“The hardest thing is going to be to change the mindset here. For the first time in a long time the city is going to be forced to change the way it does things. The most fundamental thing is to change the mindset of those who work in the city. We serve business. They’re our customers as opposed to the other way around.” — Austin Beutner, Economic Czar for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
With all his experience and business acumen, financier Austin Beutner is off to a roaring start as LA’s economic czar — the man entrusted by the political, business and civic elite with the task of creating thousands of jobs using the vast resources the city.
Beutner acknowledges it is an impossible job without getting the mayor and other elected officials to reverse the direction of their politics and policies to create a business-friendly city as his paraphrase of President Calvin Coolidge’s famous quote that “the business of America is business” shows.
But Coolidge, in his 1925 speech on freedom of the press, provided a very different context to his remark than is generally understood:
“We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.”
I have no idea whether Beutner embraces the point Coolidge was making but it is precisely why LA is in the economic fix it is in.
The people have been and still are left out in the cold.
The truth is the political, business and civic elite have for too long operated as if they can build a great city without appealing to the idealism of the people.
We can build skyscrapers and luxury entertainment districts. We can build a hundred new schools. We can pour our wealth into massive public works projects and subsidies to developers. But we can’t get traffic moving, or educate our children or create good-paying jobs or healthy neighborhoods.
In fact, we have done the opposite.
Unemployment and poverty have soared, good businesses and middle-class residents have fled the city and the discontent of the people is fueling a movement for change. City Hall may have no way out of its financial crisis without filing for bankruptcy and the feeble steps that have been taken have caused chaos in nearly every city department.
All that we know about what is planned is that Beutner will have the wealth of the DWP, harbor and airport at his disposal and the authority to force planners, code enforcers and other city workers to speed approval of whatever job-creating efforts he can develop.
What’s missing is what has always been missing: The people.
Nothing succeeds in any enterprise without a shared vision that grows out of a dynamic dialogue that energizes everyone involved and energizes their creativity.
City Hall is afraid of the people because it doesn’t want to do what the people want. So our officials play political games and manipulate the issues to disarm the populace and keep the people weak and disorganized.
But it isn’t working anymore. The people are getting stronger and better organized, anger and frustration have a way of causing that to happen.
The result is we are headed for a collision that will not solve our problems.
It’s all so unnecessary.
Beutner has reached out to the business community. You can be sure he will talk to labor leaders. It isn’t too much to ask for him to start to listen to the people, to bring them into the conversation about how we save LA.
He can do what our elected officials have failed to do, tap into the idealism of the people and make their needs and values part of the agenda to turn LA around..