Bill Boyarsky
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February 27, 2007

A Times editorial: long, pompous and dumb

The Los Angeles Times’ recent editorial on county government was earnest, unbearably long, condescending, pompous and just plain dumb.

“The nation’s largest local government is broken, but few Angelenos seem to have noticed,” the piece began. What is the reason for this inattention? “…not noticing government is the birthright of every Californian. We pay our taxes if they’re not unreasonably high, and serve on juries when summoned; sometimes even vote. But otherwise, we’re not especially captivated by state and local politics.”

I have not seen a single paragraph that better expresses the distance between the new managers of the paper and its readers.

It’s impossible to generalize about “every Californian.” I have been in every part of this state and talked to all types of people. What I took away with me was a respect for the incredible diversity of a place that was settled by waves of immigrants, one different than the other. These immigrants created an economy as diverse as they are. Anyone who has traveled at least through a portion of the state would never generalize about “every Californian.”

Some Californians are not “especially captivated by state and local politics.” Others vote for bond issues for schools and roads; participate in parents’ groups in public school; march and rally for and against immigrants; worry about weak levees on the Sacramento and American rivers; suffer through Los Angeles neighborhood council meetings; mount recall campaigns; organize against pollution at the harbor; campaign for and against three strikes.

The Times’ new bosses fret about getting their arms around this place. They want it tied up in a neat package. That is why they write about “every Californian.”

I never tried to put my arms around California or L.A. They were too big. I couldn’t wrap up California or the Southland in a package. My editors would not have permitted me to do so, even if I wanted. They let me hit the road, from the Mexican to the Oregon borders, from the coast to the Sierra, from the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys to the harbor.

Then they encouraged me break it down into manageable pieces, sometimes using a narrative form to tell a broader story, but always with a respect for the diversity of the state. The editorial writers saw it the same way. They knew the people, the places and the issues. That is why the editorial writers won two Pulitzer prizes in the years just preceding the arrival of the Tribune people.

Instead, on Sunday, February 25, the Times labored long and painfully to come to this conclusion about county government: “Democracy may be sacrosanct but its current format in Los Angeles County isn’t. Everything must be on the table.”

Big deal.

February 20, 2007

Spare me from the lawyers

The last meeting of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission was more frustrating than usual.

The five of us gathered in a City Hall hearing room on Tuesday, Feb. 13 for our monthly get together. A blue binder with all the matters before us had been delivered to our homes a few days before, giving us plenty of time to read up,

I thought we had a light agenda, but I was wrong. That was clear when we hit agenda item number one, “In the matter of Regency Outdoor Advertising, Inc. and Brian Kennedy.”

At an earlier meeting, we had devoted considerable time to the case against Kennedy, who is well known in local politics for his campaign contributions and his aggressive pursuit of billboard business in the face of government regulators. From what I had read about him in the papers,it sounds like you don’t want to get in his way.

He had been accused of failing to notify the ethics commission staff of putting up billboards on behalf of candidates in the 2001 city election and of not putting a notice on some of the billboards saying that his independent expenditure paid for them. We had turned his case over to a state administrative law judge, who held a long hearing. Since we’re part timers, we frequently do that so we won’t be tied up for days at a time.

The judge found that Kennedy had violated the law but didn’t intend to deceive anyone. He recommended a fine. Like my fellow commissioners, I read through the transcript of the hearing before the judge and other documents.

I agreed with the judge. Kennedy’s role had been in the newspapers before the election. I’d read the stories. This guy is well known, the kind of person always in the sights of regulators and reporters. But I didn’t see that he had concealed anything. My fellow commissioners saw it differently and voted to increase the fine over what the judge recommended. The vote was 4-1. Game over, I thought.

Game not over. Game never over. On our Feb. 13 agenda was what seemed to be routine motion implementing our previous decision. I thought it would be quick and easy. But Kennedy’s lawyer, Ronald B. Turovsky and our lawyer-director of enforcement, Deena R. Ghaly, argued fiercely and at length over the wording of the motion. Neither side would surrender.

We finally disposed of the thing. At least I think so. The argument went way over my head. It was so nuanced, disputatious and legalistic, in fact, that I am sure I have missed important nuances in writing this report.

