There’s a Force Destroying California’s Quality of Life and It’s Not the Orange Man in the White House

TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE--In my last CityWatch article, I reminded everyone that the need to create transportation/infrastructure for mobility, water, electricity, sewage, etc. is greater than ever … but our political polarization is getting in the way. 

And if you're thinking "well, it's THOSE guys who are the partisan obstructionists, but I'm just fine"... then YOU are possibly the problem. 

Certainly, the need to talk T/I is more important than ever. 

We passed Measure M in Los Angeles County, and the state is on its way to impose gas taxes that will affect us all.  On a bipartisan basis, we need more quality projects, and the LAX Metro Rail/People Mover connection is probably as bipartisan and overwhelmingly supported as any project we've ever seen. 

Which is why the Friends of the Green Line Project, started and advocated by a bipartisan group of individuals (including such individuals as Robert Leabow, Matthew Hetz, Kent Strumpell, Daniel Walker, Bart Reed, Darrell Clarke, myself and many others), was so small and yet so appreciated from the South Bay to the Westside to the Downtown offices of Metro. 

Although the "Green Gaps" of the current Metro Green Line to the South Bay, the Westside, Downtown, and Norwalk/Metrolink remain unfinished or even unplanned, the BIG connection of the Green Line to LAX is on its way to completion well before the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.  There is little doubt that this LAX connection will be a major catalyst to planning, funding, and building direct and indirect extensions of the Green Line all over the county, and it will be a high mark for Metro planning. 

However, Metro and the City of Los Angeles will be brought down by forces that have very little to do with Downtown politics and policies. 

1) An imbalance between road/street construction/repair and pedestrian/bicycle/transit construction/repair. 

Like it or not, most of us (liberals, progressives, moderates, conservatives, libertarians, etc.) drive our cars not because we're terrible people--we drive because we have family, job, and personal needs that are vital to our daily lives.   

Ever since Measure M was passed, the sudden appearance of road diets and related "pro-pedestrian" and "pro-bicyclist" projects have not always been too friendly to both motorists AND the pedestrian and bicycle commuters, and this form of planning and spending appears lopsided, wasteful, and downright cruel to many (perhaps most) voters, taxpayers and commuters. 

2) An imbalance between freeways and rail, and a lack of cohesive strategies to link the two. 

We still need our freeways, although there is a decreasing opportunity to widen our freeways, and for most of our urban core there is nothing to be done.  However, do we emphasize and coordinate Metrolink and Metro Rail and our freeway system?  

Do we force long-distance car commuters to stay in their cars by not creating and dedicating low-cost/tax-subsidized parking lots to transfer from their cars to rail?  Or do we just build rail lines for those using buses and not using their cars to make their lives easier and convenient? 

And here's a toughie of a question to answer:  regardless of one's opinion on the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) project, if billions were spent widening the I-5 from eastern LA County through Downtown and up to San Francisco, would the voters want that? 

Similarly, are we framing the CAHSR project to access San Francisco to/from Los Angeles, or to more local destinations such as outlying regions and communities (Victorville, Santa Clarita) to/from Los Angeles, or from LA and Anaheim to/from Las Vegas or San Diego? 

3) An imbalance between urban and suburban, or even rural regions, with respect to spending. 

Would a diversion and creation of water from both the Sierra snowpack and other Midwest states (who often have flooding and too much water), and/or desalination efforts, help our traffic/affordable housing/economic issues by establishing new urban cores in Riverside, San Bernardino and other far flung counties? 

Imagine if more jobs were near homes in the Inland Empire, Kern County, etc.  Would that not have environmental, economic, and quality of life benefits for most Californians?  Or does our economic focus have to remain in San Francisco and Los Angeles? 

4) An imbalance between transportation/infrastructure and planning, and between the needs of current taxpayers. 

Myself and other CityWatch writers have written aplenty about the rubber stamping of oversized, overdeveloped projects that do little to create affordable housing or improve our traffic, and which are more pursued by "insider politics" between our elected officials and unscrupulous developers. 

It's not hard to conclude that Mayor Garcetti and the City Council, by and large, and the Mayor's Planning Commission doesn't give a damn about zoning, environmental laws, and quality of life for its voting, taxpayer base, and have a particularly hostile view towards Los Angeles homeowners who foot the tax bill and play such a large role in Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles City and County. 

If our local political leadership really wants to create affordable housing and overgentrification...then start with treating current homeowners better, fight Sacramento when their policies harm honest and miserably-overworked taxpayers, and stop the ability of foreign citizens to plunk down huge amounts of cash and outbid potential native Californian and other American homeowners who have worked years to decades to scrape together a down payment for a home. 

Until we have the ability to address our public sector pension problem, the fear that our extra spending will go into some early retiree's pockets instead of into transportation/infrastructure will just not go away. 

5) An imbalance between vision and true integrity. 

It's hard to tell Californians to save more, spend smarter, and to stay focused on the right issues.  Yet that's what leadership is, and it starts at home with the local and state leadership spending public funds more appropriately. 

But there are two types of Californian leaders (who, for the most part, are Democratic and liberal):   

  • Those who vigorously despite and/or disagree with our President and/or Washington and/or Congress but will work with them for local funding, and will spend appropriately here at home. 
  • Those who "resist" and protest and march and point at the "evil" coming from Washington while using that as a smokescreen and diversion from blatant mismanagement and corruption here at home from local/state politicians and policies. 

The former is sincere and shows both maturity and integrity, and both vision and credibility. 

The latter is anything but demonstrative of those aforementioned qualities, and is destroying our local quality of life more than the Orange Man in the White House ever could.


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