More companies have fled the city so far in 2021 than in all of 2020, itself previously the worst year on record — Flight from Frisco as companies recognize employee mobility in the tech era — The cloud is replacing office space
Like the Motor City, the City by the Bay became a victim of its own success and excess
In 1960 Detroit was the wealthiest city per capita in the United States, placing it high in the running for wealthiest worldwide. A staggering 93% of all automobiles sold domestically and nearly half sold overseas were manufactured in the Motor City, which dominated not just the domestic economy but the nation’s psyche for a quarter century after World War II. Automobiles suffused popular culture and affected every aspect of life, from pop music to movies to political movements. Many believe that the Civil Rights Movement would not have been possible, or at least would have taken substantially longer, without automobiles and resultant innovations like the Green Book.
Flash forward to 2008 when the city declared the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. A combination of international competition, technological innovation, and institutional hubris (both on the part of management and employee unions) doomed the glory days of the domestic car business. Toss in a healthy dose of old fashioned Rust Belt political corruption and spiraling crime rates and today Detroit ranks as one of the poorest, most dangerous, and worst run cities in the country. It’s a place where once-grand homes routinely sell for pennies on the dollar.
Warning signs of excess and decline emerged relatively early in the post-war era. In 1958 a 3.5 million square foot Packard factory shuttered after the company’s ill-fated merger with Studebaker and subsequent bankruptcy. Its demise foreshadowed systemic issues that lurked just under the surface of the flood of post-war productivity and cash. By the early 1960s, competition from Japanese and European marques that emphasized efficiency, reliability, and modern technology over sheer size and power gnawed away at Detroit’s biggest advantage, its centralized production model. The auto industry had painted itself into a corner: At the very moment this new competition was changing customers’ expectations the domestic Big Three were locked into supply contracts that sometimes extended over a decade or more. In a head-snappingly short period of time Detroit’s biggest strength became one of its biggest liabilities. The oil crises of the 1970s and labor disputes of the 1980s accelerated the decline. By the late 80s “innovation” in Detroit often was reduced to a matter of badge-swapping.
The most infamous example, and a perfect symbol of Detroit’s decline, was the flaming pile of Cadillac known as the Cimarron. The luxury marque’s entry offering literally was a Chevy Cavalier economy car with a Cadillac badge and some leather. Suffice it to say, consumers noticed. The Big Three would lose market share consistently until well into the 2000s.
San Francisco’s parallels in the 2020s
Early mover advantage. Near monopolies. Complex supply chains with interlocking dependencies. Rapid national and even global dominance. Immeasurable cultural and social impacts. Early signs of overreach and hubris. Detroit at the start of 1970s sounds eerily like San Francisco entering the 2020s.
Entire websites are dedicated to tracking the exodus. The frightening thing to consider, at least if you love the City by the Bay and care about its future, is the sheer variety of reasons people are leaving. There’s no one issue policymakers can address: The exodus is as broad as it is deep. Families are fed up with mortgaging their children’s futures to reside in a city that’s become infamous for a “poop app” that warns people where the latest piles of excrement have been discovered. People are fleeing out of control crime, a homeless crisis that qualifies as a humanitarian disaster, crumbling infrastructure, and decaying public spaces. They’re escaping the tech industry’s incorrigible “bro culture” and the stifling groupthink in which careers can depend on saying the right things and donating to the correct causes. Some are just fed up with the lousy weather.
That’s another similarity with Detroit in the 1970s and 80s. People left the Motor City for a similarly wide range of reasons. Crime was a huge issue, identified as the city’s most pressing in numerous polls. The school system was buckling. Living costs remained stubbornly high even as good-paying jobs started vanishing.
Some people were just fed up with the lousy weather.
The double-edged sword of market dominance
When I lived in San Francisco in the early 2000s, if I’d told someone I was moving from Nob Hill to Fort Worth, Texas half the heads in the room would have exploded and the survivors would have beaten me to death with fresh warm baguettes. Yet over the last five years scores of companies with thousands of employees have done just that. Texas has become one of the top destinations for people and organizations fleeing the Bay Area. The COVID-19 crisis injected steroids into the situation as Americans nationwide migrated out of big cities en masse, many permanently. It’s a profound change. Today there are some 17 million vacant square feet of office space in the city. That’s almost 700 floors, the equivalent of seven World Trade Centers and good for a 30% vacancy rate in some of the most expensive buildings in the world. That’s a lot of space to fill as more people leave all the time.
