LA in Decline … and in Denial Too

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MAILANDER’S LA-It looks very bad, bad for the City of Los Angeles--the patient may not even be able to turn it around.  And predictably, while the patient remains in denial about its own afflictions, the media hounds indulged the wounded laying there on the gurney, calling into question the relevancy of the diagnoses. 

The grim picture of LA is offered in a blue-ribbon commission report entitled "A Time for Truth."  The report is from the thirteen member LA 20/20 Commission, headed by former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and local financier and do-gooding public servant Austin Beutner.

That truth, the report says, is that Los Angeles is in decline.  Profound decline.  It's an LA barely with an economic pulse. 

“I didn’t learn anything from this,” Steve Soboroff, Los Angeles Police Commission president, told the Daily News's Dakota Smith of the report. “This is stuff that has been out there,” he added smugly. 

The Mayor's spokesman Yusef Robb also got his defensive say, as did City Council President Herb Wesson.  The Times pieces talked to pretty much the same government folks. 

I admit that the stuff has indeed already been out there.  Last February, I sent a copy of my own title from last year, "Days Change at Night: Notes on LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013" to a lot of City Hall city-watchers in media.  Local media greeted the book like a wet cardboard lunchbox, failing even to acknowledge its existence. 

So this is stuff that has been "out there"--at a pitch only canines can hear--but it would be helpful if media mentioned it more, rather than relying so much on the very people they are supposed to be dogging for their news copy about the condition of the City of Los Angeles.

As it happens, Mickey Kantor is already unpopular and even out of favor in LA. That doesn't mean this commission--which includes not only unlikely herd-rider Beutner but IBEW boss Brian D'Arcy too--is wrong about very much at all. Statistics are statistics, and these are macro-stats that paint a picture of undeniable decline, over-reliant on a diminishing tax base to pay for astonishingly generous City pensions. 

It was, in fact, completely ironic that the same day the Commission announced its diagnosis, Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrated a Federal government windfall of up to $500 million dollars, spread out over ten years, to fix an LA "Promise Zone." 

That's our leader, always looking to taxpayers rather than business receipts as the solution for our money woes.  He is doing it with the LA River project and he's doing it with the Promise Zone.  He cares nothing for our aerospace bones and little for industry.  He loves unprofitable startups, which he calls "incubators."

Tech Coast? Absent entertainment, we're well on our way to becoming Appalachia West. 

The worst chart in the Commission's report for my own money is the jobs chart early on.  I also don't see that this chart is very much "out there."  If I were a Mayor and saw it, I'd be looking at way to grow jobs by some means other than public works contracts, typically won by out-of-city contractors.

It turns out that Los Angeles is the worst performing job creator of all major US cities since 1992.  Worse, it is also, one sees at a glance, the worst performing job creator since 2000 as well.  Which means arch-capitalist Riordan did no better than bolshevik-lites Hahn and Villaraigosa did at growing jobs.

But also, one thing that the report does not state directly was the sudden brain drain impact of white flight after the devastating riot of 1992. Remember those days? The question you heard nurses, accountants, artists, and other professionals and para-professionals asking, time and time again before splitting town, was, "Was it always this bad, or did it just happen?" The riot genuinely took LA's suburban white middle class--which defined the civic life of the city for so long--by complete surprise, and many opted for points north.

Complementing the quietude surrounding the flight of white professionals in the early 90's is a weak performance from former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

Solis was evidently supposed to be the gang of thirteen's Muhammad Yunus, the micro-thinker on the panel. If I have a larger criticism of the report, it's that micro-economics is not nearly enough of a part of it.  Because it is in this realm that we are devoting so much political energy to so little result, and we should be able to see how from this report, but we don't. 

Most Angelenos have little faculty for distinguishing between macro and micro economic reasoning--a fact that is made obvious every day to anyone who has actually had an econ course.  Most Angelenos have rather been persuaded over the past two decades of profound poverty pandering--especially from a small subset of Latino leaders who erroneously and arrogantly presume to speak for all Latinos--that improving conditions for street vendors and car wash laborers not only stands for racial harmony and social justice but constitutes economic opportunity at a civic level, and is thereby a worthy objective of political focus. 

But Solis is a different kind of leader than this, and I expected more in the report regarding evaluating LA's problems in terms of a misappropriation of Latino political mobilization. 

For years and years, I've worked side by side Latinos in great job positions.  I know Latinos as bankers, attorneys, accountants, doctors, editors, and many other kinds of professionals.  And I know these are not anomalies.

But when you think of what Jose Huizar, Felipe Fuentes, Gil Cedillo, Nury Martinez and Monica Garcia are mostly offering their constituencies in the realm of hope and economic progress, you too typically see not a message of professional esteem, but a si-se-puede-styled pandering mostly targeted to immigrants and bottom-rung laborers, reducing all economics issues to concerns for something they call "social justice." 

How to help bottom-rung laborers makes for a good micro-economic discussion.  But it should not be the top economic discussion in any community in Los Angeles. However, too often in Los Angeles it the top discussion in any Latino community. Wendy Greuel even tried to make it the defining point of her failed campaign in its waning, desperate days. 

So the fact that we don't have much of an honest discussion in this report about what is going on in LA's Latino political class, let alone a discussion of the profound economic bifurcation that exemplifies it, is not to Solis's credit.  Nor is the fact that the report doesn't get into the enormous and often racially-tinged problems facing LA's failing schools nearly enough. 

This is, in short, despite Solis's participation, a nearly entirely white report on an entirely polyglot pueblo.  I wonder if it was even translated into Spanish at all.

For good measure, the Kantor committee actually threw into the report something on Neighborhood Councils. It stopped just short of calling them a sham on the public.

"Neighborhood Councils," the report admonished, "established to increase community input, sit in a sort of never-never land, their resources cut and mission not clearly defined.  This is but one example of LA's inability to balance legitimate community input while special interest and nimbyism reign."

Meanwhile, LA's other top question--what have publishers done to LA media that makes them think so narrowly, that makes them automatically run to government officials for immediate counters to government criticism--remains another pressing question.

Unfortunately, it's likely a question the LA 20/20 Commission isn't likely to engage when forming its recommendations in three months.

 

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 10, 2014

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