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Tale of Two LAs: The City Hall Reality and … the People’s Reality

EASTSIDER-If you’re an LA City Council member, life is grand. You are part of the highest paid city council in the United States, your term in office is good for 12 years (3 four-year terms), and all you really have to do is dance to the tune of the lobbyists, developers, and (mostly) Democratic insiders that brought you to the dance. No one who means anything can upset your applecart. 

So from your standpoint, everything is just fine in our town. 

Even as you finish selling the City to developers, and are now in the process of selling off the peoples neighborhoods. Witness the four Planning Department Ordinances that are speeding through the system and forever changing single family zoning for where we live. 

Another case in point would be last week’s decision by the spineless Planning Commission to actually increase the number of days a short-term rental can be used from 90 to 180 days, and to specifically provide for allowing vacation homes. Woo hoo! Party on! 

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life ain’t so grand. So let’s take a look at what’s up for most Angelenos. 

1) Us old folks are still working. That’s right. More people over 65 are still working, and for longer, than any time since the turn-of-the-century. 

That doesn’t jibe too well with all those TV ads about checking your stock portfolio from your wonderful retirement home in some beautiful enclave. It’s more like: retirement, what retirement? This shift has unintended consequences as well, such as blocking employment for younger people since companies don’t have to pay to train older workers. 

2) Lots of folks in the “prime working age” category aren’t working at all.  

This is just not cool on so many levels. If you couple the decrease in what they call “workforce participation” with LA’s ridiculous rents, we’re talking about systematically destroying the lives of people at the very time that they are supposed to be improving their lot and tucking money away for retirement. 

3) Also, many younger people have it so rough that they’re living with their parents

For the first time since the turn-of-the-century, more 18-34 year olds live with their parents than live with spouses or partners -- even as the politicians and TV talk about an America that simply doesn’t exist anymore. 

4) Not only that, but for all the talk about Millennials and Hipsters, their real employment opportunities aren’t that good.     

One of the categories that I find particularly scary is what happens to young people who are neither working nor in school. This is a key part of our future, yet they wind up being categorized as “disconnected youth,” with predictions of a life far from the American dream that’s being sold by our politicians. 

5) Of those younger people who do get jobs, it is clear that the educational system has seriously let them down. Income segregation is the polite term.

And for college grads, it turns out that a lot of employers don’t even think they have the right job skills for the real world, even as they have piled up student debt. 

When I grew up, California had the best (and free) public education system in the nation. What the heck happened? 

6) What we used to call the middle class is both shrinking and changing as well. The phrase simply doesn’t mean what it used to, just as scary is what we call “middle class” is down by some 20% since the 1970’s. That isn’t trivial, and it’s even more troubling since it costs something like 30% more to even be in the middle class. No wonder life doesn’t feel so good for the governed. 

7) If you adjust for the outrageous housing costs and rents, LA just isn’t that attractive a place anymore. For example, renting a home in LA is simply beyond the reach of many people who do have a job.

A Tale of Two LA’s--In summary, the reason the troops do not have happy faces about our elected officials is that life in LA is pretty much going in the wrong direction and has been for quite a while. Deny it as they may, the City Council knows about these facts, because the LA 2020 Commission gave it to them straight in their report some time ago.

While the Mayor and City Council talk lovingly about the new “sharing economy,” even as they sell our neighborhoods to Airbnb and their ilk, the truth of the matter is that the new version of employment without benefits like health insurance, sick leave, vacations and pensions simply continues to erode what we refer to as the middle class backbone of our society. 

The Takeaway--I believe that the fundamental problem is that elected officials simply live in a different world than the troops. They only talk to each other and their mutual group of rich backers, lobbyists, and party insiders. So for them the world is good, and they simply have no real understanding of how most of the rest of us live. Their livelihood is determined by their current office, and the next one they will run for and the bubble that they live in. 

When politicians do run for office, they are not living in the same world as you and I. It’s all about demographics, likely voters, vote by mail, and statistical analysis of issues. Plus the hot button issues that will get them the $400,000 to $500,000 to finance their campaigns, along with suppressing the voters that might vote for someone else. 

It is the same at the national level -- like when Hillary Clinton comes out with one of her “I feel your pain” speeches; or Donald Trump channels the pain and anger of the large chunk of our society that has simply been discarded -- even as he flies in his jet to Scotland to advertise the opening of his luxury golf course. It’s just a ploy. Trump is probably more believable in his horsepuckey than Clinton, but it is still just smoke and mirrors by all. 

Same for our local City Council and Mayor. Their daily lives and who they interact with are the elites and special interest groups who all live in the same bubble. Do that long enough and you simply have no real connection with the average person who lives in your district. 

They cannot relate to those who they no longer understand. Welcome to the land of 15-0 and 11-1 prearranged votes. Our City Council. 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.