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Commentary: BH Vice Mayor Defends Stance and Civility in Metro Battle

John Mirisch submits an op-ed piece to Patch titled "Blow-offs, misrepresentations and self-righteousness: not a great recipe for civility."

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Commentary submitted by Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch.

Having studied the philosophy of language in college, I was struck by of the very Derridean word “catachresis” in a piece attacking me and my stance on Metro’s .

Of course, to paraphrase one of my former professors, Paul de Man, if you’re going to deconstruct and attack an author, it’s probably a good idea to actually read him first.

One of the oldest polemical tricks in the book is to ascribe an unreasonable position to someone who disagrees with you in order to make them seem… well, unreasonable.  It’s the flip side of revisionist history and it sometimes works. Guess that’s why it’s a very old trick in a very old book.

While discussing the subway, someone accused me of being against all change, with the very clear suggestion that all change is good. To disprove this point, I used the very rhetorical example of Iran, where it is clear that the regime change that took place with Ayatollah Khomeini was very bad, something that many of our residents could also personally relate to. OK, all change is not by fiat good: point proven. Let’s now go look at specifics of what we were discussing.

I have always been very specific in my criticism of Metro and have never compared Metro with the Iranian regime and Dr. Kattan is far too smart not to understand this.  But in taking my comment out of context, twisting and turning it and marking it with “P” for “Prejudiced,” he can make his own contentions seem reasonable without actually having to defend them. He can then for the sake of effect, try to lump me together with anti-choice zealots or those who call Obama a “NAZI Communist,” presumably all without fear of invoking Godwin’s law. But there it is, in caps, no less: Dr. Kattan’s mention of Nazis, the perpetrators of the most uniquely shameful, devastating acts in the history of humanity…in connection with an article about the subway.

I suppose if I were him, I’d write: “To bring up Nazis and the Holocaust, that unspeakable, terrible trauma which affected so many BH residents so profoundly is an insult not only to all Holocaust survivors in BH and all Jews, but to all BH residents, to all Americans, as well as to all of humanity.”

I get it, I get it. Sometimes a bit of rhetorical contortionism is necessary to get to the proper tone of good, old-fashioned self-righteous indignation.

In reality, though, it seems to be my criticism of Metro rather than its form which rankles Dr. Kattan; his reality seems to be one in which Metro can do—and does—no wrong, and therein lies the rub.

Not that I’ve shied away from comparisons, mind you: I have on several occasions compared Metro with Franz Kafka’s creations. There just doesn’t seem to be a better adjective to describe Metro’s behavior throughout this whole episode than “Kafkaesque.” Ironically, in the twists and turns he takes to criticize me, there’s not a little bit of Franzi in Shlomy.

But let’s get beyond litcrit and Austro-Hungarian novelists, and let’s, as they once said in old Prague, talk some tacheles, shall we? Let’s examine the whole issue of process, something Dr. Kattan was very glib to dismiss in Metro’s favor, as well as some of his other contentions. While Dr. Kattan is widely acknowledged to be great dancer, unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have done his homework when it comes to deconstructing Metro.

Before the appeared on the map as part of the plans for the current Westside Extension, Metro had numerous meetings with the Beverly Hills Mass Transit committee to discuss all issues surrounding the project. The alignment discussed at these meetings was the original Santa Monica Boulevard alignment, which for numerous reasons . An alignment which would tunnel under the was not discussed with a single word or syllable.

Fast forward to the switch part of Metro’s bait-and-switch, brought on by the changing tides of well-heeled developer-political donors, set against the background of pay-to-play politics, LA-style. Add to that a healthy dose of revisionist history and a smattering of Gaslight and you have Metro’s recipe for dealing with pesky opposition.  Oh, and it doesn’t stop there. Hold , where bureaucrats literally rip the microphone out of the hands of a BH elected official. Hold a kangaroo court hearing where there’s not even a quorum, and have the LA mayor “deputize”—à la South Park—someone off the street as a “Metro board member” in order to get the quorum, which even with this bit of chicanery can’t be sustained for the entire meeting. 

