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Tue, Apr

Densification and The Decay of L.A.

LOS ANGELES

THE VIEW FROM HERE - The laws of economics often work slowly.  While the function of government is to protect both the common welfare and individual rights, the public seldom grasps such abstractions. One could call this the Cassandra Conundrum.   No matter how prescient the warnings of economic folly, people lack the intelligence and moral temperament to understand or act upon the information.  

Present day Los Angeles is experiencing a Cassandra Conundrum.  We were warned about two dangers: (1) Power corrupts and (2) Densification ruins. 

Lord Acton was not the first to notice the relationship, but he coined the best meme, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” One could opine that the fate of Sodom was the first political philosophy treatise on the destructive force of corrupt power. The destructive nature of corruption recurs in history.  “Those whom they would ruin the gods first make mad,” was known in ancient Greece and oft repeated. In fact, the actor Hal Linden (Lt. Barney Miller) ended season 2, episode 8 with that line.  People fail to see that power leads to corruption because power makes men blind to reason.  Hence, the saying that someone is “drunk with power.”  Hence, we arrive at California’s besotted pursuit of densification. 

Shortly around the turn of the century, (1900 that is), Los Angeles experienced a gigantic growth spurt.  In 1890, LA had 50,395 ppl; by 1910 it had 319,198 ppl which was an increase of 268,803 ppl in twenty years.  By 1920, LA had 576,673.  Angelenos needed no Cassandra to see the terrible impact which densification had on DTLA.   While fixed rail transit benefited the developers of the outlying new suburbs, Angelenos also saw the extreme folly of trolleys.  Trolleys were mathematically incompatible with automobiles, and there was no doubt that private autos were definitely the transportation system for future Los Angeles.

Thus, in 1915 the City’s civil engineers, who were not stooges of developers as today’s City Planning Department has become, wrote the foundational land use document for Los Angeles1915 Study of Street Traffic Conditions In The City Of Los Angeles. The Study linked an area’s topography, mathematics and finances to show that a rapid mass transit system is impossible in Los Angeles since the LA area is a circular megalopolis of more than 6,000 square miles.  The study’s biggest warning was not to densify the Basin or construct dense Transit Corridors along major arteries. (Page 38) The City’s civil engineers were Cassandras, warning about the folly of densification and its side-kick, rapid mass transit.  For example, the city engineers warned that incompatible modes of transportation should not occupy the same right of way (RoW).  For example, Los Angeles’ worse traffic problem already was the trolley, which consumed three traffic lanes and stopped in the middle of the streets for passengers to embark and exit.    As a result, cars passing a stopped trolley often hit, maimed or killed trolley riders.  Although the solution was to get rid of fixed rail trolleys, it took decades to accomplish.  The city continued to have trolleys, except they called them “buses.”  Buses were flexible in that they could easily change their routes; they required no expensive tracks since they used the streets, and they could load and unload at the curb.  

Because people love conspiracies, later generations claimed that a cabal of oil industry and auto executives destroyed the Red Cars.  Modern charlatans built upon this absurd myth to convince voters that they should tax themselves billions of dollars to construct subways and above-ground fixed rail transit.  The purpose of fixed rail transit, subways and above ground, is two-fold.  (1) to make a gigantic fortunes for the construction companies and thereby transfer billions of dollars from the middle class to Wall Street which finances the projects and (2) to provide false justification for more density in DTLA and Transit Oriented Districts (TODs). The nonsense claim is that since subways and fixed rail cost so much to construct and then to operate, developers need to construct massive apartment complexes near in the TODs to generate more ridership. It’s Big Lie #1 that Los Angeles has a housing shortage.  Not only do we have a housing glut, vacancies increase each day since Los Angeles is losing population, close to one-quarter million ppl in the last two years. That means an additional 90,000 units were recently vacated. Yet, the city declares it must construct 255,432 new units of housing by February 2025.  That would house more than 715,200 ppl. Why? We are losing population and vacancies increase each day. 

Since TODs increase density, they increase traffic congestion. People who live on top of a subway station still use their cars. Subways are do not go when or where people want, are slow, dirty, dangerous, and inconvenient.  

