Public pension solvency; L.A. Unified student enrollment; making LAX safer

Anti-drug tactics

Re “Crackdown to target skid row drug dealers,” April 8

When I see the Los Angeles Police Department make a public spectacle of addressing the “drug problem” by going after a handful of retail dealers in the poorest neighborhood in our city, I am reminded of the therapeutic value of putting a Band-Aid on a sore created by metastasized cancer.

Drug dealing is organized at an international, national and statewide level. Focusing on the bottom rung of the distribution ladder demonstrates only the incapacity of the LAPD to address a much more deeply rooted problem.

When we as a nation confront our materialism, greed and inequality, the problem of illegal drug sales will probably evaporate on its own. Regarding the individual issue of addiction, dollar for dollar treatment is far more effective than law enforcement. Treatment also holds out the hope of salvaging lives, rather than ruining them by creating social outcasts with felony convictions.

The LAPD is just putting on a media circus to justify its bloated funding.

R. Lawrence Tripp
Los Angeles

Answers to the pension crisis

Re “The $500-billion pension time bomb,” Opinion, April 6

The Stanford student study cited by David Crane was based on poor data and lack of familiarity with governmental accounting rules and standards. The recommendation to use a “risk-free” assumption of 4.14% return on pension assets was particularly unrealistic.

A pension shortfall exists, but the problem needs to be defined in a realistic manner. Pension obligations aren’t due for decades and long-term investments can tolerate market volatility. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System’s well-diversified investment portfolio averaged 8.6% annual returns for the past 30 years -- and that includes the 25% loss from the 2008 global market crash.

The unfunded liability can be managed without eliminating the defined benefit pension, which can provide benefits at half the cost of a defined contribution plan. Retirement security is needed for our public school educators, who don’t earn Social Security benefits for their decades of classroom service.

Gradual increases in contributions may be a possible route to take. We are building consensus among stakeholders on a fair approach to all.

Harry Keiley
Santa Monica
The writer is a high school teacher and has been elected vice chair of the CalSTRS board.

Crane rightly describes how public employees’ bloated salaries, pensions and benefits are destroying the state’s economy and correctly urges pension reform. But he is wrong in saying that for “promises already made, nothing” can be done.

The state can and must declare bankruptcy. Any reasonable bankruptcy plan would compel it to reduce bloated salaries, pensions and benefits. If our state employees were compensated like those in the free market, the state’s pension time bomb would be completely defused.

The same solution is workable and urgent for the many counties and cities that have created their own pension time bombs through similar policies.

David L. Amkraut
Los Angeles

The pension crisis extends to California’s cities and counties as well.

Since neither the governor nor the Legislature can address this crisis, perhaps it’s time for the courts. How about a citizens’ class action suit?

Betsy Slemmer

Keeping students in L.A. schools

Re “L.A. Unified relents on student permits,” April 7

What a sad day for public education when the second-largest district in the country throws in the towel and admits it cannot provide a quality education for its students. L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines’ reversal allowing more than 12,000 students to flee their neighborhood schools to attend whiter, wealthier districts is just that -- a complete capitulation.

Recently Cortines was extolling the “choice” LAUSD offers its students through charters, magnet programs and intradistrict transfers. He also said that he was not going to accept the rationale that parents did not want to send their students to schools with “those” people.

I wonder what percentage of the 12,000 are from low-achieving schools in Los Angeles, and how many are Latino or African American students?

What changed Cortines’ mind? Was it the political pressure brought by the parents who abandoned their neighborhood schools or the pleas of the parents of the 700,000 students who remain?

Brian David Goldberg
Beverly Hills

LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer hopes to keep parents from bolting from LAUSD by promising to “create programs where currently there are no programs.”

At the same time, Supt. Cortines and his board have announced plans to cut funding for LAUSD’s Arts Education Branch by 50% next year and eliminate it entirely the year after -- despite the fact that the Arts Branch is one of the LAUSD’s success stories: a program that brings meaningful, and popular, instruction in the arts to thousands of kids every day.

It strikes me as odd that Zimmer and his colleagues would give lip service to creating new programs to stem the exodus from our schools, even as they slash one of the few programs that makes me proud to send my child to an LAUSD school.

Vince Waldron
Eagle Rock

Making airport runways safer

Re “U.S. critical of report on LAX runways,” April 7

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he opposes a reconfiguration of the north runways at LAX, even though the Federal Aviation Administration has again informed Los Angeles the runways are too close together.

Who knows more about the safety of airports -- the mayor or the FAA, which governs the safety of airports nationwide?

Yes, we can spend money to create separation of runways on the El Segundo side of the airport, even though the noise impacts residents of El Segundo, but we will leave the north runways as-is because L.A. politicians have declared they are safe.

Robert Ambrose
Playa del Rey

The FAA’s stance on aviation safety can best be described as a “Tale of Two Airports.”

On the one hand, the FAA has denounced the NASA panel’s findings that the northern runways at LAX are safe and wants Los Angeles to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on improvements.

The issue seems to be complex and there seems to be room for debate. Certainly NASA thinks so.

Meanwhile, just three miles north, the FAA and the City of Santa Monica are in court because the FAA seeks to stop the implementation of runway safety measures for jets. Unlike at LAX, the safety issues at the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) are clear: Regulations call for a 1,000 foot runway safety buffer. SMO, boxed-in by homes, provides only 300 feet.

The FAA has undermined its credibility on safety at LAX by fighting to keep SMO unsafe.

Phillip Tate
Santa Monica

Westside growth

Re “Final Playa Vista phase approved,” April 7

Twenty-eight hundred homes, a shopping center and office buildings going into the area between Marina del Rey and LAX.

All north-south routes, all streets and the 405 are already gridlocked most of the time -- without this development.

This approval is an assault on every commuter and resident in this region.

How much money changed hands to allow this travesty to win approval by the City Council?

Jeff Greenberg
Beverly Hills