Measure B

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Most of you within the sound of my voice don't live in the city of Los Angeles. That means you may be confused by references in the media to a mysterious controversy called Measure B.

Let me try to help. Measure B is a ballot item that voters in LA will get the chance to approve or reject on March 3.

That's the day that Antonio Villaraigosa will in all likelihood be reelected to a second term as mayor, so he can finally concentrate on running for governor.

Votes will be cast on a dozen or so other offices and ballot questions. But it's Measure B that is generating the most heat, at least among the colony of activists and journalists who follow closely what happens at City Hall.

On its face, Measure B would move the city's electric utility, the Department of Water and Power, into the solar energy business and promote the installation of rooftop panels all over town.

The DWP is under pressure to wean itself off of coal and natural gas. Solar power could help.

But like almost everything that Villaraigosa and the City Council touch, any good intentions were lost in the reek of questionable practices and possible back-room deals.

The mayor and City Council invited skepticism by rushing the measure to the ballot. They included a smelly provision that requires all the solar work be done by members of the union that critics complain all but runs the DWP.

The politicians also skipped a key step -- determining first how much of a hit that Los Angeles residents would take on their electric bills.

Instead they asked residents to trust them. That opened the door to widespread scoffing.

Just about all of the minor candidates running against Villaraigosa have taken to mocking Measure B. They're joined by activists like Ron Kaye, the former editor of the Daily News who promoted Valley secession as a populist cause.

He demonizes the DWP every chance he gets anyway, and he signed the official ballot argument against Measure B.

Even the LA Times has run editorials taking an incredulous tone about the secrecy around Measure B.

It seems to be more about labor peace and politics than about the environment, but even opponents are resigned to voters giving their OK.

All the money is behind the measure, and turnout in the election is expected to be so low that union members alone could influence the outcome.

Now to follow up on a topic from a previous week, the Times has put online its project to map the neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

The project's goals are ambitious. It will be interesting to watch how Times editors figure out which suggestions to incorporate – and perhaps more important, which self-proclaimed experts and special interests to ignore.

It's a partly defensive effort by the Times. The paper often gets locations wrong – not out of malice, but because everyone in LA has their own opinions about where neighborhoods begin and end.

The Times' confusion has only grown worse as the paper has lost many of its staffers with deep LA roots.

One of the relatively few remaining longtimers, Patt Morrison, used her Op-Ed page column this week to chide her own paper for starting to label Silver Lake and Echo Park – and other communities west of the LA River -- as the Eastside.

As a resident of the real Eastside, she protests the defiance of history, logic and geography. She writes that it's a Westsider's version of the Eastside, fake edgy, trying to hip without being scary.

She suggests maybe calling it Leastside. In future weeks, we'll see what comes of the new geography debate.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.