The never-ending corruption at Los Angeles city council has reached the point where densification is resulting in decay.  As HELP predicted back in 2012 and 2015, Los Angeles is losing population, as housing prices continue to increase.  The mechanism is not mysterious.  When a developer may purchase property to construct an oversized project, he pays an extra premium for that lot.  That purchase price becomes part of the “comps” by which future sellers set their listing prices and which buyers use to determine that they falsely believe is Fair Market Value. 

Although people know the words Supply and Demand, they are clueless what those words actually mean.  They naively think that Los Angeles’ exorbitantly high housing prices reflect low Supply and high Demand. In reality, housing prices reflect corruptionism.  Since 2013, Los Angeles has had a huge glut of housing to the point that there was a 12% vacancy rate for newer units.  Yet, each year more units are built. Land use policy is supposed to protect the average citizen; that’s government’s function. In corrupt Los Angeles, however, a developer need purchase only the councilmember in the district where he wants to build in order to be guaranteed the entire city council’s unanimous approval.  Thus, anywhere a developer wants to build, he may. As a result, the city has become over-run by dense projects which have destroyed the housing stock for Family Millennials. 

City Council Corruption Caused the LAUSD Strike 

Because LA city council corruption has fraudulently raised housing prices, teachers and staff cannot afford to live in Los Angeles.  Rents often exceed the entire take-home pay of a school district employee, forcing them to have a second income.  This places a horrible burden on single parents.  Because the city council allowed tens of thousands of low income housing units to be destroyed in favor of luxury units,  middle class housing is being decimated. LA’s income to rent ratio for middle class housing in 11.3 when it should be less than 5.0  As a result, we have become a city of renters with more multi-generational families under one roof, while the new units are used as laundering money vehicles for Russian oligarchs, narco-drug traffickers, etc. 

As densification continues,  money flows upwards from the middle class to Wall Street financiers, shoving LA over the brink into the chasm of decay.  The more proactive Angelenos move away, depriving employers of talent, while others adopt the crude philosophy que te ganas a ver, si no puedes lamber. What does it gain me to see the problem if I cannot do anything about it. 

Mayor Karen Bass may be beginning to perceive the folly of constructing poverty projects.  More density increases housing prices by making land more expensive. Thus, more Affordable Housing in the Basin drives up housing prices.  She seems to have recognized that in order to house the homeless, she has to place them farther from the core, i.e., into less dense areas where rents are cheaper. If Mayor Bass follows a reasonable relocation plan, she will be on a collision course with Los Angeles developers who own the city council and the state legislature lock, stock and barrel. 

Decay Will Accelerate 

Senate Bill 9, Senate Bill 10, rezoning mandate to construct 255,432 more units, and CPC-2023-1083-CA (50 units projects can be 99 units by right)  will further decay the city.  Because Los Angeles is so huge, it has taken years for corruption to undermine our economic base, but now the destruction of the housing market will go at warp speed.  SB, 9, SB 10, the Rezoning mandate, and CPC-2023-1083-CA will destroy that is left of Los Angeles’s single family areas. In fact, their sponsors intend to destroy all single family areas based on the Woker lunacy that white racism made Blacks homeless. Thus, the Woker solution is to destroy single family neighborhoods. 

As more ADUs, more duplexes and more multi-unit poverty projects invade R-1 areas, the higher housing prices will climb since buyers who intend to make a profit from densification will pay more than a Millennial who wants a family home.  That will drive more Millennials out of Los Angeles.  Another fact which the corrupt city hall ignores is that poor people are also leaving Los Angeles.  Since Blacks are not the useful idiots that Wokers believe them to be, they’ve been leaving Los Angeles for many years. Hispanics likewise are leaving.  Asians have started skipping California and going directly to the interior states. As the more educated Millennials move to exurbs, those new communities will need skilled laborers.  

Gen Zers were born between1997-2012 and are between 26 and 11 years old.  That mean 50% are already high school grads and each year more will enter the work force. Good paying trade jobs will not be found in Los Angeles but in the South, the mid-west and Texas, especially in the exurbs. 

Even when the LA housing market crashes about ten years hence, the Millennials and Gen Zers will not return. They will have firmly established themselves in their new communities with comfortable single family homes with good jobs and public schools. Don’t count on Gen Alpha (born 2010-2025) to stay in LA; they won’t even be born in LA.  Decay happened to South Bronx and Detroit, and it is happening to us today.

(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor.  You may email him at [email protected].  The opinions expressed by Mr. Abrams are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)