Fortunately, even some connected with Metro recognize just how wrong these methods are: the Metro Board’s current chairman likened the entire process towards Beverly Hills as being akin to “a professional wrestling match, where you know the winner before the match even begins.” And yet somehow, some way, Dr. Kattan purports to know that Metro’s process was fair, unbiased and not pre-determined.  Despite the protestations of Metro’s own chairman. What we have here may just be principled differences on what “due process” and “good local government” are.

As Don LaFontaine once so famously said in the now classic Ginsu knife infomercial: “But, wait; there’s more!” Not only are Dr. Kattan’s underlying assumptions about Metro’s processes way off-base, his argument against the ignores critical facts. He attempts to show that the school population will not grow significantly and, presumably, to “prove” that there will be little or no need for future development on the campus. Yet, very basically, his growth projections fail to take into account that the BHHS campus is already woefully underdimensioned by current CDE standards. The campus is around 24 acres and is home to about 2,000 students. CDE standards would mandate a campus with around double the acreage—and that’s without any student population growth whatsoever.

The fact is that neither Dr. Kattan, nor Metro, nor any of us can say what the more distant future needs of the School District will be and it is simply imprudent to handcuff future school boards from best being able to serve future generations of school children. All the more so, since there are other viable alternatives. Metro adjusted their plans to make sure that future development of commercial sites in Century City wouldn’t be impeded. Why is Dr. Kattan so quick to oppose our efforts to safeguard the school’s future viability? Why does Dr. Kattan not feel that this same courtesy should be afforded to a public institution serving a purely educational purpose? One has to wonder…

Dr. Kattan makes the suggestion that the Council and School Board should sit down with Metro and try to work out a solution, and by fiat blames Beverly Hills for the inability to communicate. Dr. Kattan’s claims that the City doesn’t work well with other government agencies are both singularly misinformed and misleading. We work on various levels with numerous other governmental agencies, everything from the Department of Homeland Security to the regional sanitation board to the Metropolitan Water District (where we are founding members, and—in stark opposition to LA’s Chinatown past—had nothing to do with the theft of water from the Owens Valley). And yet in pointing the finger at BH, Dr. Kattan seems unaware not only of the specifics about how we got to where we are in this case, but also about Metro’s checkered history of not listening to the concerns of local communities. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be aware of any of Metro’s failings—everything from consent decrees based on Metro’s civil rights violations, botched transit opportunities like the Green Line’s failure to go all the way to LAX, a VA station which runs counter to Metro’s own stated goals in building the Westside Extension, not to mention ongoing and serious safety issues, etc. etc. Instead Dr. Kattan uses another rhetorical trick which aims at trivializing any criticism leveled at the agency. By referring to “big bad Metro,” Dr. Kattan clearly attempts to deflect criticism of Metro—without going into any specifics—by trying to make any criticism of the agency seem by fiat unreasonable. How convenient.

And yet, he ignores the fact that the City of BH has approached Metro numerous times with numerous . Of course, all we’ve gotten back in response are excuses to say “no” rather than reasons to say “yes.” Their response has been somewhat of a consistent, constant reptilian refrain of rote rejection. As one of the Metro board members so eloquently stated: “If you don’t like it, sue us.”

Well, we did, and it is most unfortunate. Dr. Kattan evidently doesn’t realize that lawsuits are a last resort and are happening precisely because Metro’s mind has been made up from the moment the political winds blew in a certain direction, and they thought, that like so many other communities, BH would simply roll over and let itself be violated.

Many may believe the and propaganda which aim to trash BH; admittedly, it’s pretty easy to take cheap shots at BH because of the stereotypes, and Dr. Kattan does not shy away from doing so himself. When I wrote that BH can serve as a light unto other cities by protecting the principles of local control and stopping Metro from some of their non-responsive techniques going forward, he suggests: “In fact, there is nothing more out-of-touch than the belief that the City of Beverly Hills can align itself with the little guy.”

