(This article was published Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014 on CityWatchLA.com)
Is it any wonder that two vibrant cities from the West – Denver and Seattle – are in the Super Bowl, their fans frenzied, while Los Angeles doesn’t even get to compete since the city’s leadership refused to modernize the historic Coliseum, chasing the Rams and Raiders out of town.
To punctuate the point, those same city leaders gifted the Coliseum under legally questionable circumstances to the region’s wealthiest private university, USC, while approving a scheme that nobody wanted, made no sense and will never happen for a football stadium right in the middle of downtown.
The football fiasco is just one of a thousand examples of a generation’s failure of leadership that has turned Los Angeles into the first big western city that looks like a lot of Rust Belt cities back east.
A city in decline, a city on the road to becoming the next Detroit with far more people living in poverty than live in the now bankrupt Motor City, a city with 40 percent of its population living in misery without hope, a city with poor schools, aging infrastructure and no plan for revival – those are among the findings of the LA 2020 Commission led by Mickey Kantor.
Release of the long-awaited report entitled “A Time for Truth” that was supposed to provide a road map to a better future was botched, dismissed by the media and politicians as nothing new, as in ‘everybody knows that’ so what are you going to do about it.
The mayor barely took note of it while the business, civic, labor and political leadership snickered, comforted by the knowledge that nothing of substance would change no matter what recommendations come out of the commission in 90 days.
Nothing surprising in that reaction, really –what would we expect from the generation of movers and shakers, influence peddlers and profiteers, rich and powerful insiders who bear responsibility for the state of the city?
An apology? A recognition that what they have wrought is a failure? Did you think what passes for the establishment in this soulless city was going to stand up as one with the Kantor Commission and lead the charge to reform the political structure, empower the communities to create a healthy balance of interests, structural changes that create transparency, efficiency and accountability?
I checked in with several of the public-spirited private citizens and found they all agree things are broken but they have their own solutions, their own ways of doing business – the same old ways that made them so important and influential through these decades of decline.
Leadership and unity is not going to come from above now any more than it has during recent decades when the only thing that got fixed was the LAPD, reforms that were carried out by the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts – the same way schools were integrated in Little Rock in the ‘50s and Alabama in the ‘60s.
So surely the people in the communities would rally around the commission’s agenda and fight for the reforms that would let them achieve their many and varied goals to make their neighborhoods safer, their schools better and their opportunities to earn a decent living greater.
But that isn’t what has happened.
The Neighborhood Councils are silent except for the endless grumbling amongst themselves. The citizen watchdogs on the DWP are listening to utility’s managers more than the public. The Valley Vote secessionists aren’t even talking about the possibility of real reform, preferring to fantasize about a tunnel from Westwood to Van Nuys. Hollywood residents don’t care about anybody else’s problems, only their own war against high-rise development in their neighborhood.
Unlike Denver and Seattle, or San Francisco and San Diego whose teams also got into the NFL playoffs, LA isn’t really a city at all, just a lot of people lost in their own little worlds without any sense of being part of something greater than themselves.
That’s what cities are about – being New Yorkers or Parisians, Chicagoans and Londoners, a sense of sharing something more important than one’s own private interests. That’s what is so lacking, has always been so lacking in Los Angeles, a spirit of the place that made us all feel like we mattered and shared something with our neighbors near and far.
LA can’t be fixed by tinkering. It needs a grassroots revolution and a new generation of leadership that can offer something more than greed and advantage over others.