Ooh, That Pesky Science!  

LOS ANGELES

LEANING RIGHT--While I believe that my previous article about creating an LA countywide rail network that makes sense to most commuters tied the idea of science to policy fairly well, I regret that my more recent article about tying science to politics and policy didn't make my case as I wish it should have. 

The Scientific Method, in a nutshell, states that a person's observations, or a group of people's opinions, are NOT proof, and that that person or group of people do not KNOW anything; they just believe it with a good reasonable guess. Spending money based on what one knows, or has observed, is not scientific "proof" but rather an educated guess ... but statistics and data can easily fall into bias and a distorted view that leads to a distorted conclusion. 

What's true:  environmental regulations and law did help the smog situation between the 1970's and the present in LA County. 

What's also true: smog existed even in the era where only Native Americans lived in the LA basin, because the San Gabriel Mountains and the easterly winds from the Pacific Ocean would allow campfires to cause a mild form of smog. 

What's also true still: exploding the population of the LA basin without enough water, mobility, environmental and utility infrastructure is not sustainable and cannot possibly lead to a reliable, long-term water/air/soil environmental scenario. 

These are observations, but in theory I don't "know" anything.  And neither does the LA Board of Supervisors, the LA City Council, and all the other do-gooders who usually end up performing and implementing policy that helps a few but hurts the majority. 

Do people need affordable housing?  Yes--particularly true when they have children. 

Do people need open space for recreational and psychological purposes?  Yes--particularly true when they have children. 

Do people need clean and sufficient water, affordable food, and affordable utility to allow for comfortable (and healthy) temperatures in their homes and workplaces?  Yes--regardless of age. 

Has the city and county of Los Angeles built more for middle-class housing and needs?  Decidedly not.  The "policy makers" of Sacramento and Downtown LA keep harping on the need to help the middle class, but yet it's no secret that the middle class is shrinking throughout this state and that our three-class society is rapidly devolving into a two-class society. 

Do observations of historical, economic, and political experiments in extreme left-wing, top-down societies (such as the former USSR, Cuba, Venezuela, Greece, and other nations) support the notion that this sort of policy-making leads to improved health, quality of life, prosperity, and environmental standards for the average citizen in those nations. 

Decidedly not. 

There is a difference between "liberal" (open-minded, self-sufficient, sustainable) and "progressive" (keep making laws, top-down government, always finding new ills to "fix" at the taxpayers' expense), and we are going to have to figure out which is better, liberal or progressive. 

(Ditto between conservative/common sense versus right-wing dogma, by the way) 

So when we have a Planning Commission that unanimously approves a monstrosity overdevelopment that is virtually 3 times as tall as anything anywhere in the adjacent region of the Westside, and is vigorously opposed by local Councilmember Mike Bonin, is that "liberal" or Big Brother politics by that Planning Commission? 

Is it scientifically valid, when just about every traffic and neighborhood analyst states it's acceptable to build at 40-50 feet maximum, but not 80 feet, and that it's a traffic/environmental failure? 

Furthermore, it's nowhere near a rail station, unlike the large development of residential/commercial structures at the Red/Orange Line intersection in North Hollywood. So it's NOT transit-oriented development, but rather transient-oriented development. 

Just because the Planning Commission, Mayor Garcetti and Sacramento scream "BUILD! BUILD! BUILD!" does not make that approval good science, or consistent with human quality of life or health. 

Just like "SPEND! SPEND! SPEND!" does not make for good economic policy. 

And as the middle class leaves California to go to either Texas or other states, the economy of California appears to be filled with mobility for an elite few/wealthy, while filled with roadblocks and shredded dreams for the average man or woman (particularly if they're trying to make a living in the private sector). 

Is this science based on observation?  Yes, and on experience, and based on the ability to discern that we can't build our way out of traffic, overpopulation, urban blight and the like. 

Is it "proof"?  No--that's NOT how the Scientific Method works. 

But the "theory" that overbuilding and not shoring up our infrastructure as we overbuild, and overdensify in the suburbs (while creating new "downtowns" that were never built for being that dense) is hardly scientifically invalid. 

It may be my theory, or the theory of a few of us, but I'm sticking with it. 

Because to do otherwise would be to throw away everything my eyes, ears, and memory has taught me throughout my whole life ... and would it be scientifically valid at all to ignore it based on some "feel-good" idea of how the world "ought" to be, rather than what the world actually is?

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

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