THE VIEW FROM HERE - Los Angeles has no legacy of democracy. The city government does not even attempt to have the traditional separation of powers since the city makes the laws and then enforces its laws or ignores its own laws.
While the state judiciary is theoretically separate from the city and county governments, it has become corrupt from the top to the bottom and only a fool would think the state courts would reign in corruption. That’s why almost every court decision constraining the city’s excesses derives from the federal court (not that it is a paragon of honesty).
Los Angeles is structured similar to a 12th century feudal society. It has 15 fiefdoms, called districts. Each fiefdom’s princeling has total say within his/her fiefdom. Unlike European feudalism, however, the power of the princelings does not derive from the mayor, but rather from their Vote Trading System. Each councilmember is required to vote Yes on any project which another councilmember places on the city council agenda. This establishes a Quid pro Quo system, which Penal Code § 86 criminalized as a form of bribery. The princelings need not worry about violating the law since Judge Richard Fruin ruled in December 2016, that the city council is de facto above-the-law and need not worry about the penal code. His legalese term was the council’s actions are “non-justiciable.”
Like Feudalism, Landowners are in Control
Similar to most feudal societies, a cadre of landowners are in control. A landowner can ignore the law and construct whatever he wishes provided he strikes a deal with the district’s princeling. Thus, Los Angeles has been become the most crowed urban area in the nation. 2010, Access, What Density Doesn’t Tell Us About Sprawl by Eric Eidlin. That fact, however, misses the core of Los Angeles’s feudal corruption.
Unlike an agrarian society where huge tracts of land are necessary for wealth, in Los Angeles, great land wealth derives from owning small patches of land and then greatly over-building on those few lots. In a farming society, the serfs need lots of land on which to grow crops and then pay a portion to the princeling as their rent. In urban feudalism, however, wealth derives from loading up as many units as possible on the smallest plot of land. The greater the density, the greater the rents. Also, destroying the homeowner class and forcing the population to become renters prevents renters from gaining equity in their homes.
Los Angeles is in the process of killing off its homeowner class and shifting to a renter population. Wall Street has even taken to buying up single family homes and keeping them off the re-sale market. Instead, it rents out the homes, while pushing densification of single-family areas with measures like ADU’s (Auxiliary Dwelling Units, Granny Flats). The state legislature and woker Judge David O. Carter are pushing for mixed-use projects in single family neighborhoods. Such proposals increase the cost of R-1 homes since a lot which can have an ADU or a mixed-use project is monetized at a much higher sale value than its use as family home with a yard.
Thus, both ADUs and mixed-use affordable housing projects in R-1 areas raise the cost of houses and drive more Family Millennials out of Los Angeles. This dynamic is a major way developers are ridding LA of homeowners and turning the city into a renter population.
As UCLA’s Lewis Institute showed, as LA became a renter society, the quality of life eroded. For the city council’s princelings, the quality of life has no monetary value, which is why Los Angeles region again has the worst air pollution. (Los Angeles Has Most Polluted Air in Us Despite 6% Improvement in 2021, Wednesday, March 23, 2022)
Caveat: Air quality is complex. The relationship between population density and air quality varies according to the type of density. Los Angeles is a gigantic geographic area with over 5,000 square miles. Mathematically it has been proven that no intra-urban mass transit system can function in the LA area. Thus, creating dense core areas like DTLA, Bunker hill, Century City, West LA, and now Hollywood means they cannot be served by mass transit. People will not use subways or fixed rail transit if they have to walk more than ½ mile to a station. The topography of the Los Angeles Basin and the vast areas beyond means that it is impossible to construct a mass transit system which has stations within ½ mile of people’s homes. The best mass transit system has only buses and perhaps Ubers. The reason buses seem not to function is excessive density which creates horrible traffic congestion. (When one adds walking to and from the bus stop and the extra stops the bus has to make and the inconvenience of arranging your life to the bus schedule, even the bus is far from optimal.)
If Los Angeles had no DTLA, Bunker Hill, etc., but instead all types of land use were decentralized and the city de-densified, then the traffic congestion would significantly decrease. While buses will always be less convenient than a car, they would function far better in a de-densified urban area. For one thing, most of the offices which are in DTLA etc. would be spread all over, especially towards the peripheries.
Why Angelenos Have No Voice in Government
Serfs never have a voice. The councilmember princelings want to be re-elected and paying attention to Quality of Life guarantees no financial support. Densification concentrates money in the hands of the few, while Quality of Life requires de-densification, i.e. sprawl. Angelenos are steadily becoming poorer as densification funnels money upwards to the 1%. A family who pays $1.5M for a house, which is only worth $400,000, carries an extra $1 M mortgage and all that money leaves the family and goes to Wall Street. The same happens with renters. The exorbitant rents pay the landlords’ mortgages, taking money away from the renters’ families and putting it into Wall Street’s pockets.
As Rick Caruso shows, developer money prevails. Don’t think Caruso’s ads are truthful. April 24, 2022, CityWatch, Former LAPD Chief Parks' Responds To LA Times / Rick Caruso’s Claim, by [former LAPD chief] Bernard Parks Once elected, mayors and councilmembers do what the developers want. The only difference with Caruso is that he is King of the LA Developers. Even if a particular councilmember should not promote a single horrid mixed-use project, each princeling still is obligated to vote Yes on every other overly dense project.
There is an alternate structure for city government which would stop the developer corruption and guarantee that more varied interests would be elected to the LA City Council. February 7, 2016, Zwartz Talk, The Corruption Eradicator, The 3/15/45 City Council Angelenos, however, have never shown interest in self-government. They prefer to elect a Big Boss Man to run the show.
(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor. You may email him at [email protected])