Is he kidding? While it’s true that the stereotype makes it difficult to portray ourselves as the “little guy,” it’s just that: a stereotype, and something which one would hope Dr. Kattan would have the good sense to look beyond. It’s as if he thinks that all of the prejudice-based NIMBY attacks on BH are kosher. Maybe Dr. Kattan is unaware of the demographic make-up of the community in which he lives, but BH is not just a self-absorbed enclave of the über-rich. Sixty-eight percent of our residents are renters, many of whom make serious sacrifices to live here so they can send their kids to our schools. And, yes, we care deeply about education and our schools.

No, BH is not an island, but we are our own distinct, separate community and what may be right for LA or neighboring communities when it comes to, for example, development, may not be right for BH. That’s what local control is all about and why respect for it is critical within regional cooperation. We should be able to continue to work for the regional good and also represent our own interests without shame or fear; good policy comes from the ground up, not from the top down.

While there have been hyperbolic claims on both side of this issue, I myself have continued to focus on the basics going back almost two years, including many articles which are still on line and available for deconstruction. Among them, and for all of Dr. Kattan’s inexplicable protestations of proper process, as if lucha libre is a real sport, was one where I had the foresight to write over a year ago about how the fix was in. It seems that life imitated my article, as if straight from a Borges short story. 

You see, we don’t need hyperbole: the prospect of being violated by a massive government agency which refuses to listen to anything but its own echo chamber of special interests is quite enough. And our tale is not unique. There are indeed other communities and groups which have been treated the same way or worse and feel the same way as we do. Something is broken with Metro’s process and is in dire need of a fix—and not the kind of fix that Metro is evidently used to and which I refer to in my earlier article.

Whether it be in the realm of mass transit or public employee pensions or the proper police treatment of the mentally ill, we need and deserve good public policy which does not kowtow to special interests, but is respectful of local concerns and a diversity of opinions on what urban life is all about, not simply a gruff, arrogant and unfounded dismissal of those concerns.

In the tradition of the Jewish religion, one of the most offensive things that someone can do is not to acknowledge another individual’s own sovereign existence. This goes to the very core of incivility. If you’re greeted with “Sholem aleichem,” the proper response is “Aleichem sholem.” If Dr. Kattan would truly like to encourage a civil discussion among all stakeholders, perhaps he would start by encouraging Metro as well as its cast of supporters and surrogates to try to engage in true “I-Thou” dialogue with the BHUSD in the most Buberesque way possible.

Whereas we in Beverly Hills on numerous occasions have said “Sholem aleichem,” their response to us has been in so many ways: “Zullst nor voxen a trolley car im boach.” Pretty much literally. It’s almost as if the linguistic genius who coined the imprecation had Metro in mind when she came up with it.

Civility starts in taking the concerns of others seriously and in being willing to engage in true dialogue with real solutions, not in Lucha-Va-Voom, special interest-infused, rigged decision-making. In making the case for civility, either through choice or neglect, Dr. Kattan himself has been completely dismissive of the real concerns of the BHUSD and City Council. I invite him, rather than engaging in smug moralizing, to start promoting true, meaningful civility by acknowledging those concerns as the basis for dialogue, just as Beverly Hills understands and supports the goals of effective and sensible mass transit. Here is where true civility must begin if it is to be anything more than a hollow buzzword of PC clichés. 

Sholem aleichem, Dr. Kattan.

