Day by day for years, the policies of the City of Los Angeles have gradually brought to life the dark, dystopian vision of LA as “Blade Runner City” — a toxic town with giant digital billboards on towering skyscrapers flashing down on the squalor and poverty below.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 film was set in LA in 2019, a horrifying world of repression and android replicants enslaving the masses of poor and powerless.
In the three decades since, billions of dollars in tax revenue have subsidized luxury hotels and gleaming skyscrapers downtown and in Hollywood, many adorned with digital billboards and 20-story high supergraphics.
All the while, the poverty rate has soared, neighborhoods declined as the infrastructure aged and deteriorated and large corporations with good-paying jobs fled along with much of the middle class.
The Blade Runner vision even inspired the design for developer Hassan “Sonny” Astani’s bankrupt 30-story loft and condo project “Concerto” near Staples Center and LA Live — a project whose profitability was to be enhanced with two 14-story moving graphic LED-panels for advertising.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and downtown Councilwoman Jan Perry split half that money and now are going to bat for Astani as he wages a high-powered public relations campaign to fend off creditors and keep control of the nearly complete project..
Are projects like this even desirable when there’s a glut of empty housing? Even real estate attorney Dale Goldsmith with the heavyweight lobbying firm Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac
is skeptical, telling the Times “he isn’t convinced that downtown Los Angeles is a viable market
for large-scale condo development.”
The themes of power and money, influence peddling, densification without a coherent plan, the destruction of single family homes, closing of libraries and parks and cuts in other basic services are all coming together now in the hands of de facto mayor Austin Beutner.
Buetner is the darling of the business community with his promises of cheap water and power, tax breaks and tax holidays, subsidies and short-circuited planning processes to rush through approvals of massive projects without little or no chance for the public to object.
The sell is jobs, jobs, jobs no matter what they cost in taxpayer dollars, no matter what their impact on the quality of life in this city of neighborhoods that once flourished with small bungalows on tree-lined streets.
The race to create Blade Runner City is accelerating and the 2019 setting of the movie might not be far off.
Beutner’s first deal was to subsidize moving a sweatshop with 30 from Compton into the city and was followed by the highly-celebrated achievement of getting Chinese electric car maker BYD, partially owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, to set up its U.S. operations in LA.
The LA Business Journal finally took a look at the details this week in a story headlined “Sticker Shock? Electric car maker’s jobs to cost LA millions.” In round numbers, the 100 jobs BYD might bring each are costing the public $50,000.
Of far greater consequence is what Beutner is doing to the planning process now that he’s disposed of Planning Director Gail Goldberg and installed the obedient Michael LoGrande in the job.
LoGrande is rapidly pushing through radical changes to planning rules even as we learn from the Downtown News that Beutner has decided efforts to cut red tape for developers aren’t working fast enough.
This is Villaraigosa’s much-touted “12-to-2″ effort to streamline project approval from 12 steps to two.
“I don’t think we’ll ever say 12-to-2 was a failure. But I think we will say
that it didn’t live up to our expectations and the mayor is disappointed that
it didn’t result in more meaningful development reform,” said Bud Ovrom,
general manager of the Department of Building and Safety.
of the city bureaucracy and the procedural difference between departments
turned out to be a lot more complex and a lot more difficult than we ever
imagined,. So active and passive resistance from department heads is an issue
but 80% of the problem was just the complexity.”
A man in a hurry with little concern about public processes, Beutner “quietly
issued a request for proposals in August, asking consultants to study the
current development process and devise a new, streamlined system that will draw
from best practices in other cities. Proposals are due Sept. 28,” according to the Business Journal. Beutner gave contractors only until early October to respond with a six-month deadline to deliver a technology-based solution to fast-tracking projects.
It’s a $600,000 contract and the
plan presumably will cost many millions to implement. Sensitive to the problem
with layoffs and service cuts because of the general fund budget deficits,
Beutner is using developer fees to pay most of the cost of the contract with
private donors paying $100,000.
In other words, he doesn’t regard
the fees as public money and has no qualms about getting developers to donate a
little money to be able to build their projects before the public even knows
they are happening, before all the officials responsible for enforcing zoning
and building code and numerous other laws have scrutinized what they are doing.
Basically, that’s what appears to be
The business of our city government
is becoming business.
Services that cost money but serve
the public in general are being gutted. Nearly every public service except the
cops have to be paid for twice — through taxes and through fees for service.
Soon, there will be no point in
having elections since what good are do-nothing politicians who blow hot air
and only get in the way.
It’s only 2010 and we are already a
real-life version of