Building a Better California: Making Cities (and Politicians) a Little Less Dense

ALPERN AT LARGE--It's not a shock to many of us in the health care profession, but warm weather alone isn't going to magically make the COVID-19 virus go away.

Most viruses that show up in the colder months of the year do so because we're indoors more and clustered together, rather than just the weather alone. 

Furthermore, it's not a shock to many of us in the healthcare profession that hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and its antimalarial predecessor chloroquine, which apparently alters and reduces the ability of COVID-19 virus to enter human cells isn't going to "cure" this virus the way acyclovir halts the replication of herpes simplex virus.

Accordingly, Plaquenil is needed to prevent or minimize the spread of COVID-19 in exposed or newly-infected individuals (and might or might not be good for first responders or certain high-risk health care professionals), but if the infection has spread in a severely-affected patient, this sort of drug won't be as helpful as we would have hoped for.

So... then how do we proceed, because shutting down the nation and world indefinitely isn't an option. The ONLY way we get over this is with "herd immunity" whereby (as with the flu) people either just get over (and, hopefully survive it) and/or mass immunizations occur (again, as with the flu).

I will stick my neck out on the chopping block and predict an amazingly rapidly-produced vaccine by this fall (usually this takes years) ...but how do we survive until then!

The answers lie in our ability to be pragmatic, open-minded, courageous, and not be DENSE. Not just "dense" as in overcrowding, but "dense" as to be stubbornly naive, thick-headed, stubborn, or willing to give into group think:

1) Americans, by and large, want not just income but the ability to be financially independent. A growing mask industry is starting all around us, but the need is obvious for American manufacturing jobs for paper products for everything from masks to toilet paper to medical/household products needed for our health and economic survival.

Yes, there will be manufacturing millionaires and billionaires, and yes, we can't throw so many regulations and/or presume they'll be non-caring poor corporate citizens, but we should allow the profit motive in California to return to manufacturing. Not sexy, but it created a middle class before, and it'll create it again...so long as we allow a profit motive for employers and their workers.

And much of this will be government-subsidized and encouraged because we're out of gloves, masks, and other protective gear that we were insane enough to outsource to--of all places--China!

So, we need to stop being dense and stop discouraging job creation. Being an environmentalist doesn't have to mean being rigid, and certain environmentalist policies make a LOT of sense while others are anything BUT cost-effective. Listen to the engineers, not the activists! Stop being...environmentally dense!

2) Similarly, being politically "dense" isn't any better.  Many of those reading this, and many in charge of our political and media powerhouses, are beholden to the Chinese government for their livelihood. We cannot rely on them, so the concept of Chinese/American cooperation which was NEVER a two-way street, must be started by the Chinese.

Or maybe China just needs to be thrown out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in order to save the rest of the world's economy. It's not racist to rip how China caused this any more than Hong Kong and Taiwan (both Chinese) and other Asian neighbors are racist to decry what China's closed-door policies have cost them (and the rest of us) in terms of lives and economic misery.

So for those of you who are reading this who thinks that China is just wonderful, I encourage you to lead a way to get China to open up and/or reform itself, or be prepared to be hated and unemployed by your American (and other global) neighbors who are sick of what your selling out has dealt us.

3) Being "dense" with respect to home/apartment building won't work, either. Mass transit and affordable housing were supposed to be new alternative and sustainable ways for the middle class to live comfortably and happily, not to force us all to live in a dystopian "beehive". 

The density warriors in Downtown and Sacramento can, should, and will get thrown out of office if they adhere to mega-overdensity. Scott Wiener and the Sacramento Legislature should stand down, and Eric Garcetti should consider a different line of work; ditto for Gavin Newsom if he doesn't figure out how to avoid overdensity.

Zoning laws always should have accommodated for water, electricity, parking, roads, rail/bus transportation, open space (YES, parks and places for exercise and families to enjoy being outside), and as well PUBLIC HEALTH. The Coronavirus pandemic isn't going away, so 6-12 story buildings maybe AREN'T the "one size fits all" being imposed on us.

If two houses are converted to three houses, or perhaps four town homes with parking, then so be it. If apartment/condo developments are built along our roads, then so be it. And maybe we SHOULD reconsider more water to develop suburbs for families who (gasp! the inhumanity of it all!) want to have homes with back and front yards that enjoy built-in social distancing. 

If our government and business leaders want to help our cities and state, and our nation, then the need to capitalize on our fast-moving online economy, which is now moving forward faster than ever (at virtual light speed from healthcare to teaching to exercising forums and platforms), is vital.

And the politician who proclaims and encourages these new, sustainable businesses while promoting planning and transportation policies to keep our roads relatively clear of traffic, will have a glorious future...as will his/her adherents. 

But we have no more luxury to "wait this out". Things aren't going to change back to the "old normal". A "new normal" is ensured with every week this pandemic continues, and if there is no summer relaxation of the COVID-19 economic catastrophe, then the need for the action--and particularly, the CORRECT action--will be ever more glaring.

And this all begins, and ends, with our leaders and society choosing to stop...being...dense!


(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was (termed out) also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee and Vice-Chair of its Planning Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at Ken.Alpern@MarVista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)