MAILANDER’S LA - The unfinished business of the city—the unfinished business that the city’s next mayor and council will face—is tremendous. The stories behind this unfinished business—this past decade of the decline of the City of Los Angeles—are begging to be told. But you won’t hear any of them told to satisfaction, not even in this election year.
One of the most telling untold stories of the past decade, certainly the most symbolic, is the story of the dead lotuses, the lotus bed, largest such in North America, that once flourishing bed in Echo Park that suddenly died off. We’ve never bothered to learn what happened to them. The bed died off after the reservoir that fed it water, Silver Lake Reservoir, was determined to be contaminated and taken off-line.
Given that the Reservoir was contaminated, with an ordinary but spooky chemical whose carcinogenic qualities have been researched inadequately, there should have been, at minimum, a post-event epidemiological study of the customers it served. Anecdotally, we know so many in Echo Park and Silver Lake contracted cancer at that time … but local media quickly buried the story, and sometime soon a new Echo Park Lake will open with a lovely ribbon cutting that memorializes nothing and nobody.
And management of the City's most renegade proprietary department is not an issue in this Mayoral race. Instead, candidates are courting the DWP union's backing.
There have been so many other cataclysms in city and County, any one of them would have made for extensive civil and even criminal inquires elsewhere. The Station Fire was a natural catastrophe on par with the ’94 earthquake. Its health impacts were felt for years, and perhaps they are still felt today. The report on the inadequate response to it remains unsatisfactory. But because it largely took place behind the mountains, we have drawn the curtain around that mammoth cataclysm too.
The sham of affordable housing and the ruthlessness of the operators of the local "Homeless Industrial Complex" continue to beleaguer and astound. The County's homeless figures only declined by 3% from 2009-2011--or 1.5% a year, perchance the number of homeless we lost to murder, accidents, and fatal illnesses.
We have had affordable housing programs for thirty years, and somehow housing is less affordable than ever, especially for low income renters. We are continuing to build affordable housing and homeless centers but we are not putting a meaningful dent in our homeless population.
This is no accident—it is designed to “work” that way. We treat sheltering the homeless as though it were just another lottery for the poor, the objective to make projects as expensive as we can while housing as few as we can. It’s immoral—but morality doesn’t make for sexy media inquiry these days.
And affordable housing is not an issue in this mayor's race. Instead, the three candidates who are most beholden to the affordable housing lobby were invited to participate in a "debate" that was more of an informercial on behalf of affordable housing, and the two candidates who are not beholden to this lobby weren't even invited.
The Kinde Durkee scandal will also never be fully explored. She’ll serve out her sentence and that will be that. Those who can connect dots can easily see that it should not have ended with her conviction. But the structure of the grafting apparatus she left behind, the financial shell games she played with various support organizations, remains in play for politicians to adapt, even to refine. Our special tolerance of political lobbies that aren't obliged to disclose their donors to the public enables this.
And Kinde Durkee is not an issue in this mayor's race, even though the consultants who most utilized Durkee's services are much involved in the campaigns.
We are losing students but still building new schools. We are evaluating teachers but not administrators. Media are a willful accomplice to the decimation of what once was our noblest enterprise.
And in the mayor's race, the fact that we are continuing to use funds earmarked by willfully misinformed voters to build, rather than spend those funds on classroom instruction, is not an issue.
We are now told that our metropolitan region's ratio of rich to poor is more typical to a large Chinese city than a large American one. And this is not an issue in the mayor's race.
The fact that LA has fifteen council districts—rather than, say, seventy—makes for mini-mayors with increasingly concentrating power. Each runs a district roughly the size of Newark, New Jersey.
The City's Councilmen are really a league of mayors, who answer to no other council, no checks or balances but themselves. It’s a system that’s gamed for graft, and media do not have resources available to cover it all. It takes a lifetime of work for an ordinary human to expose even one clandestine act. The hidden financing of lobbies makes truth even more difficult to unearth. Corruption is now systemic to LA political experience.
And restructuring City Council is not an issue in this mayor's race.
Our Mayor’s office, Councilmembers, and many department heads employ media relations teams, whose purpose is to ferret out information as stingily as possible. We pay people to keep us as uninformed as possible.
And cutting City Council staffs is not an issue in this mayor's race.
Everyone involved in the city’s decade of decline, from council members to department heads to lobbyists to “not-for-profit” organization heads—everyone except you the ordinary citizen—seems to make around $200,000 a year—more than our US Senators—for delivering all this. The city’s top lobbies are not guided by trained economists, nor trained policy makers—they are guided by land use attorneys.
And land use is not an issue in this mayor's race. Instead, the candidates are splitting hairs about the length of a runway at LAX.
The future leaders of the city face all this and more. They face a political culture so corrupt and a city in such decline that they will spend their campaign hours talking about anything other than the effectiveness of present policy. They are reticent to admit their failures—a key part of human development. The more they achieve, the less they interact with the public. Those who cast doubt on their judgments, they even actively defame, or use proxy political consultants to do so.
This is Los Angeles in 2013, after a decade of wanton political, social, and economic decline. As long as media remain quiet about these things, and instead act as political publicists, things are not going to change anytime soon.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of New World Triptych and The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)
Vol 11 Issue 10
Pub: Feb 1, 2013