Now is the time – and very likely the last time – that everyone who still clings to the belief that something great can come of Los Angeles will have the chance to step forward and make themselves heard.
At a time when unions, developers and all the other special interests have City Hall totally in their pockets and the candidates for mayor offer no hope for change, the sleepwalking “establishment,” or what passes for it, has opened the door to community activists and concerned citizens to make what I believe amounts to one last stand.
The political insiders – union, business and civic leaders – who make up the newly created Los Angeles 2020 Kantor Commission intend to restore fiscal solvency to city government and revive the local economy by spending six months talking mostly in private to people in the elite world they understand with little or no interest in what the ignorant rabble of the city have to say.
It is an “unholy alliance” as community leader Jack Humphreville labeled it. But they all are respectable people with reputations to protect even if they have all prospered to one degree or another from the creeping corruption that has now gotten total control of the system, even union bully boy Brian D’Arcy knows there is precious little to gain from further sacking of L.A.
Opportunity knocks for Neighborhood Councils, resident groups and the issue-oriented organizations fighting for quality of life issues to make themselves heard – if they will do the work of organizing, detailing specific problems and solutions and create the political theater that will turn this into the long overdue public conversation this troubled city has so desperately needed for so long.
The hard truth is this is a very tough town and if you want something you’re going to have to take it. If you want something bad enough, you just might be able to get it.
It is the law of the jungle and why greed and egotism have been triumphant for so long.
What is amazing is that it has taken five years of grinding recession and gutless fiscal mismanagement for the business, civic and labor elite to come out of the closet and out of the shadows into the bright lights of public political theater.
This is the 40th anniversary year of the revolution that toppled the right-wing oligarchs that built this town and the 20th anniversary of the mayoral campaign architects of that cabal, Richard Riordan, who formally acknowledged it had gone astray with his promise to be “tough enough to turn L.A. around.”
He wasn’t. The unions and their many developer and business allies derailed his efforts at privatization and outsourcing, took Charter reform hostage and left him he believed no choice but to go along with expanding pensions and raising salaries of city workers to able to get
Even then, it wasn’t until voters revolted and handed labor stooge Herb Wesson a humiliating defeat at the ballot box for the Measure A tax hike that his main overseer, union uber-boss Maria Elena Durazo, ordered him to surrender to an “establishment” the all too often little more than self-serving, self-glorifying and self-absorbed power brokers and the networks of power that have flourished around them.
That is what happened last week with the appointment of a politically correct panel led by Mickey Kantor, former Clinton Administration Commerce Secretary who leaped to wealth and prominence in the early years after the Bradley revolution.
Despite giving Wesson a face-saving gesture as the creator of the commission, it was an idea engineered by Austin Beutner, the equity fund multi-millionaire who dabbled in city politics as top deputy for a while to Villaraigosa and briefly mounted his own mayoral campaign.
Besides Kantor and Beutner, the world of politics provides former Gov. Grey Davis, whose budget bungling earned him a place in history as the only California governor to be recalled from office; Hilda Solis, former Congresswoman who recently resigned as Secretary of Labor with the intention of running for County Supervisor, and Maria Contreras Sweet, Promerica Bank chair with a long record in high-level political positions.
From the civic elite come David Fleming, long-time Valley civic leader and a lawyer affiliated with Latham & Watkins; Tom Sayles, USC’s public affairs vice president and lobbyist and DWP board member, and George Pla, head of the politically-connected construction firm Cordoba Corp. who was appointed as an alternate.
From the non-profit world come Antonia Hernandez, former MALDEF president and now CEO of the California Community Foundation, Kathay Feng, head of Common Cause.
From the world of labor come D’Arcy, head of the DWP’s IBEW Local 18; Tyler Izen, head of the Police Protective League, and Ron Miller, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council – three of the most influential union leaders who use their vast wealth and muscle to control city elections.
No, this is not a group that includes a single ordinary citizen. They are all deeply involved in power games played in the city, the state and in some cases in the nation’s capital, and they are mostly firmly in the camp of Wendy Greuel, the easiest-to-manipulate mayoral candidate who has stand for nothing and says nothing.
They see the world from 50,000 feet without any sense that there are real lives being led by four million people who see their jobs and hopes disappearing, their streets and sidewalks crumbling, who see their neighborhoods threatened while the rich get richer.
This is not a commission set out to change the world any more than the Christopher Commission intended to offer more than a skillful whitewash in the wake of the Rodney King beating.
But the truth about the official cover-up and tolerance of LAPD brutality against minorities and the poor was exposed in the pages of the Daily News where I worked and the horror of the video of King’s beating aroused the community and the whole country.
The Christopher Commission’s had much to lose by perceived as part of the LAPD cover-up. The Kantor Commission members are in the same position.
Take them at their word and hold their feet to the fire.
What needs to be done isn’t a mystery.
City workers whose wages and benefits eat up 70 percent of the general fund need to take a step back to a level that is affordable. They won’t do that when DWP workers get a 40 percent premium over comparable jobs at City Hall or private utilities.
None of them will do that unless a fair short-term set of taxes are identified that clean up the budget mess a lot sooner than the 2020 as envisioned by the Kantor Commission. L.A. doesn’t have that long.
It ought to be clear that destroying neighborhoods with skyscrapers, digital billboards and one thousand pot shops and downtown with a football stadium that will never get built will not solve the city’s economic malaise.
It isn’t simply about living wages for the few or tax cuts for business or short-circuiting planning processes that L.A. will revive economically. Business-friendly is a slogan when so many people are poor that one in five households get subsidized water and power rates and aren’t expected to pay for city services.
What is needed is a new spirit of L.A. that brings all of us together working for the greater good – and that’s not going to happen with a commission looking down from 50,000 feet at the little people of no more significance than a colony of ants.