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The Futility of Resistance When the Winds of Change Are Blowing Hard

In the 1990s, public discontent over the failures of the schools and city government became the focus of LA’s political conflicts.

It manifested in South LA with people rioting in the streets over police brutality and City Hall’s neglect and in the San Fernando Valley with people demanding breakup of LAUSD and the city into manageable units that would give them a greater say over public policy.

Richard Riordan rode this discontent into the mayor’s office with his promise to “turn LA around,” a promise that went largely unfulfilled because of the resistance to change by the network of special interests that held power tightly for themselves.

Instead of heeding the public outcry, the power structure tinkered on the edges, dividing and conquering the populace without really reforming the institutions and sharing power with the people.

It took the Rampart scandal and federal takeover to reform the LAPD but neglect of the city’s poorest areas is still as pervasive as ever.

LAUSD responded by creating local mini-districts but failed to bring parents or teachers into a dynamic dialogue. Incremental improvements in test scores were achieved but dropout rates remained high and credibility of the district low.

District officials paid less attention to educational reform than to their massive construction program and the result was the chaotic breakup of the district by a thousand cuts: Charter schools, the mayor’s takeover of 22 schools and soon the “parent trigger” will cut the number of students in classrooms by the LAUSD bureaucracy from nearly 800,000 to barely half that.

The evolution of city politics has been far more tortured.

Reform of the City Charter that put most of the authority of the City Council was seized on as a way to head off secession movements in the Valley, Hollywood and San Pedro.

What came out of a process that was largely under the control of the same special interests that had long controlled City Hall was a mishmash of changes that shifted authority of department managers to the mayor while allowing Council members to continue to run their districts as fiefdoms.

Secession movements were crushed by massive spending by developers, unions, contractors and the vast network of political operatives but discontent only grew, fed by revelations of pay-to-play corruption and deepening perceptions that City Hall was inefficient and indifferent to the concerns of residents and businesses.

Today, with the city in perpetual financial crisis and slashing key services, the credibility of the mayor, Council and key agencies like the DWP and CRA are at an all-time low.

Dismantling of the planning process and massive subsidies to luxury projects have fueled controversies all over the city as community groups become increasingly organized to fight for their interests.

The response, as always, is for those who have a share of power to close ranks and resist calls for change, for a devolution of power to the neighborhoods.

It is a futile exercise. City Hall cannot fix what is broken because its huge budget deficits are forcing ever deeper cuts in public services, far more severe than what we have seen to date.

City Hall is impotent. It lacks the political will to confront its overspending head-on so it is in a downward spiral even as anger out in the community is growing.

There is nothing mysterious about any of this.

The LAPD is the only success story but it wasn’t city leaders who fixed it. It took the federal courts to impose stringent controls that took the political leadership out of the equation and allow professional police executives to restore competence and credibility to the department.

Bringing order out of chaos in the schools and the rest of city government will not be so easy.

It will take real leadership that is now totally lacking.

Funding cuts and union opposition to reforms likely will continue fragmenting LAUSD for years to come.

City Hall is different. Sooner or later, there will have to be a new deal with the unions and the public. The only question is how much damage will have been done before that moment comes.

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18 Responses to The Futility of Resistance When the Winds of Change Are Blowing Hard

