19 Jun

The two had gravitated together in response to that law of nature which rules that the whole confraternity of politicians prefers to operate within the closed circle of its own initiates, rather than waste time with outsiders; differences of party or opinion having little or no bearing on this preference.

                                                    – Anthony Powell, Books Do Furnish a Room

Los Angeles Magazine may be leaning stylistically more towards Vanity Fair than to New York these days, but it also seems to be enduring a Sports Illustrated-styled cover jinx. Placing Adam Schiff on the cover last November didn't help his quixotic quest for an impeachment conviction. And the magazine's recent featuring of Eric Garcetti, suggesting he "saved" the city from pandemic doom, came just before the recent civil disturbances, during which Mr. Garcetti appeared to be saving absolutely nobody, neither security-driven homeowners nor resistance-oriented protestors, neither the local Black Lives Matter chapter nor the LAPD rank and file.

Part of the problem has been obvious for a long time: for eight years, in fact. LA and particularly the Mayor's office talk a good game about the city's diversity, and the city is indeed highly diverse – just not at the very top, where everyone is cut from the same cloth.

The top leadership of LA is entirely composed of half-progressive/half-neoliberal, all Democratic apparatchiks; it's all white, male, all strongly supportive of LGBT issues, all pro-choice, and all anti-GOP; it's also all pro-development, all pro-globalist, and all pro-sanctuary city. The details get lost as these are all things corporate print and especially broadcast media also are; but their policies matter, and they don't always or even often work out for LA residents. And policy in LA is formed in an ever-reliable if absurdly tiny echo chamber, more insulated bubble than war room bunker.

There are the three citywide elected officials – Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and City Controller Ron Galperin – and the three of them are not only Democrats but almost completely interchangeable, often facilitating each other's power grabs from the time they got into office. (They even awarded themselves an extra year and a half in office under the guise of making local elections more democratic.) Garcetti's top advisor throughout his mayoralty has been Rick Jacobs, a highly politically-active fundraiser and energetic dispenser of pro-Democratic, pro-LGBT, anti-Republican cant. There is of late Austin Beutner heading the school district – an oblique fellow who has headed a few major LA organizations, who brings more business experience than the others, but looks and thinks a lot like the half-progressives. (His Latino-dominated school district has been most impacted over the past thirty years by Eli Broad – a pro-charter billionaire who before taking less active role last year only represented still more cultural uniformity at the top.) And the city's top news organization, the Los Angeles Times (no longer headquartered in Los Angeles) is headed by Norm Pearlstine, such a devoted Democratic party propagandist that last year he featured his own personal abortion narrative – on Father's Day.

What do all these very similar people do for the city? When Rick Jacobs recently celebrated the work of a Republican mayor on Twitter, I thought, "Well, this may, like the author of Shakespeare's sonnets, be 'silent to all but those who know,' but I had also seen it coming. Obviously LA's top leaders don't solve homelessness very well – they have been asking for more and more money and generating worse and worse results for thirteen years now. No, what all these people do best is the precise opposite of making for more affordable housing for the many: they help developers build tens of thousands of overpriced, boxy rental units.

Keeping demand for such units high, LA persistently lures renters here from elsewhere, be it the midwest, Irvine, or the Pacific Rim of Asia, by the tens of thousands each year. We shoehorn these new arrivals not into old-styled tenements (which they have too much agency to stand for) but into over-priced, interchangeable, highly dense rabbit hutches. In short, while attempting to appease the demands of progressives, the policies of LA's top leaders favor well-heeled neoliberals, whose expensive offerings prey dearly on the recently arrived masses.

No, you don't encounter diversity in top LA leadership. Where you encounter it is at street level. I encountered this more diverse LA recently when I took a bus last week. Of course, LA Metro is another Garcetti-dominated clique.

Surreal doesn’t begin to describe my experience on the bus. I knew I had to wear a mask and I knew we had to enter through the back. I didn’t know where we were supposed to pay — well, we weren’t. As I approached the driver, he whisked the plexiglas guard around: it crossed the whole front aisle. He seemed angry at me when I asked how we should pay — “we’re not taking fares at this time.“ Since March 19? The whole system has been free since March 19?  (No, it's more like March 23 – and the fact has been vastly underreported in our politically acquiescent media – I invite you to try your luck on fetching real fare information via a search engine.)

It turns out that the logic of the matter of fares is as surreal as the bus experience itself. "L.A. Metro asks its bus riders to “have” their fares, but is not requiring them to pay them, says Brian Haas, the system’s communications manager." This Alice in Wonderland approach to revenue collection – which has forfeited nearly two billion dollars in transit revenue thus far this year – bears a striking similarity to the incongruity of civic leaders indulging rioting and looting while telling churchgoers they can't go to church. Honest souls on the Metro are eager to pay; drivers think it not worth the trouble. No wonder the protestors are feeling that the communist state may be the new utopia.

Also noteworthy was the fact that everyone in the bus was seated on the aisle, as though we who board the bus in the middle of a pandemic are really anxious to sit right next to a stranger.

In LA, after eight years of half-gestures by half-progressives in power, LA's police remain beholden only to its Commission. LA's transit system, vastly invested by County power but equally vastly run by City interest, remains a mystery to all, including the poorest. And LA's homeless crisis has somehow become an even more menacing crisis throughout the entire Garcetti mayoralty.

The leaders who brought us these dramatic non-results will not change until late 2022. That is a long time to wait for real change. The city is not as poorly run as New York – the home of a true progressive, where the mayor seems to wake up each morning anxious to discover new ways to screw up the city – but it has more room than ever before for improvement in policing, housing costs, transit, homelessness. LA's longtime civic leaders, from Garcetti to Pearlstine, from Jacobs to Beutner, and Galperin and Feuer, owe it to the city to begin bringing in other real voices on matters of policy – voices vastly external to their own insular and highly homogenous clique.

–JF Mailander

JF Mailander is owner and publisher of Nine Sisters Press.

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