Wed, Apr

A Big City Starts Thinking Small


MAILANDER’S LA - "You can't shrink to greatness," management consultant guru Tom Peters observed in the irrationally exuberant '90's.  But LA Mayor-Elect Eric Garcetti for some reason unknown and unbecoming to the nation's most lively place to live is enamored with small-time politics--and the city's entire political sphere is obliging him, for now.

"Just look at the way the Garcetti staffers are working to lower expectations," a political consultant--sure, let's call him a rival--told me this week. "They're working harder on managing expectations than they're working on actually making anything new."

All throughout the city, political disputes have diminished in scale and scope since Garcetti was elected Mayor on May 21.

In cranky Sunland-Tujunga, for instance, they're not chartering buses downtown to insist on halting some diabolical development anymore--they're chartering buses to ask Council, very meekly, to consider making an intake center from World War II an Historic Monument--a soft maybe, and a maybe for a later date.

In the Downtown Historic Core, they're not arguing about whether or not there should be a Downtown Art Walk, or whether it's good to build a 70-story skyscraper--they're arguing about whether restaurants should be cited for putting tables on sidewalks without a proper city permit. What?

Even outgoing, big-dreaming Mayor Villaraigosa seems caught in the spirit of lowering expectations and thinking and doing small.  Earlier this week, the formerly big dreaming Mayor made headlines with the announcement that he was moving to Venice (perchance to one of those smallish postage-stamp lots?) and that he'd like to run for Governor--which was more like him.  But his duties of acting Mayor led him to take part in a small press conference on behalf of the MTA at which it was announced that LA's subway is locking its gates at last. Some of its gates, anyway--as the Blue Line and Gold Line remain ungated.

It was the kind of thing they'd have a presser for in Poughkeepsie. In LA, you wouldn't ordinarily expect such a common sense, mundane occurrence to warrant a media invite or fetch much attention at all.  But also snapping into the spirit of small thinking, the hopeless, hapless LA Times editorial folks actually obliged, running a smallish op-ed about this very topic of hot contention.  "Doing away with Metro honor system is common sense" Times common sense scribe Daniel Rothberg announced over the course of 750 burning words--words that we were all just dying to read.

But nowhere do we see the diminutive diminishing of Los Angeles political and civic life more than in North Hollywood, where there is an open seat in Council District 6. The issues are so bland that some have even tried to manufacture some from outside the race.  "Is Street Prostitution an Issue in CD6 Race?" a recent piece at MayorSam asked--a spirited but apparently uncertain inquiry, inviting readers to tell whether it is or not.

Nury Martinez's candidacy in that race was left a shambles immediately after the May 21 election, and she's had trouble gaining any traction against Cindy Montañez. I asked to interview Martinez but even had trouble identifying the right person to ask, so small, low-profile and disorganized is her troubled campaign.

You'd think that Montañez's former status as the Department of Water and Power's in-house lobbyist would create some interest in the race, but the Martinez campaign hasn't had either the ability or the will to put the curious fact in the minds of many voters.

Montañez originally intended to run against Councilman Richard Alarcon in 2008, but bowed out suddenly, right at the time the paid push from the DWP came along. We know how that works. She began reporting to the DWP's David Nahai a little later that year, earning well over $12,000 a month for her role as a "special advisor" to Nahai. But you don't hear Nury Martinez screaming much about this; she is playing the Eastside Latino Machine game and now simply waiting her turn for something else, maybe an Assembly seat.

Garcetti at 42 is a little too young to remember the popularity of British economist E. F. Schumacher's book "Small is Beautiful," which much affected East Coast, West Coast, and Washington intelligentsia in the 1970's.  "Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful," Schumacher told an admiring if smallish public. Garcetti seems to agree with the notion.

The Mayor-Elect, in fact, seems less interested in re-building the hot mess of LA from the top down, more interested in building it from the bottom up.  But can the City of Los Angeles spawn twenty tatted-mom-and-pierced-pop Silver Lakes, even while turning its back on its solid heavy-industry bones?

Can LA revive its flagging, restaurant-and-retail boutique economy, without also adding today's version of a Van Nuys Camaro plant, or making an earnest bid on a predator drone program?

Villaraigosa for all his bluster and outsized, Clintonian appetites played far too much to insecurities when approaching Washington and New York too. But whether the downmarket, downsized Mayoralty of Eric Garcetti ends up something along the line of the Times tenure of brother Ivy Leaguer Otis Chandler--an LA surfer boy beguiled and plagued and ultimately played by his own longings for an East Coast pedigree--or whether he stands up to the bluff and bluster of some incidental East Coast/Washington bluffings remains a question--a question important to the political life of this city, bluffed as it has been now by East Coast trend for far too long.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)  Photo credit: Neon Tommy







Vol 11 Issue 50

Pub: June 21, 2013

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