John Mirisch
Beverly Hills Vice Mayor

centurycitysubway.org July 18, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Cutop: Has anyone "debunked" the LA Weekly article that highlighted the significant connectsions between JMB and Mayor Villaraigosa? You can read that article right here: http://www.laweekly.com/2011-07-14/news/beverly-hills-versus-the-westside-subway/ And for the record, my paycheck has nothing to do with the facts that we've repeated time and time again. It's unfortunate that you and other Constellation shills refuse to consider the facts for what they are and merely want to engage in name calling.
cutop July 18, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Wow! You call me a "shill" and then say how all of this name calling is unfortunate, especially in the comment section of an article which supposed espouses civility all the while the author belittles his opponents character and unapologetically denies the gross incivility on the Iranian people which he has perpetrated. I am not offended by your mischaracterization; just blown away by the ignorance of your hypocrisy. By the by, a shill is a person who gives the public the impression that he/she is an enthusiastic independent supporter of the person/organization who/which is paying them. I am just a regular ol' independent citizen of Beverly Hills. I am not paid to influence any ones opinion about the subway or anything else related to our fair village. You obviously can't say the same. So when I call you a shill, it's because that exactly what you are. A shill. A PR stooge paid to influence our opinions. And the reason why you are here repeating what you call "facts" - trying to entrap people with circular logic and scarecrow arguments - is because that's exactly what you are paid to do. The reason why I am here is because of completely personal reasons; chiefly that I am sick and tired of the rouse which Mirisch, the Southwest Homeowners Association, and the Beverly Hills Courier have been playing with my community. I still note that you don't deny the Southwest Homeowners Association's involvement, motivation, and political ties with Mirisch. And a good day to you.
James Fontaine July 18, 2012 at 02:49 AM
He says, "Yet, very basically, his growth projections fail to take into account that the BHHS campus is already woefully underdimensioned by current CDE standards. The campus is around 24 acres and is home to about 2,000 students. CDE standards would mandate a campus with around double the acreage—and that’s without any student population growth whatsoever." West Adams High school opened in 2008, has 6.7 acres, with 2172 students. Hollywood High School, has 14 acres, and around 2000 students. SAMO is 33 acres, with 3500 students. University High School has 24 acres, 2400 students. Are you saying all of these schools do not meet the so-called "CDE standards" of campus size? Why would CDE continue to approve smaller schools with more students? What are you talking about!? "underdimensioned" isn't even a WORD!!!! WHo is this guy!!?!??!? Quit trying to mess things up for everyone else. This project is for the greater good of the city! This article only further alienates the city of BH. Go ahead, use your 1%er backing to try and stop it.
Mark Elliot July 18, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Since we're talking shills, I think that there is a key distinction to be made among campaign donors, those paid to promote or lobby on an issue, and the unpaid or who have an otherwise non-financial interest. Lobbyists and donors require disclosure (the latter within limits) but the paid promoters (e.g., 'astroturf' grassroots and the like) should be labeled as such. I think the truth on JMB is not either/or but both/and. I read the Streetsblog piece that clarified the opponents' claims and rebutted them, but I'm also cognizant that big rail investments raise the value of land in a wide radius. Combine it with a zone change (Villaraigosa has been very clear about up-zoning transit-proximate parcels) and I suspect that JMB knows them chickens will hatch. If we can agree on anything, it's that the Ginsu was one heck of a knife, and that commercial really had staying power. As an experiment I should post on Patch about the Gunsu, and see how long before the thread takes a Metro turn. It's a parlor game to be played with cat videos or almost anything!
joninla August 02, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I gave up on your gibberish about 2/3 of the way through. Put simply - after the absolutely insane video the anti-tunnelers made up with the ridiculous totally imaginary pyrotechnic poorly done special effects that I think come close to the exception to the Freedom of Speech such as yelling "fire" in a crowded movie house ..... Or making a video of a local school being destroyed in huge explosive flames and with the rhetoric that was made by a person with an educational degree (big deal, I have one too, but don't use it for street cred alone) that was designed to scare and frighten local Beverly Hills Residents, especially parents of Children going to or will go to the outrageous depiction of a massive explosion being such an imminent threat (but not so bad as to build a multistory under ground parking garage or future underground campus as one of the prior stupid changing reasons to stop the tunnel) .... Whatever any offensive, politically incorrect, comparative to the worst of world history's despots .... any person may feel like making about the "crazy" insistence that the leaders of the anti-tunnel movement seems more than fair game in the self destructive and financially devastating on-going (and now actual litigation) is well within the rational norms of your commitment to your irrational 'to the death NO TUNNEL' psyche that spews forth yet again in the latest rant. GET A GRIP!!

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