Draining the Los Angeles Swamp
Although most of us are acquainted with one or two reasonable and intelligent people who, on Election Day, found a way to rationalize their fears and resentments into a vote for a genuinely vile person, Los Angeles, by and large, didn’t go for Trump. We like to think we’re “better” than that.
As he and his parade of hilariously unqualified cabinet appointees descend on Washington this week, many folks here are in a state of depression resembling near-catatonia. His policies are not our policies. His attitudes toward women, Mexicans and Muslims are not our attitudes. His values are not ours.
Trump’s concept of “drain the swamp” is to fill it with toxic chemicals in the form of climate deniers and billionaire bribers (hundred-million-dollar contributors to the Republican privatization efforts, that is). Here on the West Coast, we shake our head and snicker; we wonder aloud what has become of our country; and we thank our lucky stars that we live in a state, and a city, that appears at first blush to be far more enlightened than other parts of the country, where greedy oligarchs earn admiration, not disgust.
Alas, when you poke around the edges of our local government, or, heaven forbid, engage yourself in research, you find a metropolis currently playing by the same rules that made Trump rich: pay-off the right politicians, call it a “donation,” and get your development project approved with spot zoning variances. Los Angeles is in the midst of a worse-than-ever housing crisis, with nearly 50,000 homeless, living in tents and boxes, and countless more working people with fewer affordable places to live. The problem is reaching epidemic proportions. Yet, instead of addressing the problem, our builders (job creators!) and city planners (honest civil servants) continue to erect “multi-use” towers with retail on the bottom and condominiums on top, sporting rents that are out of reach for almost anyone who did the actual construction labor. Based on the number of (mostly empty) new buildings going up in Hollywood and other desirable areas — and the number of hideous boxy mansions wrecking historic neighborhoods — you would think Los Angeles is in the midst not of a housing crisis but a luxury housing crisis.
The problem is our Mayor, Eric Garcetti. The problem is our City Council. The problem is that they don’t seem interested or willing to behave like grown-ups, adults who follow the rules and treat everyone, not just their cronies, with respect and dignity. Hundreds — hundreds — of lawsuits are pending against the city, costing taxpayers millions of dollars that would be better spent building low-income housing. Why must citizens sue their leaders, seeking the courts as a sanctuary from the mayhem being done to Los Angeles? Because our elected leaders are naughty children, and they need a time out.
On March 7, Garcetti, an establishment neo-liberal and Clinton boy, is expected to be re-elected, because the money favors him. (He will not be getting our vote). But there’s another contest to be decided that might be even more important than the mayoralty. On March 7, we’ll have a chance to vote “Yes” and pass Measure S, the initiative to save our neighborhoods from further desecration by greedy builders and their lapdogs in government.
Measure S is backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, sponsors of last election’s most ridiculous Proposition, the one mandating condom use on porn sets, and the Coalition to Preserve LA. This time, they’ve got it right. You can read the entire text and explanatory notes here.
In essence, Measure S is designed to stop unwanted projects from being built in neighborhoods that don’t want them and don’t benefit from them. It happens everywhere in Los Angeles, and constantly in Hollywood, site of the MK Home Office. Our Sunset Square neighborhood is currently under threat from a planned shopping mall on a commercial corner that sits directly next to an elementary school playground, on a street with single family homes. No matter how much locals residents tell the developer and his lobbyists,”We don’t want this. We don’t support this,” the project rolls on, “fast-tracked” by the politicians who allegedly represent the interests of their constituents. Measure S will halt this. For two years.
Yes, a building freeze while we save our city. Every reasonable-sounding argument for why this is a bad idea, when you examine the issue closely, isn’t really reasonable. Turns out, there’s not truly a shortage of housing in Los Angeles; there’s a shortage of affordable housing; and many of the $2500-a-month-and-up units sit empty, waiting for super-rich Chinese, Indian and Russian success stories to pay top dollar. Meanwhile, the McMansions continue blotting out historic bungalows, and mega-projects get built without Environmental Impact Reviews. (Because, really, why bother?)
In the coming weeks, you’re going to see advertisements and hear radio spots and read earnest “think” pieces all denouncing Measure S. Keep in mind, the “no” side propaganda is funded by billionaire developers, including the great philanthropist Eli Broad and several fine gentlemen from Hong Kong and Australia, who, despite their remoteness, maintain a caring finger on the pulse of Los Angeles civic life. If these fellows have genuine concern for Los Angeles’s housing crisis — and surely they do, or they wouldn’t spend any of their fortune opposing S — we imagine they could shift their massive lobbying funds into a trust for building dormitory-style housing on Skid Row, and then many, many people would be living in dignity, not merely the developers and their heirs.
Measure S is drastic and it’s necessary. Consider it 200 individual lawsuits wrapped into one class action. So long as we continue the pay-to-play model, draining the Los Angeles swamp will be about as easy as cleaning out the La Brea Tar Pits. But Measure S is a start.