Two months ago I wrote a column that addressed the first part of a report on the future of Los Angeles. The commission formed to address the issues facing the residents and their government has now delivered the second part of their report which lists solutions to the problems facing America’s second largest city. The report may be a bigger failure than the city itself.
In the interim period, the Anderson School of Management issued a forecast which stated that Los Angeles has not had positive job growth over the last 23 years. The county has lost more net jobs than any large metropolitan area in the nation from 1990 to 2013, the study stated. The study by the prestigious school added pressure for the commission to come forth with some solid proposals.
The second part of the report is entitled “A Time for Action.” After the usual flowery verbiage to start a report like this the Commission pinpoints five things from the original report; 1. a jobs crisis, 2. chronic budget shortfalls, 3. abundance of poverty, 4. traffic congestion and 5. public education.
The Commission then immediately bows out of dealing with the two most essential aspects of the report – transportation and education. While Los Angelinos twitter away millions of hours moving to and from their jobs there is little planned relief. Going somewhere on a Saturday night can compel one to stay home and watch Netflix. Travelling the Ventura Freeway at noon on a weekday can be demoralizing and it is nothing compared to the San Diego Freeway which is almost always an adventure in time management.
As pointed out in our first column, the single biggest issue facing Los Angeles is the horrible, immense school system. The graduation rate is 13% below the national average and 12% below the state average. Chicago and New York have systems where the mayor can battle the entrenched bureaucracy though de Blasio is attempting to undo Bloomberg’s advances in New York. Los Angeles is left to the whims of the school board which is handpicked by the teachers’ union and serves the teachers first and then the students. A bold move would have been a call for a restructuring of this relationship. L.A. will never improve until its school system does because it continues to drive the best students out of the city and underserve the residual.
The wisest proposal the commission calls for that should be enacted immediately is moving the municipal elections to unify them with the timing of statewide or national elections in November. The elections are held in odd years where no other issues are addressed. It spotlights the municipal elections, but the turnouts are dismal hovering near 20%. The move will force other municipal entities like the school board and county to change the timing of their elections. This will minimize the stranglehold the public unions have over every office as they march their legions to the polls while others barely recognize another election coming. This would provide the residents a chance at electing real leaders who can affect real change.
The commission then descends into naive folly. Their first recommendation and we believe that the first is always what is believed to be most important is to create an independent ‘Office of Transparency and Accountability.’ Really, this is the best you can conceive to change a deeply challenged city? The board of five members would be appointed by the Mayor, the City Council and the City Controller, yet would be wholly immune from politics. This proposal would create another bureaucracy that would ignore the needs of the residents.
In Los Angeles, power and water is delivered by a city department (DWP) that is quasi-independent. The head of the DWP is already appointed by the Mayor, but the commission comes up with another slick solution – form a board to oversee the operations. Otherwise another politically appointed board (mayor gets all these appointments) with new staff. Los Angeles already has nearly the most costly power in the country do to misguided policies like California requiring ‘renewable’ energy sources and the city council banning all fracking in the city limits. This proposal will do zero to limit the outlandish cost of power and water which is driving businesses out of the city and out of the state.
The commission goes on with such blockbusters proposals as a ‘truth in budgeting ordinance’ and suggesting the city becomes honest about the cost of future promises. Toward the end of the report they finally focus on the job environment which has already been hindered by the Commissions omissions and feeble proposals. They suggest we combine the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, focus on economic clusters and establish a regional tourism bureau all of which are fine ideas, but tinker around the edges.
Los Angeles needs bold leadership. Mayor Garcetti has been in office almost a year and yet nothing has been done in that time period that has worked to reverse the decline that continues in the civic stature. The Mayor has been nearly invisible.
Until the major issues, like the educational system, ridiculous city business tax system (which is not even addressed in the report), the cost of water and power, delivery of city services and the transportation challenges are addressed the chances of major employers expanding or moving to Los Angeles are nil. The good intentioned people who participated in the Commission have failed the residents and have lost an opportunity to move Los Angeles out of its morass.