GUEST WORDS-On April 14, the day it hit the iceberg, the Titanic received seven heavy ice warnings, including one from the Californian less than an hour before the fateful collision. The message said: “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.” Titanic sent back a message that said, “Shut up. We are busy.” – Seth Borenstein.
Over 90 percent of an iceberg is underwater. It is a simple but sometimes treacherous fact. Deteriorating infrastructure is Los Angele’s iceberg. Every day we deal with potholed streets that flatten tires and buckled sidewalks that break arms. Trees go untrimmed, alleys fill with refuse, ageing water mains fracture, and two-thirds of our streets go without a weekly cleaning. But that is only what we see: the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
What many people are also not aware of – unless they have direct dealings with City Hall – is the continual diminishment of municipal services across a broad spectrum. Early this year the residents of the 700 block of South Genesee Avenue in the Miracle Mile applied to the City to limit parking on their block to permit holders only. This block has older apartment buildings with little or no off-street parking and its proximity to a popular gym and Museum Row had driven the residents to the breaking point. They obtained the necessary majority of signatures, had their petition vetted, and celebrated when it was approved. Parking relief had finally arrived. But then they learned that it would take eight to nine months for eight new parking signs to be installed. Eight to nine months?
The reason for the delay: the City’s street sign department has been so decimated by budget cuts that they are down to a skeleton crew and buried with backorders.
Is this a trivial example of how city services are falling ever further behind? It probably is to the people who wait months to have a burned out street lamp replaced or years for curb-cuts at their intersection.
But from the trivial to the profound, every City department is failing to provide adequate service to the residents and businesses of Los Angeles. Yet, like the Titanic speeding across the North Atlantic, the City ignores basic services while it rushes to approve new developments – one after another – without regard to the impact these projects will have on our crumbling infrastructure.
In a 2009 audit of the City’s Capital Improvement Program then City Controller Laura Chick concluded: “…that the City of Los Angeles does not have a citywide capital improvement program and capital budgeting process to adequately identify capital and major equipment needs, plan for solutions and necessary improvements, fund and approve its capital projects.”
In other words, the City is sailing without a chart – and has been for a long time.
Until recently it has been impossible to know the true condition of our infrastructure, but a recent Public Records Act request by the organization Fix the City yielded a never-before-seen 2010/2011 “Infrastructure Report Card” that appears to have never been released.
The report card looks like this:
But this 2010/2011 report card only tells part of the story about our failing infrastructure. When compared with a 2003 “Infrastructure Report Card” prepared for then Mayor Hahn the results are devastating. It not only shows that many of these grades have gone down since 2003, but it also reveals that much of the money required to fix our infrastructure was neither secured nor spent at that time. Now in 2014 the amounts needed to repair our infrastructure have almost doubled and the cupboards are bare.
Also, several critical aspects of the City’s infrastructure covered in 2003 report card were not even mentioned in 2010/2011 report card: water, power systems, telecommunications, airports, public buildings, parks and the Port of Los Angeles. It’s as if the City wishes to “drop a course” to avoid a failing grade. But these items are conspicuous in their absence.
So, what do these report cards say about the City? A quote from the recently released 2020 Commission report says it best: “Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept. City revenues are in long-term stagnation and expenses are climbing. Year by year, our City – which once was a beacon of innovation and opportunity to the world – is becoming less livable.”
And what was City Hall’s reply to the 2020 Commission? Basically, their response has been: “Shut up. We are busy.”
(James O’Sullivan is the president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. This commentary was posted first in the MMRA Newsletter.)
Vol 12 Issue 41
Pub: May 20, 2014