10 or so Ways that Los Angeles Can Cease Being a “City in Decline”

Friday, April 11, 2014

When last heard from back in January, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission was reporting on the problems faced by the city and the steady decline that was sure to continue if nothing was done to address them, but offered no solutions.

The commission's new report, “A Time for Action,” does, sort of. And it landed the day before newly-elected Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his State of the City address on Thursday. The commission was formed at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson.

Problems that need to be dealt with, as outlined in the first report, include: crumbling infrastructure, the worst traffic congestion in the nation, a higher poverty rate than any other big city, the flight of Fortune 500 companies, horrible schools, stagnation after the Great Recession, crappy emergency response and, perhaps most telling of all, the overly-generous pensions and health benefits showered on workers.

But the panel of L.A. movers and shakers, chaired by former U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary and uber insider Mickey Kantor, laid out some caveats about what they would and would not be studying. 

The three main themes addressed in the report were “accountability and transparency, fiscal stability  and job creation.”  But education, homelessness and transportation are beyond the scope of this report, although, the report concedes,  “education is the civil rights issue of our time.”

So, now that the pesky civil rights issue is set aside, what does the commission propose be done? The theme seemed to be that some problems—like earthquakes and no local source of water, which they don't discuss—are intractable. Kantor told the New York Times, “Yeah, we did kick the ball to someone else, because we didn’t have the staff at the time, the resources to really do what would be a professional job in coming up with correct recommendations in this very technical area.”

So, with that in mind, the commission's unprofessional recommendations are:

1. Increase voter turnout Move municipal elections from the spring to November, when state and national elections take place.

2. Don't compete with yourself Merge the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and bring competing tourist bureaus together.

3. Declare independence Create a separate budget office to evaluate legislation and a rate-setting commission to oversee the beleaguered Department of Water and Power (DWP).

4. Pay workers more Raise the minimum wage. The commission did not say how much.

5. Do something, anything, about pension costs Or not. The report recommended forming a “Commission for Retirement Security” to “gather an accurate understanding of the facts.”

6. Open government to scrutiny Create an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability.

7. Tell the truth Adopt a “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance whose centerpiece would be a mandate that the mayor present a three-year budget, although only the first year would be voted on by the city council.

8. Unleash the business community “We must reduce the red tape and overlapping bureaucracies that companies face today in Los Angeles.”

9. Update community plans The city has 35 distinct communities, each with a local plan that defines land use and zoning parameters. They haven't been updated in two decades.

10. Bring in more manufacturing L.A. dropped the ball in attracting renewable energy jobs, but new high-tech manufacturing areas are still emerging.

Garcetti struck a similar tone is his speech Thursday, saying the city was strong, but needed fundamental change. His less-than-striking suggestions included: stop DWP from raising rates, get rid of business taxes over time, fix the Fire Department in some fashion, improve transportation some way and extend the city's rail system to the airport somehow, some day.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Report Finds a Los Angeles in Decline (by Adam Nagourney, New York Times)

Los Angeles 2020 Commission Calls for Changes to Improve the City (by David Zahniser and James Rainey, Los Angeles Times)

L.A. 2020 Commission's Silence on Hollywood Jobs "Surprising" (by Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times)

Garcetti Calls on Residents to Help Build "'Los Angeles Of Tomorrow" (by Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times)

10 Reasons, or So, Why Los Angeles Is a “City in Decline” (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

A Time for Action (Los Angeles 2020 Commission) (pdf)

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