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A State of the City, Scribbled from Elsewhere

MAILANDER MUSINGS - The Mayor's State of the City addresses have become odder and odder events over the years.  Occasionally, precious snippets appear on television, to the delight of the Mayor's communication team and few others.  

Occasionally, the city's online crowd raises questions about what is actually said in them.  But nobody in local media seems very interested to fact-check them--I suppose because they are anxious to be invited back to the next space oddity.  
Nor does the Mayor suffer much criticism from his dependable lackeys on City Council, who are only anxious not to alienate any potential voting block the Mayor has not yet alienated himself.

But the Mayor's most recent State of the City address, given in a theater at Paramount studios on Wednesday--in which Federally-propelled transportation was seen as a cure-all for economic recovery, and the triumph of hope over experience was never made more manifest--was certainly the oddest and most error-riddled one yet--and the most indicative yet of the Mayor's near complete disdain for people who actually happen to live in the city he happens to govern.

Just by way of glaring example: the Mayor's office in this speech made a claim that the City's Clean Truck program has "pumped a billion dollars into the economy."  What economy? Certainly not the City's!  

This statement is a many-sided fiction that has nothing to do with the actual state of the city.  That billion isn't local money, of course, nor are the trucks locally built, nor do even a fifth of the trucks permitted day passes at the Port of Los Angeles come from Los Angeles shipping companies; and by now, most of the pre-1989 trucks that the program originally targeted would have been retired anyway.

The Mayor's crack team of out-of-town analysts even blew a reference to the commemoration of the 1992 riot: the Mayor said it extended over "those six days in April"--but the riot began April 29, and extended nearly until Cinco de Mayo.  I don't suppose the people who weren't here in 1992 would recall as much.

And whomever writes the Mayor's speeches even got author Anne Lamott's name wrong on the press copy, rendering her last name "Lamont."

Not only that, but the fact that the Mayor of Los Angeles couldn't find an Angeleno author to cop a quote regarding hopefulness doesn't speak well for our city, as hopefulness is not in superabundance here.  And certainly, the fact that the Mayor's speechwriter chose a lifelong San Franciscan for the speech's money quote, rather than an Angeleno does surprise me for all its Carson-esque audacity.

But beyond the botched jots and glich-riddled tittles, perhaps there was no more slippery slope within the Mayor's speech than the healthy segment devoted to LAUSD schools.  The Mayor cited many statistics—spoon-fed to him by the LAUSD itself--that demonstrated that the LAUSD is measurably improving.

Most of these statistics were based on Academic Performance Index scores--scores based on standardized testing: he told his captive audience at Paramount that API scores are up over 50 points in Partnership schools, a five-fold increase in charter schools achieving an API ranking of 800 or better, reduction of poor performing API schools, etc.

But these API rankings receive all the criticism that standardized test rankings do, and they only began to incorporate dropout rates last year.  The District has in fact has recently made wild contortions to check the stratospheric dropout rate, only this week proposing to reduce the number of courses needed for graduation.

When the Mayor began rambling about transportation, he made heads spin, even in his captive audience.  "What does this all mean? It means Angelenos will have more transit options. It means that Angelenos will spend less time in their cars and more time doing the things that matter: Playing with their kids. Talking with their neighbors. Enjoying a day at the beach."  I am told that the people in the audience who had an hour-plus trek from the Westside to 5555 Melrose allowed their jaws to gape accordingly.

A community leader who resides at least fifteen miles from the nearest Metro stop told me, "transpo and getting folks out of their cars is a distraction.  Geographically it’s too difficult and the City likes to help the car dealerships -- actually, most cities do."   Which is true on the whole, and caused me to wonder if the Mayor and I even live in the same city at all--obviously, his speechwriters don't.

On Council, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, ever hopeful to move somewhere else up the ladder, released a tepid statement on the Mayor's address: “I applaud the Mayor’s vision and his continuing efforts to ramp up transportation projects and to create jobs," it began.  Then, seemingly anticipating strife, Krekorian added "“The Mayor gave only brief mention of his anticipated budget proposal tonight, but when he releases it on Friday, I will work with him in earnest to produce a balanced budget that reflects the values of our city and the priorities of its residents."

At one point, when looking for someone in local politics who might dare to say something more courageous than Krekorian could muster, I asked someone close to the Mayor if anybody who has ever even lived in LA before 2005 could have possibly contributed to this speech.

He just laughed--nervously.

Yes, now, LA has become such an absentee-landlord town that even the Mayor's top speech of the year is gamed by an out-of-town clique.  Which should surprise nobody who has been following the arc of local politics through the lost Villaraigosa years.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at street-hassle.blogspot.com.)
-cw

Tags: Joseph Mailander, Mailander Musings, State of the City, Mayor’s speech, LAUSD, LA Port, Port of Los Angeles








CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 32
Pub: Apr 20, 2012

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