WHO WE ARE-There is no mystery about h ow the largest enclave of middle class life in the nation went from being America’s suburb to being indistinguishable from rest of gritty Los Angeles – soaring poverty, high unemployment, rotting infrastructure, clogged streets and freeways.
It wasn’t an act of God or one of nature’s earthquakes that killed the American dream in the San Fernando Valley. It was the deliberate policies of a city government run amok in its assault on the middle-class, one that began with forced busing in the late 1970s to integrate the schools in what was then a largely white community.
White flight soon became middle-class flight to nearby suburbs as the quality of life declined, the schools became overwhelmed with 90 percent of the children having special needs of one sort or another and the public increasingly feeling so disenfranchised that a majority eventually vote to secede and form a city of their own.
Twenty-five years ago, 70 percent of the Valley’s residents lived in single family homes; barely 40 percent today. Defense, aerospace and auto industries were chased away. The No. 1 industry became pornography and now it’s been run out of town, too. Hundreds of storefronts across the Valley are empty and low-paying service jobs have taken the place of good-paying jobs, and there are not even enough of them.
They claimed it was about race although for the last two censuses, the Valley has the same demographics as the city as a whole and more integrated neighborhoods than any other part of LA despite the ghettoization of so many along the east-west and north-south corridors.
What it was really about was political power and the economic advantages of a narrow class of developers and business leaders with insider status at City Hall.
The bourgeoisie were so annoying, so demanding, so challenging of policies that ignored their values and concerns, so furious with being stuck with the bills while being short-changed on city services and investment. With the departures of Ernani Bernardi and Joel Wachs from the City Council, they were without representation as every other political figure from the Valley was beholden to downtown interests and offered nothing but empty rhetoric to the community.
The moment is now at hand to complete the process of turning LA suburbia into a dense urban environment that has no resemblance to what Valley people want or why they settled there.
Warner Center – thanks to a conspiracy involving the mayor, the councilman and the profiteers in over-development – has been approved for doubling the commercial space to 30 million square feet, exceeding what cities with similar 1.4 million populations have in their downtowns.
It will be a skyscraper city without height limits and with the night sky lit by dozens of blinking digital signs up to 3,200 square feet embedded into buildings and individual signs placed as high as 300 feet into the air.
"It's going to be a first-class destination," said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who represents the area.
"It's open-aired, it's pedestrian-friendly and it's part of the new vision of what this area is going to look like."
After winning approval for the sign ordinance, the shameless councilman who ran for two jobs simultaneously last year, declared: “The important thing is that (the ordinance) has gone through extensive community outreach.”
That is one helluva joke but what else would you expect from a guy as weak and shallow as Blumenfield, who demonstrated how empty his words are when his actions are so different by telling his local newspaper that he “remains cautious” about allowing the digital signs he gave the green-light to.
The community outreach essentially involved getting approval from the Woodland Hills-Warner Center Neighborhood Council which was taken over by pro-development interests like its chair Scott Silverstein, a top Valley realtor and principal in Lee & Associates who boasts on his web page about a recent deal he pulled off on an existing Warner Center property.
With a change to enhance his income appreciably, Silverstein recently expressed his view of the plans for Warner Center, saying: “"We want it to be a full-service urban center out here in the suburban areas of Woodland Hills and the West Valley."
His view was echoed by the NC’s vice chair, Dennis DiBiase, an architect and design expert who could stand to make a few bucks on this deal.
"It's a suburban area that's evolving. It's becoming more urbanized and more dense. This is something unique for the area."
No recognition that the evolution isn’t the choice of the residents but of those on the inside who prosper from it.
The No. 1 player in that category is City Hall itself, which in the last year approved relocating Costco from Roscoe Boulevard to Victory and Topanga, one of the most congested corners in the Valley and handing Westfield shopping centers $60 million in taxpayer money.
The subsidy was intended to help pay for Westfield’s plan to connect its two shopping centers a few hundred yards apart with a massive residential-commercial project that is supposed to emulate what the LA Times this week called “the kind of dense, walkable communities thriving in downtown, Hollywood and other parts of the city.”
“Why is it important to build here? So people don't have to be in traffic for a half-hour, 45 minutes to go someplace else," Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times during a recent tour of the area. "That's bad for them, but it's bad for the rest of us too."
Garcetti proves in those specious words that he is the king of hollow men while Blumenfield is just a boy learning how to tell bald-faced lies that having nothing to do with reality.
Does he mean the salespeople at Westfield’s mall or at Costco are going to move into the thousands of pricey units being built already or to come or maybe the clerks in the office buildings? Perhaps he means the highly-paid executives living in the hills or in Calabasas would prefer to live in a high-rise.
These are people who will say anything to conceal their real game.
The city after decades of sweetheart labor contracts, wasteful and abusive spending and lack of accountability has run out of options.
They put LA up for sale with subsidies to anyone willing to build because without a massive dose of cash, LA will crash.
They have decided they have no choice but to destroy the city in order to save it.
That’s why they okayed a massive football stadium for 10 events a year in the heart of downtown – a project that is still a pipedream – and an expanded Convention Center that has bled the treasury of more than $1 billion over the years and all those massive high-rises and hotels being built on the backs of taxpayers because investors wouldn’t bite without heavy subsidies.
And it’s why the subway to the sea and the light rail lines being built are nothing but a ruse. They aren’t about getting people out of their cars as much as justifying more and more towering buildings without adequate parking near the stations.
Public transit – the Orange Line busway to Warner Center from North Hollywood and Chatsworth – is put forward as a prime justification for the massive expansion plan. Although far more successful dollar for dollar than any other part of the Metro system, the busway was built at surface and only saves six minutes on the rapid bus along Ventura Boulevard.
Even one of the key promoters of this, the so-called non-profit lobbying arm for Warner Center realty interests has questioned whether there is demand for any of this from business or residents.
"The Valley can't try to be something it's not. It has to keep its own personality," said David Allison, chairman of the nonprofit Warner Center Assn. "The groundwork has been laid to create a city center; it's feasible. Now, the question is the market and if there will be demand."
Say what? Billions of dollars is going to be spent by business and the city to transform into a dense urban landscape that will certainly change its character and they don’t even know if there is a demand for it.
Hollywood residents have derailed similar plans for a skyscraper city by coming up with a lot of money to sue the city and so far they’ve been winning case after case.
There is no evidence that the old guard homeowner groups in the Valley or the Neighborhood Councils or the remnants of the activist community are capable of doing the same.
I guess that means we Vals are going to have to look after our interests as well as we can. So anybody want to buy a modest three-bedroom Valley floor house with a swimming pool just a mile from Warner Center and close to the Orange Line? Great location, you can get downtown on public transit in 90 minutes instead of driving there in 45.
(Ron Kaye is a lifetime journalist, writer and political observer. He is the former editor of the Daily News and the founder of the Saving LA Project. He writes occasionally for CityWatch and can be reached at Ron@RonKayeLA.com)
Vol 12 Issue 68
Pub: Aug 22, 2014