Recently the Los Angeles 2020 Commission released a report on the current state of the City of Los Angeles. A lot of people have dissed the report, and I have some gripes with it myself, but for the most part there’s no disputing the conclusions they came up with. This city’s a mess. Sure, we can say some of the commission members are pushing their own agenda, and sure, I have some problems with their process. But still, the problems they point out are real. This city’s in deep trouble.
The report details the crises we’re facing on several fronts, but it points out two areas that I think are particularly important, and closely related. First, our elected officials are sadly lacking when it comes to demonstrating leadership. Second, voter turnout for elections is appallingly low.
In the last mayoral election, only twenty three percent of registered voters went to the polls. Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected by less than thirteen percent of registered voters. I will confess up front that I did not cast a ballot. Ordinarily I make it a point to vote in every election, but I was so demoralized by the prospect of choosing between Wendy Gruel and Eric Garcetti that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Obviously part of the reason for the low turnout was that most Angelenos, like me, were completely underwhelmed by the candidates. We had to choose between two long-time insiders who had no new ideas, no imagination, no vision. The only real difference was that Garcetti was backed by developers and Gruel was backed by the unions. The campaigns they ran let us know that their highest priority was preserving the status quo.
And that won’t work any more. LA is facing several serious challenges. The budget is locked into chronic deficits, our water supply is seriously compromised, response times for emergency services are sub-standard, the city’s infrastructure is crumbling. We can’t afford to stick with business as usual.
While Garcetti and Gruel were the front-runners, there were several other candidates on the primary ballot, and some of them had interesting ideas about how to address these issues. I know many of you will say, ‘But the other candidates didn’t have a chance. It was either Gruel ort Garcetti.’ And this is the kind of thinking that has gotten us into the situation we’re in now.
As long as we keep voting for the same hacks, we keep perpetuating the status quo. City Hall is controlled by a group of powerful insiders who are beholden to another group of powerful special interests, mainly developers and unions. It’s the political insiders who get the money to mount high-profile campaigns, and when they get into office they keep perpetuating the same cycle of patronage and corruption. As long as we keep accepting the same old hacks, over and over again, refusing to look in new directions, refusing to think outside the box, the city will continue to be run by the same pack of losers that got us into this mess to begin with.
Maintaining the status quo is not an option. If we don’t change course, we will slide into the abyss. We need to find new leadership. We need elected officials who will actually face up to the problems, instead of looking for a way to slide around them. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we get engaged. We need to be informed. We need to be involved. We need to vote. Just because the city’s budget situation isn’t as dire this year as it was last year, don’t fool yourself. LA is sliding off a cliff, and our elected officials aren’t going to do anything unless we make them do it.
We need to act.
You can read the full report by clicking on the link below.
The photo at the top is from the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive. It shows an anti-apartheid protest, and was taken by Chris Gulker in 1989.