What you are seeing in the LA bankruptcy melodrama is a calculated and deliberate effort of the Mayor and his colleagues on the City Council to silence the voice of the people.
It is a hopeless task.
The silent majority is awakening and beginning to realize that what is at stake in this crisis of confidence is their jobs and property, their businesses, their hopes for a better tomorrow for their families, the future of the city they call home.
Neighborhood Councils whetted the appetite of thousands of people from all walks of life for a say in their government, for policies that improve their lives and communities, for a measure of power.
It was supposed to take 25 years before NCs were able to flex their muscles and provide the margin that defeated the solar energy fraud Measure B and elected Carmen Trutanich and Paul Krekorian to office.
When the threat of secession by San Pedro, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley loomed leaders in the civic culture of the city proposed a system of boroughs the governed large chunks of the city and send their best to the full City Council.
Unions and other special interests watered that down to elected Neighborhood Councils with first authority over land use issues and then drowned it with powerless Councils self-selected by anyone who chose to call themselves a stakeholder.
And still the good and decent people who for so long had worked for reform accepted that as a place to stand to begin to move City Hall.
Over the next 10 years, the elected officials did everything in their
power to keep the NCs as weak as possible, blocking initiatives from the
community and the leadership of the Department of Neighborhood
Empowerment to make the system stronger and more effective.
And yet hundreds of extraordinary people – true heroes of the struggle
to save LA – worked tirelessly to learn how city government operated and
to affect its directions constructively.
As long as they knew their place, city leaders were content to treat
them patronizingly as if they were nothing but do-gooders who had to
desire beyond getting an abandoned car removed or speed bumps to slow
traffic on residential side streets.
Freedom and power are infectious things and natural born leaders emerged
like Len Shaffer who put together a coalition of remarkable people to
hear from insiders and experts what the issues were. They learned from
that and began to push for changes.
People like Dr. Soledad Garcia stepped forward and brought her knowledge
and expertise to bear on the heart of this Chinatown story, the
Department of Water and Power.
She organized smart people into a group and spent endless hours with the
man who invented the machinery of City Hall that still operates today.
Over the years, I have called Ron Deaton every name in the books, names
like Master of Machiavellian Manipulation, and yet I always respected his brilliance and integrity and know he never would have let what’s happened to
the city occur.
Deaton, as head of the DWP, cut a deal with Soledad and her team to
bring their NC committee inside the utility as partners, limited
partners to be sure.
It was a breakthrough that established that ordinary citizens weren’t
NIMBYs saying no to everything but people who could understand the
currents and cross-currents and help navigate the troubled waters of
Nothing ever came of it. The deal was betrayed when Deaton retired.
But the seeds of empowerment were planted. Today, NCs, homeowner and
resident groups and others active in community life form hundreds of
cells of energy creating a new LA.
They have come together to create something greater than themselves,
something most of them don’t yet fully realize has happened. They are a
force that counter-balances the special interests that run City Hall, a
force to be reckoned with, a force to be feared.
So the response of the Mayor and Council is to crush them.
To take away the small amount of money doled out to them. To take away
the small staff that supports them. To humiliate in public the man
designated to lead them, DONE General Manager Bong-Hwan Kim.
That’s exactly what Greig Smith did last week when he suggested on
camera during a Council crisis meeting on the budget that BHK should be
fired for failing to carry out the incomprehensible directives of the
Mayor and Council, the same kind of directives that have every capable
department head at City Hall whispering to anyone who will listen that
they are dealing with incompetents who are destroying their ability to
provide adequate public services.
Ignore the Reform City Charter and kill Done. Take away their funding.
Throw their elections into chaos. Get rid of all those inside City Hall
who actually believe in community empowerment. Stop them before they get
so strong that the throw out the seven Council members up for
re-election in a year and thwart the plan to shutter parks and
libraries, sell off future revenue streams, borrow heavily against the
future, double power rates to pay inflated salaries and buy renewable
energy at any price to meet artificial goals.
It doesn’t matter what the city’s leaders do. They are headed down the
wrong road and every step they take only makes matters worse and awakens
The genie is out of the bottle.
It isn’t just the gadflies, crazies and obsessives anymore. They can no
longer ignore the voice of the people.
There are four million voices in this naked city and every one of them
wants to be heard or will demand to be heard soon enough.
Old-fashioned ideas like freedom for all and equality under the law are
like viral infections once activated.
There is only one possible ending to this LA story. Sooner or later, we
will all have to sit down together and have honest conversations about
how we get out of this hole we have created for ourselves.
The only question is how much damage will be done before that happens.