses a novel and fundamental challenge to Proposition 13, the tax initiative approved by California voters in 1978. According to the lawsuit, brought by former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young — represented by William A. Norris — Proposition 13's imposition of a two-thirds requirement for the Legislature to approve any tax increase may have so altered the arrangements of California government that it constitutes a revision of the Constitution rather than a mere amendment.

  • Newton: The future of Hollywood

    January 2, 2012

    On a blustery recent morning, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Tom LaBonge held a rooftop news conference in the heart of Hollywood. They were there to announce the completion of the Hollywood community plan, a document intended to guide the growth of the historic community. The event went the way most such things go: Villaraigosa spoke first and longest; Garcetti gave a few earnest remarks; LaBonge mugged and got off a couple of laugh lines. Congratulations were offered to the residents who participated in the process and to the bureaucrats who guided it. Reporters asked some questions, and everyone beat it back to their cars before it started to rain.

  • Newton: Council lines spark conflict

    December 19, 2011

    Fresh on the heels of Los Angeles County's contentious, divisive and nakedly political supervisorial redistricting debate, the City Council is embarking on its process. Early signs are that it will be contentious, divisive and nakedly political. The council is rife with rumors of deals being cut to protect incumbents in exchange for favors, of enemies settling old scores and of the public being invited to participate in a preordained process — a "facade," to use one council member's word.

  • Newton: The City Council's casual hypocrisy

    December 12, 2011

    "We are not final because we are infallible," the great Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in 1953, "but we are infallible only because we are final." Jackson was among the most eloquent justices ever to serve on the high court, and perhaps the greatest writer in its history. But his wit and wisdom now are being challenged by the Los Angeles City Council.

  • Newton: DWP rate hike can't wait

    December 5, 2011

    For Los Angeles to meet its legal obligations and provide for a more sustainable energy and water future, rates must go up. Soon.

  • Newton: Teacher ratings and the public's right to know

    November 28, 2011

    There's a shocking disconnect at work these days in the relationship between the public and government workers: The public is demanding greater accountability, and public employees — social workers, police, teachers, even state legislators — are finding ways to avoid it.

  • Newton: L.A.'s next mayor

    November 21, 2011

    Los Angeles will not elect a new mayor for another 17 months — the nation will consider President Obama's future first — but the race for City Hall is already underway. Most of the likely candidates are raising money and building support, and last week, for the first time, three who have declared shared a stage. It was hardly a debate — more a conversation in front of an audience — but it was a revealing first look at some of the contours of the campaign.

  • Newton: City Councilman Ed Reyes is a man on a mission

    November 14, 2011

    I've occasionally given City Councilman Ed Reyes a hard time. A few weeks ago, when he introduced a motion to let his colleagues violate the city's Arizona boycott policy, established in response to that state's repugnant immigration law, it seemed emblematic of a council that sticks to principles only when it feels like it. But hand it to Reyes: On the matters closest to his district, he's a hard worker and an earnest representative.

  • Newton: A sheriff who does what he likes

    November 7, 2011

    It's understandable that the Los Angeles County supervisors, confronted with a series of troubling reports of violence against inmates by sheriff's deputies in the county jails, are appointing a special commission to investigate the department and recommend reforms. That was the approach Mayor Tom Bradley took in 1991 after the Rodney King beating rocked confidence in the Los Angeles Police Department and fueled public demands for change. The Christopher Commission ultimately became a model of modern police inquiry and helped restore confidence not only in the LAPD but in Los Angeles itself.

  • Newton: The speaker speaks

    October 30, 2011

    John Pérez and I have been talking about the government and politics of California for 13 years. Some aspects of that conversation have changed: In our early conversations, he was the executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers States' Council; now, he's the Speaker of the Assembly. Our first discussion was over bagels at a Silver Lake coffee shop. Last week, it was in the back room of the Pacific Dining Car, which Pérez says he appreciates for the privacy. A 28-year-old outsider when we met in 1998, he's now in his 40s, and he's at the center of what he once observed from a distance.

  • Newton: City Hall's embrace of Occupy L.A.

    October 24, 2011

    What's a rebel to do? In New York, demonstrators have tussled with police, and in Rome, authorities used tear gas on them. Meanwhile, members of Occupy L.A. pitched their tents, erected their signs and girded for battle with the establishment, only to discover that City Hall has no interest in fighting back.

  • Newton: A meeting of California minds

    October 17, 2011

    They loped in like a pair of old lions, one a bit stooped, both proud to a fault. On the left, sipping from his bottled water, was Gov. Jerry Brown. On the right, fidgeting with note cards, was Michael Milken.