We spend a lot of time on law enforcement. We should work on public policy, figuring out better ways to finance campaigns and to improve the political process. We have a creative, experienced policy staff, one of the best in city hall. But this staff doesn’t get the chance it deserves. As a result, all we’re known for is enforcement. Our positive side seldom gets a chance for the spotlight.

February 12, 2007

My unfortunate clarity deficit

I am definitely suffering from a clarity deficit. Last week, I wrote about how much I disliked the subsidies and secrecy involved in three big L.A. development projects. In response, Joel Kotkin sent me an e-mail criticizing me for liking them.

If Kotkin, who is smart and also hates subsidies and secrecy, didn’t understand me, I figured I’d better try again:

I don’t like the taxpayer subsidies and backroom negotiations involved in L.A. Live, the big hotel and retail development around Staples Center. When I was at the Times, I campaigned against the secrecy surrounding Staples and I feel the same about this new project.

Same goes for the proposed development on Grand Avenue. This is the wrong use of taxpayer money. I will never go to those expensive hotels. Too much money for us aging retirees. And I certainly won't take my wife on romantic post theater walks through a park that will provide a new venue for muggers.

Same goes for the latest boondoggle, creating some sort of zone around the airport area hotels that will probably end up with a taxpayer- financed convention center. This is being done to entice the hotels to pay their workers a living wage.

I hate those subsidies. They are corporate socialism. But what I really hate is the secrecy. Because private companies are involved, government can hide its dealings behind corporate curtains. That’s how the Staples Center project started out.

Trying to be subtle, or clever, or whatever, I didn't make my point. But the good thing about blogging is that you always have another chance.

February 5, 2007

Our L.A. communist state

The best way to understand Los Angeles county and city government is to figure we live in a Communist state.

Not a Marxist state, nothing that Karl Marx could have possibly envisioned as he researched and wrote in the British Library Reading Room in London in the mid 19th Century. I am thinking of a more modern Communist model, something along what the Chinese Communist government is doing.

As China hurtles toward attempted conquest of the multinational economy, it has employed an opaque, secretive, none-of-your business combination of state and private enterprise.

This process describes three Los Angeles projects. One is to transform Grand Avenue into a downtown Los Angeles cultural and retail ‘hub,” as the Los Angeles Times put it. The second is to transform the area around Staples Center into another cultural and retail hub for those whose tastes run more toward sports than the LA Phil. And finally, there is the newest proposal—transforming the seedy area around LAX into a cultural and retail hub for hurried travelers in search of conference rooms, heavy dinners with the clients and whatever else business travelers seek.

What all three of these proposals have in common is that they demand enough government funding to permit the risk adverse private sector to take a chance. This is not the market economy. This is what the Chicoms are doing as they lure massive private investment to pretty up the place for the Olympics.

Individually, two out of three of these projects are OK. I think it’s great that the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors are promoting a new hotel by the Disney Concert Hall, even though the room, bar and restaurant prices will probably be too high for this non-expense account retiree. The residential developments are nice. It’s wonderful that a portion of the housing will be cheap enough for the almost- poor to afford—although one of the project executives said the developers will seek some reimbursement, presumably from us taxpayers. And I like the idea of the park reaching from the Music Center to City Hall, even though I may have trouble persuading my wife to take a romantic post- theater walk there at 11 p.m. Maybe they’ll have a lot of bars and cops.

And I think I will enjoy the taxpayer subsidized Staples area, LA Live. It’s going to be hot, hotter than ESPN’s Sports Center.

The airport deal leaves me puzzled. After subsidizing two downtown deals, why must the city create some sort of a development zone to help the area around the airport? Because the mayor and the city council paid off the airport area hotels so the hoteliers might possibly pay a living wage to their workers. The taxpayers are going to have to subsidize yet another project, one that nobody needs. Don’t those hotels already have meeting and entertainment rooms?

What all these deal have in common is that they are done mostly in secret, in the Chinese Communist manner. Mark Lacter made this point in LA Observed when he wrote about LA Live and the developer, AEG: “ …who knows which numbers are real and which ones are just made up. AEG sure ain't telling.”

You could say that about all these developments. The trouble with such state supported capitalism is that the deals are done in the privacy of corporate offices, then trotted out for so called public deliberation and votes. China's President Hu Jintao would be pleased,

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