The California Dream Has Been Canceled: There Is No Los Angeles Anymore!

EASTSIDER-The other day I was sitting on the freeway on the way to see a friend in Santa Monica, and after 1 1/2 hours of getting from Glassell Park to the beach, I realized that the LA I grew up in and around is gone, gone, gone. 

Lincoln Heights is still doable on surface streets, but El Sereno is a push, Boyle Heights takes some serious time, and even Pico Union is a stretch. As for the Valley, good luck. How about over 30 minutes to NoHo, which is less than 10 miles?                                                       

My point is not to bemoan the “good old days,” but is note that even within the last 20 years Los Angeles has fundamentally changed. Back around 2000, when Neighborhood Councils were new, you could still get around and visit some of them without too much hassle. The LANCC meetings over at the LA Community College off Melrose and Vermont attracted over 100 people at their monthly meetings in the mid-2000s. 

And the participants came from all over the City: the Valley, Northeast LA, the Westside, South Central, San Pedro, you name it. For most of us, the drive took less than 30 minutes. 

Part of the problem is historic. Los Angeles is constantly reinventing itself, tearing everything down and building new visions. As Kevin Starr noted in the preface to his Inventing the Dream  book about California, “…the California of fact and the California of imagination shape and reshape each other.” 

A former USF (University of San Francisco) professor, he was also the California State Librarian, and his series of books are referred to as a whole by the title, “Americans and the American Dream.” Good stuff. 

Anyway, in our current iteration of this cycle, developers and their monied investors have yet again systematically torn down and replaced most of the iconic buildings and landmarks of the old Los Angeles, aided and abetted by elected officials. Of course, that’s nothing new, as readers of Kenneth Starr’s multivolume history already know. 

As many of my CityWatch colleagues have been pointing out, the developers make a bundle and the elected officials often get elected or re-elected thanks to the deep pockets of developers and their handlers, lobbyists, attorneys, and hidden owners. This would seem to be California’s business as usual. 

So What’s New? 

The current iteration is different. The transit system buildup of Metro’s light rail and bus network was designed to get us out of our cars with “Transit Oriented” development corridors, but it largely doesn’t work. 

You still can’t get from point A to point B in LA without either a car or infinite patience, which means that you can’t hold down a regular job if they expect you to be at work on time. 

Angelenos still need their cars to cope, and cutting back on parking spaces, limiting parking spaces in new developments and screwing up traffic patterns for bike lanes is more of a science fiction fantasy than a real vision. 

 Bus ridership is down and people are buying more cars. Get over it. 

As near as I can tell, the main result of the City Council’s bicycle mantra has been to produce a number of recall attempts of councilmembers due to their messing around with existing streets. It’s also resulted in record awards in wrongful injury cases where the poor bike riders are maimed or killed. 

Unfortunately, with rapid development in the name of “affordable housing,” it has simply become harder to go to and from the various neighborhoods we live in. 

What the Heck Happened? 

When I was young, it took about 20 minutes from Laurel Canyon to UCLA on surface streets. Try that now. t took less than thirty minutes from LACC on Vermont to Santa Monica by freeway. Now it’s over an hour from Glassell Park. Magic Mountain was about 20 minutes; now my friends in Santa Clarita are over an hour away. 

I could go on, but the main point is that many of us who were friends from years past simply don’t see each other except on special occasions. Our neighborhoods have become less and less neighborhoods and more and more enclaves where folks retreat after spending a big chunk of their day dealing with congested streets, potholes, busted sidewalks and the wrong trees planted by the City a long time ago. 

To make it worse, now the City of Los Angeles wants you and I to pay for the sidewalks they screwed up and they are nowhere to be found when the trees they planted fall down in bad weather. Rock on, civic integrity. 

The reality is that the Dream Has Ended. We ran out of the endless land that the city was built on; we’re living on external water supplies to feed our desert and the new vision of putting us in small lot subdivisions with virtually no land or open spaces is turning us into lab rats running around in Skinner Boxes. 

This is not good, and the Mayor’s denial of reality does not alter that truth. For the Neighborhood Council system (you knew I’d get around to that, right?) I think it makes it both more important and more fragile. 

When the various neighborhoods don’t interact as much as they used to, each Neighborhood Council is more critical to the whole. At the same time, when there is less interaction between Neighborhood Councils, it is easier to divide and marginalize individual Councils. 

Let’s pray the City Council cleans up DONE, and let’s hope that the developers go away. After all, there is no affordable housing left in LA. Regular folks I know who once had what used to be called middle class jobs can’t afford rent, much less the prices for so-called affordable housing. Something’s gotta change. 

And then, of course, there’s the tooth fairy.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and s a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.