The Late Great Los Angeles

REQUIEM FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS IN LA-Golden ages fade and the glory that was Rome is no more. When did Romans first realize that their fate had been sealed? I suppose some Romans still don’t admit it. After all, the city is still there. 

When did Los Angeles transition from being the nation’s premier destination city to being our number one exodus city? Do such things actually have definitive dates? Probably not. 

Two things are clear: (1) Los Angeles has turned the corner and is well on the road to decay, and (2) on November 8, 2016, it will pass the point of no return. 

The most fatal blows to Los Angeles have happened over the last decade, especially as the Family Millennials have realized over the past few years that starting a family in a cramped apartment next to a freeway in one the world’s worst school districts was not the best course for them. 

Not only does Los Angeles have the worst traffic in America and Europe, but its infrastructure has decayed and we lack the money to repair roads, sidewalks and water mains without billions in higher taxes. The courts have taken the decisions out of our hands. The City lost a $1.3 billion lawsuit to repair sidewalks last summer. The City had ten years’ warning that this bill was coming and that it needed to tend to its infrastructure, but chose instead to give its tax dollars to real estate speculators. 

As child is told, a stitch in time saves nine. But unfortunately, giving hundreds of millions of available dollars to councilmembers’ developer cronies prevented us from repairing our infrastructure at a time when the cost would have been much lower. 

We have seen what happens when the government fails to tend to business. California had decades to fix its criminal justice system, but the construction companies that built the prisons and the prison guard union that staffed the prisons wanted more and more incarceration. Law and order judges, looking to get promoted, railroaded more and more people into prison. So, money went into locking up people rather than for programs to reduce crime in the first place. Then, the federal courts stepped in and told us we had to reduce the prison populations. 

As a result, we have started releasing criminals into our communities and this November we are being asked to release more criminals in order to relieve prison overcrowding. The government officials had decades to jettison the brutal system which essentially manufactured hardened criminals. But that was called being “soft on crime.” So, we made the prisons worse which made the inmates more lethal upon their release. We could have devised a system like Germany or Israel that did not brutalize inmates. But reform cost money and places like Los Angeles had different priorities.   

In Los Angeles, the number one purpose of the City Council is to divert as much revenue to the real estate speculators as possible with no regard as to how much harm that does to the rest of society. The City knew its policies were driving businesses away, but nothing deterred the endless gifts to the developer cronies of the LA City Council. Other business people know that LA provided them one of two unacceptable futures: (1) a city with a wrecked infrastructure or (2) a city with considerably higher taxes and fees to repair the infrastructure. Eventually, Los Angeles got both. 

What rational person wants to stay in a city with horrible schools, a decayed infrastructure, and a corrupt city government that runs Los Angeles like a feudal fiefdom? Our city council is so corrupt that everything passes unanimously -- it operates according to an illegal vote trading deal in which each councilmember agrees to always vote “Yes” for any project another council member wants; in return, he will vote “Yes” for every other city councilmember’s project. That’s why everything passes unanimously. Just read Penal Code 86 -- yes, it is very hard to read, but you will see that it criminalizes the way the Los Angeles City Council operates. 

Don’t expect the courts to do anything -- the judges know on which side their bread is buttered. Otherwise, this criminal enterprise would not have been operating for over a decade! 

The cost of housing in Los Angeles is sky high and we know the reason. The Villaraigosa and Garcetti Administrations launched a war on single family detached homes. Look at the ratio of land cost to construction costs for single family homes in Los Angeles versus the ratio in Dallas. In Dallas land-construction costs are about 1:9, but in much of Los Angeles, it is nearly flipped, e.g. 6:1 (San Francisco allegedly has 8:1.) No city where land to construction costs are close to 5:1 can house a middle class population. The population splits between hordes of poor and a few elite and we are left with a diminutive middle class. 

