LA’s Developers and Politicos: When Too Much is Just Not Enough

CORRUPTION WATCH-Goldilocks knew the answer to LA’s problems. When the porridge was too hot or too cold, she passed on it. When she tried the three chairs and the first two were too big, she settled on the third chair which was just right. Wanting to take a nap, she tried one bed and it was too hard. The next bed was too soft, but the third was just right. 

Aristotle taught the same lesson, only it was called the golden mean. One should avoid both deficiency and excess. The world, except for Los Angeles, is learning the same lesson when it comes to cities. As Wendell Cox reports in New Geography, “World Megacity Growth Lags – Smaller Cities Grow More,” people have been moving away from the small rural areas for 100 years, but they are now shunning the mega-cities. Worldwide, people are choosing porridge that is not too hot or too cold, chairs and other living arrangements that are just right. 

The problem with mega-cities like Los Angeles is that myopic people thought that population increases were a straight-line progression that would engender no negative feedback. The great migrations to Los Angeles contained their own rebuttals. People moved to LA in the early 1900's because they could live in a single-family home with a nice yard, and after World War II with the opening of the San Fernando Valley, there was plenty of space for more of those single-family homes. Land in the LA Basin is finite, however, and has become a nightmare of congestion, making it undesirable and unhealthy. This drives out the productive middle class leaving us with an increasingly high percentage of poor people. 

In the mid 1990's, someone with more money than brains thought that a family who wanted to live in a single-family home on a tree-lined street in a nice suburb would prefer to live in a cramped apartment, next to a freeway, with no yard. These wealthy but inherently foolish and greedy people (developers and investors) deceived themselves into thinking that because Young Millennials fresh out of college were temporarily content with Dorm Style living and maybe want to keep living forever in their Peter Pan existence. 

This is the type delusion in which the powerful indulge and they fire anyone who dissents. The reality is that Family Millennials do not want Manhattanization. Yet, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s public policy has been to destroy tens of thousands of rent-controlled apartments so as to build tiny freeway lofts. Why did Garcetti concentrate on rent-controlled apartments? Because the income of rent-controlled dwellings is more limited than other apartments, making them cheaper to purchase. The maxim of buy low and sell high applied. Kicked out of their rent-controlled apartments, the dispossessed have swelled the ranks of the homeless; and Family Millennials have moved to Austin and Nashville. 

Public Policy Requires a Modicum of Integrity 

One reason to separate business from government is that government sets public policy, and decent public policy should not make developers fabulously wealthy. When greedy businessmen who care nothing about public policy control the government, bad things happen. It was the Chamber of Commerce which destroyed the Olmsted Bartholomew Plan for Los Angeles parks in the 1930's. The developers did not want land “wasted” on parks. Today, Los Angeles is the most park poor large city in America. The impacts of greed are long lasting. 

After WW II, LA formed the Community Redevelopment Project (CRA), a horrid combination of greedy developers and craven politicos. Back in 1915, the city’s civil engineers had strenuously warned: (1) the city should not densify the core or along transit routes, nor (2) should it construct subways and fixed rail transit. Rather, business, offices, factories, retail, etc. had to follow the population as it spread to the periphery. Thus, the city had to remain decentralized. But the CRA did the opposite: it chose densification and congestion. 

Developers hate de-centralization because they make more money by constructing 25 and 30 story skyscrapers in the center of LA. Hence, the CRA embarked on Bunker Hill with public money. Then, came Century City. Those projects set Los Angles on the course of its current traffic congestion nightmare.  

It is Not the Taxes 

It is not California’s taxes that are driving people from the state. When taxes buy good things, people do not mind. When the city is corrupt, however, people do not want to pay high taxes – not the California sales tax, not the Wall Street tax. Sane people do not give away their family’s income to crooks and thieves. 

If LA had great schools, if our density were low, if we were not set upon by deranged homeless people, we would not mind paying taxes. Who wanted to give $197 million to the Grand Ave project? Who wanted to give CIM Group $17.4 million because they broke the law and could not open their high rise at 5929 Sunset? Who wanted to give tens of millions of dollars to construct another mall in the San Fernando Valley? Who wanted to have the worse traffic congestion in the world because developers want to make a killing in DTLA? 

Wise public policy for Los Angeles’ future was explained over 100 years ago -- Los Angeles had to remain decentralized and spread outward uniformly. Instead, we have inherited the folly of letting a few greedy developers and their political stooges densify, density, densify. Too bad Angelenos did not act like Goldilocks who listened to Aristotle about adhering to the golden mean. They knew the wisdom of things being “just right.” Instead, we elected politicos for whom too much is not enough.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.