  • Newton: L.A. needs this job generator

    October 10, 2011

    If you've wondered why people complain about the difficulty of doing business in Los Angeles, consider the Southern California International Gateway project. BNSF is prepared to invest $500 million to build the gateway, a rail loading yard that would stimulate trade and produce jobs. And yet, for more than seven years, the project has bumped along without being either approved or rejected.

  • Newton: LAANE turns the tables

    October 3, 2011

    Just a few months ago, leaders of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy were bracing for an attack. A Sacramento-based opposition research firm often hired by conservatives had blanketed Los Angeles public agencies with requests for information about LAANE, an influential nonprofit that works with labor, environmentalists, immigrant rights groups and others to shape local public policy. The inquiries were almost certainly aimed at unearthing some embarrassing tidbit that would, at best, make LAANE look bad or, at worst, cast some doubt on its tax-exempt status.

  • Newton: Creating a Latino district

    September 26, 2011

    There are two conversations going on inside the L.A. County Hall of Administration about the delicate matter of redrawing maps for the supervisorial districts. Both will come to a head Tuesday, but only one will be publicly acknowledged.

  • Newton: The impact of the 'parent trigger'

    September 19, 2011

    This is what the revolution looks like: It's a rally in Lynwood where parents demand the right to exercise their power to shape their children's future; it's a dozen residents in a South-Central apartment gathering to compare notes on the failing elementary school a few blocks away; it's parents comparing notes at a Pasadena community center and discovering that not a single one of that city's high schools scored a desired goal of 800 on California's Academic Performance Index. And it's lots and lots of T-shirts with messages.

  • Newton: Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes, L.A.'s go-to guy on gangs

    September 12, 2011

    There were 11 gang shootings in Los Angeles over this year's Father's Day weekend, a holiday that can be bittersweet for young men alienated from their fathers. Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes, who heads Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's anti-gang efforts, was so distraught over the carnage that he dragged himself home at the end of the weekend and sat down to write his letter of resignation. He labored over it for an hour or so. Then he put the letter away and went back to work.

  • Newton: Labor on the wane? Not in L.A.

    September 5, 2011

    This has been a hard couple years — on top of a hard era — for organized labor. The percentage of American workers who belong to a union has continued its long slide, dropping from 12.3% in 2009 to 11.9% in 2010. Those numbers are even starker if viewed through a longer lens: In 1983, more than 1 in 5 American workers was a member of a union; today it's barely half that. Moreover, while those numbers testify to the eroding faith many Americans have in organized labor to represent their interests — as well as the cunning tactics of employers to thwart organizing — they do not capture this year's singular, highly ideological rage.

  • Newton: Antonio Villaraigosa's future

    August 30, 2011

    Second of two parts | Part one

  • Newton: It's legacy time for Villaraigosa

    August 29, 2011

    First of two parts | Part two

  • Newton: A City Council comeback for Farrell?

    August 22, 2011

    Last week, with a warm sun pouring into his sitting room and an ocean breeze rustling the chimes on his porch, Robert Farrell and I talked about his candidacy for the seat Janice Hahn recently vacated on the Los Angeles City Council. That's right, Robert Farrell.

  • Newton: Finding a job, and new hope

    August 15, 2011

    Maccao Peoples is a cheerful man, brightly engaging, with worn hands and an easy, if slightly wary smile. Under the circumstances, the cheer is more surprising than the wariness: Peoples has spent the better part of his 50 years in and out of prison, mostly for small stuff, most of it drug-related. He'd get in trouble, get arrested, do some time, be released, fall into old habits, get in trouble again. What he couldn't get was what he thought might break this pattern: a job.

  • Newton: The tangled web of DWP rate increases

    August 1, 2011

    Once the Los Angeles City Council quits its faux hand-wringing and approves AEG's proposal to build a football stadium downtown, it will face the hard and often acrimonious job of deciding whether and how much to raise water and power rates for city residents and businesses. Anyone who follows city government knows how that debate is likely to unfold even before it begins.

  • Newton: Villaraigosa in his element as 'the nation's mayor'

    July 25, 2011

    The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, described his "utter disbelief" at the destructive "gamesmanship" as Congress debates the debt ceiling. The mayor of Fresno described her city's tough budget problems and wondered when the economy would hit bottom. The mayor of Philadelphia spoke for many when he asked of Congress: "What is going on down there?"