The biggest fraud is the claim that we need to construct apartments to satisfy housing demand. There is virtually no demand for apartments. In fact, we have a glut of apartments. The only people who benefit from apartments are the people who own the land on which apartments are constructed. We could build one million apartments in Hollywood and it would do nothing to solve the lack of affordable detached homes. 

Family Millennials who want a home with a yard with a few fruit trees and decent schools where criminals don’t prowl the streets move away from Los Angeles. You can build two million apartments in Hollywood and the Family Millennials will move away faster. For Los Angeles, Density is Death. 

The idea that we should construct subways and train systems to convey more people into the Basin is absurd. The main problem with LA is that we located far too much office space in DTLA, in Bunker Hill and in Century City. Why would any rational Millennial double his or her commute time with a train ride when he orshe can simply move to Nashville and purchase a nice home at 1/3 the price? 

Los Angeles has known for over 100 years that trying to retain office space in the Basin was a disastrous option. Subways and trains do not shorten the commute time. The Garcetti Administration feeds us bogus figures by omitting the time it takes to walk to the subway and then to walk to the office. They ignore the lack of flexibility when you cannot stop at the gym on your way home from the office or you cannot pick up your dry cleaning. Subways do not detour three blocks to Ralph’s if you need a few items for dinner. 

The claim that freeway commute times will be 15% less is a lie. If one thinks that the Garcetti Administration would not tell outright lies, one needs only to read Judge Goodman’s January 2014 decision on the Hollywood Community Plan case where he said that Garcetti’s data was “fatally flawed” and “wishful thinking”; that’s polite legalese for “a pack of lies.” 

Fixed rail transit is for poor people – that’s the main reason people who drive cars will vote for Measure M. They have been deceived into thinking that the poor people will use the subways and light rail lines, making the freeways less crowded. Guess what? The freeways and surface streets will be more crowded if Measure M passes. Here’s why: 

As soon as they pass a multi-billion dollar bond to construct a subway, we will face a multi-billion dollar annual operating deficit over and above what it costs to construct the subways. NYC’s subway runs at an operational annual deficit of $8 billion. Right now, the entire LA City budget is $8 billion. 

NYC’s subway runs that huge deficit and look how crowded Manhattan is. That’s the choice the Garcetti Administration is giving Angelenos -- an unbearable multi-billion annual deficit or turn Hollywood, Westwood and Reseda into Manhattan. But, if we did super-densify those areas, we’d still have an unbearable operating deficit. It is simple math. Only by increasing population density near the subways to Manhattan levels is there any hope of having enough people live close enough to the subways to reduce such a large operating deficit. 

Thus, as soon as people approve mass transit, the city will claim we need tens of thousands more people per square mile in order to pay for the subways, trolleys and trains. If more people do move into apartments near subways and train stations, they will bring their cars with them, greatly increasing traffic congestion. That is why Judge Chalfant threw out the Millennium Towers in Hollywood – it would make traffic congestion on the streets and the 101 Freeway unbearable. 

The reality is that Garcetti cannot force people to stay in LA with its horrible schools and escalating crime when the middle class can simply move to Austin, Texas or Atlanta, Georgia or Nashville, Tennessee and get a better job and a wonderful home in a crime free area with an excellent school system. 

Sad to say, the polls indicate the voters will pass Measure M; and they will approve Housing Measures JJJ and HHH giving billions of dollars to developers to cram more and more dense apartments into Hollywood, Valley Village, Boyle Heights and the West Side, etc. As long as you’re relatively young, single and still renting, that’s fine. If you’re family age and middle class, you can simply move away, leaving a declining tax base to pay the ever heavier taxes that are deterring new businesses from coming to Los Angeles. The vicious downward spiral has already begun -- Los Angeles has lost more businesses than any other urban area. That’s what it means to be an exodus city. 

The decision that Los Angeles is no longer a viable place for a family has been made thousands of times over the last several years and it is clear the exodus will accelerate as more Millennials enter the family age range. Passage of these ballot measures on November 8 will only hasten their departure.


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.