Detroit learned the hard way that monopolies don’t last forever and usually not even for very long, and that they tend to sow the seeds of their own demise (an irony of anti-trust law is that the government almost always begins busting trusts well after technology and the market have done most of the busting – witness the railroads, the legacy telecommunications companies, airlines, Microsoft, etc.). Cars can be built anywhere there’s room for a factory and a workforce able to run it. San Francisco is learning the hard way that tech companies are far more ephemeral, often needing nothing more than some computers and an internet connection.
One big concern is the departure of anchor tech companies and investors. Palo Alto’s famed Sand Hill Road is no longer the only place startup founders flock, one less reason for companies and entrepreneurs to establish in the Bay Area, least of all its most expensive city. Today the world’s biggest tech fund is the Japanese owned, Saudi backed SoftBank Vision Fund. The annual Web Summit in, of all places, Portugal, is now considered the single most important tech deal-making event.
Last week Tesla became the latest company to announce its relocation, to Austin, Texas. Will the carmaker prove to be the canary in the coal mine for San Francisco the way Packard was for Detroit?
During the early 2000s dot-com boom there was an obsession with “first-mover advantage.” At the very beginning it meant literally that: The first company to start a website that sold books, the first to offer online banking services, the first online music platform. It didn’t take long for it to become apparent that being first was not so much an advantage as a near guarantee of failure. The streets of Silicon Valley are lined with the corpses of first movers, from pets.com to MySpace to the Microsoft Zune. It turns out that the first mover also makes all of the original mistakes. Competitors from around the country and around the world watched the first dot-com boom, and learned.
Empty citadels of capitalism
Here’s a funny joke: Become the biggest employer in a city. Build the biggest, most obtrusive, and expensive building that city has ever seen. Then, less than three years later announce you’re leaving and that none of your workforce will ever work in that building or that city ever again.
Depending on who you ask Saleseforce Tower is the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and also one of the most despised. San Francisco’s biggest building is a giant empty
phallus disembodied demonic eye skyscraper named after a company that no longer has its headquarters in the city. The canary just hooked its beak up to a 5,000w amp.
A toxic brew of income inequality, political corruption, economic stasis, and crime ultimately destroyed Detroit, and they’re destroying San Francisco
Detroit might have survived the decline of the auto industry. Factories can be repurposed, workforces retrained. For half a century the city had some of the best-trained, best-paid, and most productive workers and managers on the face of the earth, led by a generation of men and women who’d prevailed over a depression and a world war. That workforce was eager to return to the glory days, or at least something better than what they saw and experienced starting in the 1970s.
Instead, Detroit became a case study in how mismanagement can destroy a city. The Motor City was hollowed out in significant part by residents fleeing the twin scourges of political corruption and urban crime. Thomas Sowell has said that the summer of 1967 in particular, when riots left 43 dead and some 1,200 injured and damaged more than 2,000 buildings, “marked the beginning of the decline of Detroit to its current state of despair.” In 2016 San Francisco achieved the dubious distinction of the highest per capita property crime rate among the country’s 50 largest metro areas, a trend that continues to this day. In the summer of 2020 the city endured waves of violence and rioting unseen since the bad old days of the 1960s and 70s.
Meanwhile, a person called Chesa Boudin was elected San Francisco district attorney in 2019 on an anti-incarceration, anti-prosecution, and anti-police platform. In particular he promised to eliminate enhancements – increased prison time for hate crimes, gang-related crimes, sex crimes, and cases of multiple recidivism – and the use of cash bail to ensure that defendants appear in court. From the beginning, Boudin – a prosecutor who has never prosecuted a case or gone to trial – announced that his office would not prosecute quality-of-life crimes such as disturbing the peace, offering or soliciting sex, public defecation/urination/intoxication, or public camping. The results have been predictably Detroit-like. Through August of this year, homicides were up 23% over 2019, burglary increased 43%, and car theft went up 34%. By December, home and commercial burglaries had soared by about 46%.
The final Detroitian touch is San Francisco’s rate of poverty and income inequality. The city by the bay is the second most unequal city in the country. Only Atlanta — hardly a bastion of progressive politics — is more unequal. The results are visible everywhere in the city, from the grand palaces of Pacific Heights to the squalor of the Tenderloin less than half a mile away. Bedizened billionaires picking their way past prostrate bodies en route to opening night at the Opera House.
There are a lot of smart people in San Francisco, and a lot of money. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that this per-obituary will prove premature. But there are a lot of reasons to worry about the City by the Bay. Detroit was sufficiently integral to the U.S. economy that its decline helped precipitate three decades of economic struggle and working class wage stagnation. A declining San Francisco would do the same to the modern tech economy, to the detriment of the nation.