  1. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t excuse Richard Riordan’s failure completely on opposition by Unions, Developers, and other special interests. Riordan himself as an investor and law firm partner was part of the special interests groups.
    First Riordan was part of the problem when he increased pensions for public service safety personnel.
    He was also a great fan of the CRA (Redevelopment)and could car less about the theft of property tax dollars and the use of Eminent Domain for wealthy developers for PRIVATE projects.
    Even though many of you think that Mayor Villaraigosa is too liberal, he in many ways is like Riordan and in fact followed many of his policies matching Riordan’s efforts to control LAUSD under the cover of trying to improve it, but in actuality benefiting special interest groups with development deals and favored deals for preferred non-profit groups.
    The current effort by Villaraigosa to privatize parking lot assets is the same short-sightiness of Riordan’s plan.
    Villaraigosa is a mini clone of Riordan (and I mean mini). He has a member of the Billionaire’s Boys Club, Austin Beutner as a key adviser and in control of most of the key money-making City entities.
    The City of LA is in sad shape and will be handed off to the next Mayor in a state ready for bankruptcy. We’ve known about this for several years, but despite advise from Riordan-blessed appointees, nothing was done to correct the course when it would have been less painful and far more effective.
    Instead our elected officials with our blessing (since we allowed them in office) have ruined LA and will through the problem on the next generation.
    Mr. Riordan – Thanks for nothing. I hope the next Mayor takes your name off the Central Library because you don’t deserve the recognition.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Looking at past Mayor’s doesn’t provide us with much hope. Even ex-Mayor Jim Hahn had his scandals with pay-to-play commissioners, the pay-off of DWP rate-payer monies to Fleishman-Hillard to help Hahn’s political ambitions.
    It was so dirty the Villaraigosa ran against Hahn in part to clean up the corruption from the Hahn Administration. Yet Villaraigosa turned out to be as corrupt or even more corrupt than Hahn.
    Let’s look forward and not to the past for leadership – Starting off with replacing all incumbents (or their staff in the case of CD-12).
    And for those replacements, hold their feet very close to the fire and don’t let them be corrupted into being clones of the incumbents.
    A victory for some or all of the incumbents will send shockwaves to City Hall. If successful, its up to the Clean Sweep folks to move on this inertia.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In my opinion, that bumbling fool Riordan was the worst Mayor in the city, till non pareil Antonio came along. That Riordan seems better today is only because of the ass we have for a Mayor.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The downsizing, corruption, lack of revenues are just symptoms of an imploding economic system. The rich get richer, the poor get nothing, the middle class will most likely take the side of the rich, or join the ranks of the poor…and whom do we have to thank? Thanks a million, Thanks a billion, Thanks a trillion…The global technocrats created this worldwide economic mess, and they expect the masses to pay for it…both sides are in for a rude awakening…”Divide and Conquer”…Aaahh Capitalism..”the fabric of our lives”…”That’s the Spirit”…”How do you spell relief?”

  5. Anonymous says:

    To December 19, 2010 2:50 PM: Yes there are indeed macro-economic problems, but local leaders could have hunkered down over 5 years ago when the budget crisis was widely known and widely discussed. There could have been a shared response.
    No, I don’t blame this on world-wide conspiracies of left-wing or right-wing tea baggers – Just good common old fashion sense could have dramatically reduced the problem.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Love is blind…Capitalism is bliss…our downfall commenced over 35 years ago…our lawmakers continued to lay the foundations which created the “Home Savings & Loan Scandals”…”Real Estate Bubble”..”De-Industrialization”..”Credit Crunch”…”Derivatives” etc….we have a continuum of economic debacles here, and abroad…Is this sound economic planning, or haphazard economic planning? How much longer can the system print monies…the majority played the game created by a few…it is not a question of left or right, or conspiracy theories…we are supposed to have the best and brightest governing…

  7. Anonymous says:

    3:33 p.m. we are not here to solve the problems of the Federal government, bad as they are. How about focusing on the local economy where we have a little more control and what we can do to about it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let’s see if Governor Brown can lead California out of its economic wilderness…I believe he stated that California is still a “wealthy” state….First the news reported we had a $20 billion deficit, next a $25 billion, then $28 billion, now some say it is more $$$???…Do we rob Peter to pay Paul…What kind of shared response do you want all Californians to bear? All Angelinos? People still have a mortgage/rent/loans, increased health premiums (if your lucky to have health insurance), city sales tax, Dish/Cable, Utilities, cell phone expenses, car payment, car insurance, private school/college, daycare, food and clothing expenses, internet/phone services, etc…OK blame it on Prop. 13…everybody does…feel free to add on to this list…Anyways the Times is already couching the next Governor’s fall…All empires fall…

  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s time for a public outcry to amend L.A. COUNCIL’S LEGISLATIVE BRANCH SALARIES that are attached to the JUDICIAL BRANCH, “judges of the Municipal Court.”
    It is obvious their OVER INFLATED LEGISLATIVE BRANCH SALARIES need to be placed before the voters in a special election, which will allow their LEGISLATIVE BRANCH DUTIES AND SALARIES of over $170,000 a year to be adjusted and consistent with other legislative branch salaries of $95, 291 or less.
    Remember, there are three branches of government for checks and balances, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The current Los Angeles Charter needs to be changed because council’s duties and salaries belong in the Legislative Branch, NOT IN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH.
    Los Angeles Charter – Article II Sec. 218.
    Compensation of Elected Officers
    (1) Salaries. Members of the City Council shall be paid a salary equal to that prescribed by law for judges of the Municipal Court of the Los Angeles Judicial District or its successor in the event that court is dissolved or reconstituted.
    The Controller shall be paid a salary that is 10% more than that of a Council member. The City Attorney shall be paid a salary that is 20% more than that of a Council member. The Mayor shall be paid a salary that is 30% more than that of a Council member.
    The Controller shall be responsible for ascertaining the salary of Municipal Court judges and for setting and adjusting the salaries of elected officers in accordance with this section. Salaries shall be paid in bi-weekly increments unless the Council, by ordinance, prescribes otherwise.
    (3) Operative Date of Changes in Salaries. The salaries of elected officers shall be adjusted in the manner provided in this section upon the effective date of any change in the salaries of Municipal Court judges.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Nah, people just be honest & admit — you blew it. This city is going down & is pretty much bankrupt if you factor in the pension obligations. You were too complacent, you didnt care to vote or voted to feel good like for the school bonds (it’s for the children!) or Villar (the first mexican mayor!).
    You made your bed & now sleep in it. And because the special interests (developers, unions, race peddlers, etc) are so entrenched by now, you can do diddly sqat. You should’ve worried 20 years ago, now the train has left the station.