  • Newton: A new voice atop L.A.'s teachers union

    July 18, 2011

    Warren Fletcher wrapped up his work three weeks ago as an English teacher at City of Angels and moved over to the headquarters of United Teachers Los Angeles, where he is the union's new president. He missed his first negotiating session because he had to finish grading papers, and arrived at the union's imposing if slightly run-down mid-rise in Mid-Wilshire with so little fanfare that many people didn't even know he'd taken office. But Fletcher's soft start should not fool anyone: With his election, he has become one of the region's most formidable political forces, commanding a battle-hardened phalanx of unionists in desperate need of fresh leadership.

  • Newton: Mean streets — for police

    July 11, 2011

    By almost every measure, Los Angeles police are succeeding: Crime is down, public confidence up, and police who were once reviled in many neighborhoods get far more respect. So it's particularly strange that assaults against police officers, rather than falling along with crime, instead have shot up.

  • Newton: DWP's new general manager is on the hot seat

    July 4, 2011

    The view from the top floor of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power testifies to its place in the life and history of the city. To the north and west are Silver Lake and the Hollywood Hills, dotted with reservoirs that define neighborhoods and store water; over the horizon lies the San Fernando Valley, made possible when the DWP grabbed water from the Owens Valley and brought it to Los Angeles. And to the southeast sits City Hall. Notably, the seat of city government is at the bottom of the hill; the DWP is at the top.

  • Jim Newton: A mysterious inquiry

    June 20, 2011

    Last month, scores of public officials across Los Angeles County opened their mail to find nearly identical requests for information: Members of the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, the Community Redevelopment Agency and Community College District Board of Trustees, the city of Long Beach and untold others were asked to produce records relating to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. It was the first blow, silently delivered, in what could be a nasty fight, of a sort that is becoming increasingly common in American and California politics.

  • Jim Newton: What we have is a failure to communicate

    June 13, 2011

    In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, public safety leaders in Southern California concluded that the need for a unified emergency communications system was so grave that they had to build it in such a way as to avoid the traditional pitfalls for huge, multi-agency projects: sloppiness, recriminations and politics. Ten years later, they are on the verge of commissioning such a system, but their efforts are beset by sloppiness, recriminations and politics.

  • Jim Newton: Tackling the truth in Compton

    June 6, 2011

    It is a source of fierce shame and more than a little defensiveness in Compton that the area's lone bastion of higher education, Compton Community College, lost its accreditation in 2005 after officials absconded with public money and the district came up short on its payroll. Six years later, however, there are signs of hope at the college, where a battle-scarred crop of leaders is fighting through threats of violence and howls of community protest but is at last confronting the truth.

  • Jim Newton: The race to succeed Mayor Villaraigosa

    May 30, 2011

    In the early positioning in the race to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, most of the political energy is being generated by two candidates who are fighting for long-shot status. Developer Rick Caruso and investment banker Austin Beutner both want to be regarded as the preeminent candidate appealing to Republicans in the race, a mixed blessing in one of the nation's most stalwartly Democratic cities.

  • Jim Newton: Orange County's Great Park, interrupted

    May 21, 2011

    In Southern California, there's nothing like a very large piece of real estate to cause discord. And the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station is nothing if not a large piece of real estate.

  • Jim Newton: Compton's racial divide

    May 16, 2011

    Imagine if today's Los Angeles were governed by a white mayor and an all-white City Council. And then imagine if that anomaly was protected by city election rules that virtually guaranteed no Latino candidate could land a spot in elected office. The civil rights community would be apoplectic and the public justifiably enraged.

  • Jim Newton: L.A. supervisors vs. their CEO

    May 7, 2011

    Los Angeles government has few more cringe-inducing spectacles than the regular flaying of department heads by the county's Board of Supervisors. Countless such face-offs have occurred over the years, and inevitably, whatever the failings of the administrators in question, you end up feeling sorry for them.

  • Education: The magic of hard work

    April 25, 2011

    The educational establishment of Southern California divides fairly neatly into three groups: those who recognize the need for radical and sustained improvement but fear that it's impossible; those who actively oppose change because their allegiances require them to defend failure; and that small but growing and inspiring group of advocates who see a way to improve and are actually making it happen.

  • Who will be L.A.'s next mayor?

    April 4, 2011

    Los Angeles' mayoral election is still nearly two years away, but the field of candidates already is taking shape. And the race is certain to present voters with starkly different choices about who should run Los Angeles next. More contenders undoubtedly will find themselves drawn to the opportunity, but here are the early candidates to watch.

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