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Tick-tick. Tick-tack-tick. Thunk-tacka-tick-tack. Ding! Ticka-ticka-ticka. Schwip!
For my twelfth birthday a family friend – who apparently had better insight into my calling than I would for another 25 years – gave me a 1951 Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter. It was a unique and wonderful gift for an 80s kid who was otherwise living at the dawn of the digital era, a time when digital beeps produced an increasingly permanent sort of white noise that has come to characterize our daily lives. Had I known the machine’s life story I’d have realized that my friend also gave me a piece of history, not to mention a piece of her own soul.
Alas, twelve-year-old Christopher had about as much use for a forty-year old typewriter as he might have had for a wind-up Victrola. Even our family’s modern Smith-Corona electric typewriter (so advanced it had a white-out key) had been relegated to the bottom shelf, for we had just gotten our first home computer. I was busy learning to work the Apple II+ word processor, turning my thoughts into green letters, then print-out’s I handed into my teachers. It was 1987 and dot matrix reigned supreme.
Designed in Italy by Marcello Nizzoli, Olivetti was a popular portable brand in the 50s and 60s. In 1951 a brand-new Lettera 22 lightened your wallet by $75 to $90 (roughly $700 to $800 in today’s dollars), making it something of a luxury product at a time when an IBM Selectric only set you back ten bucks. Present-day Olivetti aficionados include Cormac McCarthy, Tom Hanks, and the late Leonard Cohen.
Sleek Olivetti typewriters were unusual in an age when most of their brethren were all angles and black-and-white practicality. In contrast to the stern, colorless façade of a Remington Soundless or the blank institutional stare of an Underwood Touchmaster, the Olivetti 22’s curved, almost sensual metal sheathing evoked the world’s growing fascination with all things aerodynamic. After all, it was the dawn of the jet age and even Buicks were getting vertical stabilizers. As the opulence of the Art Deco era gave way to Modernism’s sleek lines the Olivetti 22 was one of the machines for the moment.
It’s not just a looker: Even by today’s standards its mechanisms are wonderfully balanced, each keystroke producing a precise snap from finger to page. It’s a sublime linkage of thought and expression, a tactile echo of the synaptic sparks that create words (or at least midwife them into the real world).
A couple of years later we moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area and the Olivetti vanished among boxes of books and clothes and model airplanes, packed with scrunched–up newspaper care then deposited in a corner of the basement.
Which, looking back, is a shame. Because even though I spent the first fifteen-odd years of my adult life in the practice of law my destiny was always with the written word. If I’d tried out the Olivetti sooner I might have discovered that fact and saved everyone a lot of trouble.
I’d also have discovered that it’s almost impossible not to get a good story out of the Olivetti. It’s not just any old typewriter. The friend who gave it to me was Steffi Duna, a Hungarian dancer, singer, and actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Her career read like movie script: Born in 1910 to a family of vintners in a village outside Budapest, by the time she was 20 she had danced in most of the capitals of Europe. At 22 she debuted on the London stage in Noel Coward’s Words and Music, becoming one of the four actresses who breathed life into Coward’s most famous song, “Mad About the Boy.” Before retiring in 1940 she had starred in numerous films and worked with actors including Lucille Ball and William Boyd. She starred in the first Technicolor talkie, 1927’s La Cucaracha.
She was still using the Olivetti in the 1980s, eschewing technological advancement for the simple pleasures of the typewriter. It’s amazing to think how many thousands of letters she must have written over the years. How many did she compose to Lucy, with whom she starred in 1939’s Panama Lady and maintained a lifelong friendship?
Steffi’s husband was Dennis O’Keefe, an actor whom IMDB describes as a “Tall, cheerful outdoorsy leading man of Hollywood B movies,” and lists 278 movie and TV credits over his 30-year career. He was in some big films, too. In 1944 he was in a pair of war pictures, alongside John Wayne and Carol Lombard in The Fighting Seabees and with Gary Cooper and Laraine Day in Cecile B. DeMille’s The Story of Dr. Wassell. In the 1950s he wrote and co-wrote screenplays and teleplays, composing many on the Olivetti, often with Steffi’s help. My humble little typewriter may once have put words in Alan Ladd’s mouth. O’Keefe also was known to be generous with friends and co-stars. Maybe The Duke himself borrowed the Olivetti on the Seabees set to dash off a letter home. It’s portable, after all.