  11. Anonymous says:

    There was some Neighborhood Council person who was going to have a Charter amendment to reduce their pay in half. Citywatch made a big deal about it, and like everything in LA, it disappeared from the radar with no followup.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Los Angeles just mirrors our basically dysfunctional federal and state governments. We don’t put the best and the brightest in office.(Would you like to work in government these days?).
    We keep voting in people with little real life experience. (Can’t count Auston Beutner!). In other words, politicians. People who, for the most part, start working in at a young age, in lower paid positions for politicians, and gradually work themselves into the seats they now hold.
    I mean, if you put an accountant in a political office – do you think he would sign on to a bill (the federal tax bill just signed by Obama) that cut taxes across the board, yet added on another $858 Billion to the federal deficit?
    We need to throw all of the babies out with the bathwater. And, my prediction is that when the real cuts hit, federally, statewide and locally, and then the majority will vote for the minority instead of the other way around. For LA, let’s hope it won’t be too late by then. Can only sell off so many assets…

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Epperhart said the project would kickoff in September with the 2010 November election the target for the 50% Off measure that would amend the City Charter and reduce Council salaries to roughly $90,000 a year.”
    Campaign to Cut Council Salaries Lost Traction as it appeared Doug Epperhart, who headed the effort to reduce LOST Angeles City Council salaries in half, was interested in running for CD 15 if Janice Hahn was elected Lieutenant Governor. What happened to the Saving LA Project, SLAP?
    Citywatch
    http://www.citywatchla.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2501&Itemid=99999999

  14. Sandy Sand says:

    All is lost and “the train has left the station” as one commenter put it, but the train will eventually reach the roundhouse and turn around.
    Only death is irreversible. We can turn this “train” wreck around, but it will take a tremendous amount of work on the part of the voices of discontent and will of the people who are locked in the cocoons of their own problems and do something about it, even if that “something” is no more than coming out to vote.

  15. David says:

    http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/knickerbocker/gov_paterson_fined_for_ethics_violation_gGcFi7p3txf4Lg32UhQEJO
    At least some politicians are held accountable. What is the status of Ticketgate? Will it take as long as his divorce to settle?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Good post Dec 20, 2010 2:26 PM, but this will never happen here in the city of angels.
    Gov. Paterson fined $62K for taking free Yankees tickets
    December 20, 2010
    By Brendan Scott
    ALBANY – The state’s top ethics watchdog slapped Gov. Paterson with a whopping $62,000 fine this morning for accepting free World Series tickets last year from the New York Yankees.
    The Public Integrity Commission’s penalty – the first of its kind against a sitting governor – follows a months-long investigation into the Democratic governor’s freebie foul initially set off by a story in The Post.
    “The moral and ethical tone of any organization is set at the top,” Commission Chairman Michael Cherkasky said. “Unfortunately the Governor set a totally inappropriate tone by his dishonest and unethical conduct. Such conduct cannot be tolerated by any New York State employee, particularly our Governor.”
    The $62,125 fine comes less than two weeks before Paterson is slated to handover the Executive Mansion to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
    The commission found that Paterson and his aides had no intention to pay when they first solicited the Yankees for five free tickets to Game One against the Philadelphia Phillies.
    The Yankees have various interests before the state and regularly register as a lobbying entity. It’s against state law for a public official to accept gifts from a registered lobbyist.
    Paterson was fined $60,000 for three violations of the state ethics law and $2,125 for the face value of the five VIP seats.

  17. Anonymous says:

    1:59′s comment re Riordan were right on…in fact, the sooner the City rids itself of the Riordanites, the better chance it has on getting back on track. Everything, and I mean everything, Villaragossa has done is from the Riordan playbook…10,000 cops, education…and, the Riordan Charter “reforms” were just a power grab for the Mayor’s Office…now, our Mayor can act imperialistic without any real checks or balances…

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