Back in they heyday of L.A., the Chandler family ruled the city in collaboration with other while male racist, anti-Semitic and Commie-hating oligarchs led by insurance tycoon Asa Call. They were the Committee of 25.
They profited handsomely from every deal: stealing the water from the desert, stealing the land in the San Fernando Valley, destroying the red car public transit system while building highways and selling cars. They owned it all, used their newspapers to control the politicians and enforced their rule with a paramilitary police force led by a drunken chief who shared their values.
Those were the bad old days that sometimes don’t look quite some bad these days. People from all over the world flocked to Los Angeles where the living was easy and there were plenty of good jobs, the Chandler family’s newspapers were ridiculed and the cops were hated.
It all began to change with the election of Tom Bradley in 1973 with the help of a new generation of civic and business leaders who were liberal and open-minded. Public employee unions were legalized; barriers to blacks outside the ghetto and Jews outside of Hollywood fell away; the middle class flourished.
Twenty years later, the glow had begun to fade, bringing one of the new oligarchs, Richard Riordan into the mayor’s office with the promise “to turn L.A. around.”
Yet it more than a decade after the Rodney King beating and a second riot to begin to reform the LAPD under federal court control. By then the defense and aerospace industries with their good-paying jobs were largely gone and much of the middle class with them, replaced by immigrants, legal and illegal, competing for low-wage service jobs.
And the power of unions had grown so enormous that they funded and controlled nearly every elected official, helping them get one sweetheart contract after another and to parlay their power into collaborations with developers through politically-mandated project labor agreements.
So it should come as no surprise that with the economy shattered and the city’s finances in tatters that the new oligarchs would step up and try to salvage the situation.
Call them the Committee of 12½, though it’s far from clear at this point that have even half the power or clarity of purpose than the Committee of 25 once did.
Led by long-time power player and former Clinton Administration Cabinet member Mickey Kantor, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission as it prefers to be known, has brought together 12 top business, civic and labor leaders plus the one-half in alternate member George Pla, head of Cordoba Corp. and one of the richest and most influential players to rise out of Eastside politics in the last 40 years.
The commission idea was engineered by Austin Beutner, the former first deputy mayor and retired equity fund operator who took a brief shot at running for mayor before realizing an outsider had no chance of arousing a disengaged electorate to overthrow the power of unions, developers and others buy the politicians.
The Chamber of Commerce has three board members on the commission; labor unions three including the police, DWP and construction union heads; the political arena three including recalled Gov. Grey Davis; USC has a seat so does Maldef and Common Cause.
With a six-month timeline to develop in private a plan to revive the economy and fix the city budget, this elitist group intends to balance the interests of those who have power and influence to one degree or another without regard to everybody else, which is the vast majority.
It is clear to everyone involved, this is as elitist as it gets — a virtual coup d’etat hanging over the two frightened little people competing for the mayor’s office and a City Council totally under the control of the forces that have pushed the city to ruin, waiting to give them orders on what to do.
If the Committee of 12½ actually proposed the sharp pay cuts and other reforms needed to bring City Hall’s spending under control — inconceivable given the greed shown for decades by city unions — it is hard to see the new mayor or the Council toadies going along even if a tax increase were part of the package.
It is equally inconceivable that this crowd can understand that economic revival cannot take place in a city that is dispirited and disconnected without dramatically changing the political culture by eliminating the full-time Council and expanding its seat from 15 to 35 or more to bring government to the local communities.
So all they can be expected is a mix of rehashed proposals to cut business taxes, have workers pay a little more for health care, slug the public with higher taxes, and count of the Democrat-controlled legislature to gut Proposition 13 and CEQA so L.A. can speed up the destruction of its neighborhoods.
Despite the odds against achieving much, the Committee of 12½ has raised expectations be leaping into the vacuum of power and asserting it can actually do something to save L.A.
For better or worse, it is the only play in town — surely no one holds out any hope that the mayoral candidate who is easiest to manipulate or the candidate who is easiest to intimidate are going to make the slightest difference at all.