The typewriter weighs 4.5 pounds and comes in a rugged, steel-framed canvas carrying case with a leather-wrapped steel handle and a heavy zipper. The case itself is a sort of Greatest Generation khaki, the handles and stitching saddle-colored. There’s a water ring on the back-left corner, smudges of what may be charcoal, grease, or mascara on the back, and faded immigration stamps across the top including Cuba, Italy, The Maldives, and Mexico. It’s vaguely redolent of an incense hard to place.
It might have remained in storage for years or decades more had fate not intervened. My father died in 2006, and when I visited my mother in the ensuing years I often took time to sort through some of the accumulated family ephemera in the basement. It was during one of those dusty, spider-intensive, beer-assisted forays into the past that I opened the box containing the Olivetti, like a domestic Indiana Jones unearthing a long-lost treasure.
The first thing I noticed was the smell: Incense, metal, canvas, oil, and history.
I think the smell of history peaks between 50 and 100 years. It’s the smell of an old room in an old building where something once happened, the smell of memories being freed. The smell when you went down into your grandparents’ basement full of boxes of old books and toys, the wooden skis leaning against the wall, the sewing machine encased in dust. My dad’s high school yearbook still smelled of Salinas summers and Chevy axle grease fifty years after he graduated.
After a century the essences begin to depart. That’s why when the wind is right you can still catch whiffs of cordite and internal combustion on the Normandy beaches, while Antietam smells only of chestnut pollen and dry wheat.
The Olivetti is 66 years old. A history-minded sommelier might say its bouquet is in its prime. For me it’s the smell of my own grandparents’ basement in Puyallup, Washington on a rainy day. It’s the smell of old books, real books, books that told stories apart from the ones in their pages. The smell of everything the color of childhood, a cartoon of Snoopy typing It was a dark and stormy night in the 40-year-old book that belonged to my aunt, a stain from a lollipop or Popsicle on the cover smack in the middle of Charlie Brown’s bald head. A dark and stormy night can mean anything to a child, and lead anywhere.
The smell is also one of the secrets that makes writing on a typewriter unlike any other form of composition. It’s magical, because a typewriter engages all five senses. It’s a total physical immersion in the written word.
There are the smells of the particular machine’s unique history, along with ink, oil, metal, and paper. After a while the scents accumulate as a vague taste on the tip of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. You may find that your next meal is tinged slightly with ink dust (a dish featuring tomato sauce is recommended, primed with a vodka-based cocktail and assisted by plenty of garlic). There are the sounds: The type bar mechanism, carriage movement, spaces, shifts, inserting and removing pages, and of course the keystrokes and the ding! at the end of each line. The rattle of the table. So many vibrations in a single letter!
The sense of touch is acute with a mechanical typewriter. The paper itself is different, lighter and rougher than soulless laser printer stock. It’s more like – well, paper. The Olivetti requires moderate key pressure such that typing with all five fingers is impractical unless you’re Dwayne Johnson. I find myself typing Hemingway-style, middle fingers reinforced by index fingers, my right hand handling carriage return. The task is visually engaging, eyes shifting constantly among page, keyboard, and machine. The Olivetti’s European-style QZERTY arrangement keeps the American writer alert; it also lacks “1” and “0” keys, requiring a lowercase l and an uppercase O. The motion of the type bars and carriage is hypnotic, choreographed to the action and movement on the page.
The sensory immersion creates a meditative state ideal for creativity. Each keystroke requires particular attention, since there’s no delete key and white-out is a time-consuming thought-killer. Freed from the tyranny of constant electronic revision the additional mental engagement focuses the mind. It gives the conscious and ego something to do and lets the writing id take over.
Which is the most magical thing of all about the Olivetti: It’s a fool-proof cure for writer’s block.
Composing drafts in different media allows the writer to experience a story from a variety of vantages, different nuances and facets emerging in the progression from storyboard to handwriting to computer screen and finally print copy. At any point in the process, when I come to a stumbling point, when an outline isn’t coming together or I can’t quite seem to hear a character’s voice, I sit down at the little wooden desk occupied by the typewriter, a ream of (real) paper, an ash tray, and a few hardcovers between a pair of antique bronze bookends shaped like elephant heads.
Sometimes I light a cigarette because sometimes a writer has to, Surgeons General and healthy old age be damned. What of the troublesome character, scene, or moment that brought me here? It recedes, ceding consciousness to the thrill of inspiration. A drag on the cigarette, the smoke pinches the lungs and nicotine tickles the brain.
A question, then, to my trusty old friend: Where were you, fifty years ago today? Who was spilling their guts to you? What did the traffic sound like that night?
Where did she sleep?
The Olivetti has stories to tell, if the writer will listen. Listen I do and it begins to answer my queries. Slowly at first, one letter at a time, Ouija-like. A scene never beheld or a character never encountered emerges from the void between me and the machine, assumes shape and form and action. I’ve been here before, though we’re here for the first time.
She leaps the railroad tracks and runs through thick fog beneath an orange streetlight, pursued by a faceless man in a blue trench coat. She clutches a package wrapped in newspaper under her arm, holding it like it’s her own child. Beneath the distant wail of a locomotive, out of the corner of her eye at the edge of the light she sees me watching her. She brushes her red hair aside. We make eye contact, and in an instant I know everything.
Or, if you prefer, more simply: It was a dark and stormy night….
Thunk-tack-tack-tick. Tick-tick-tacka-tacka. Tick-tick. Tack-ding!
William Shatner will be aboard the next
amazon.com publicity stunt “Blue Origin” flight — An actor who inspired generations to imagine that humankind would one day travel to the edge of the universe and beyond will spend a couple of semi-weightless minutes kind of close to space — Instead of a ten-year mission, the “up and down” flight will last ten minutes
I was never a Star Trek fan. I knew it primarily by reputation and from the handful of episodes I watched as a kid on sick days from school. Nevertheless the characters and, more importantly, the Star Trek universe, made as indelible a mark on my young imagination as any cultural phenomenon could have. It was part of a broader American hopefulness that managed to survive into the 1980s. When I was growing up science fiction was synonymous with human potential, the idea that we could slip the surly bonds of Earth and humankind’s petty quotidian divisions to reach our fullest blossoming in the endless vacuum of space. When the Space Shuttle Columbia made its maiden orbital voyage on April 12-14, 1981 it confirmed everything young people like me had been raised to believe, hope, even expect about humanity and particularly the collection of people known as the United States of America.
It was a nice dream, while it lasted.
When William Shatner rides a tiny “Blue Origin” rocket up into the sky sometime in the next couple of weeks he will not be in the company of a diverse crew of best and brightest who embody and represent the planet he will briefly leave behind. He’ll be with an executive from
amazon.com “Blue Origin” and a couple of other CEOs whose primary qualifications are the checks they wrote to amazon.com – dang it! – “Blue Origin” to cover the fare. The company is calling the passengers “customers and astronauts,” which is kind of like calling the flatulent fellow in 37C on the Southwest flight to Kansas City a “passenger and pilot.” The final frontier it ain’t.
In fact, it’s not even clear that Shatner will reach “space.” There’s no universally-agreed upon boundary, relegating the various corporations and their CEOs to debates over whether or not their “customers and astronauts” went to space at all (rendering the “astronaut” part of the appellation problematic).
The whole point of Star Trek was that space exploration was a cause and mission too great for any one country, much less corporation. The starship Enterprise wasn’t just a marvel of (make-believe) technology, it was an interstellar declaration of human freedom.
amazon.com’s “Blue Origin’s” New Shepherd – oh, let’s call it a “spaceship” – is a for-profit space tourism proof-of-concept. It’s the beta version of a new era of capitalistic exploration in which the moon is reduced to little more than a tripadvisor.com bucket list destination (“Online pictures looked amazing. Reality was cold and indifferent…..”) and the cosmos are accessible to the highest bidders.
It’s as if the last 50 years came up with the perfect synecdoche for themselves: An actor who inspired actual astronauts and pilots, who gave millions of young people the raw material to dream their biggest dreams no matter the risks or costs, hitching a ride on a for-profit publicity tour sponsored by the world’s second richest person. Captain Kirk, boldly going where quite a few men and women have gone before.
Then again, it’s rather what we’ve come to expect out of this particular moment in U.S. history, which is the bigger issue with Shatner’s flight. For the last quarter century or so we’ve less and less intent on exceeding and expanding humanity’s notion of the possible. Quite the contrary: If the first two decades of the new millennium will be remembered for anything it will be for kneecapping Americans’ sense of what we can accomplish. No wonder we can’t get to the moon anymore much less the cosmos. No wonder we no longer talk of slipping those surly bonds.
“Blue Origin” won’t reach the altitude the Mercury 7 mission attained 60 years ago in 1961. During that flight Alan Shepherd (who unlike “Blue Origin’s” “customers and astronauts” was an actual astronaut who piloted his own vessel) traveled more than twice the distance Shatner’s will. Nor will “Blue Origin” enter low earth orbit the way Yuri Gagarin did, also in 1961.
It’s not a stretch to say that when it comes to space flight human progress, at least in this country, has stalled. In fact, we’re going backward. In a destabilized and competitive multi-polar (in more ways than one) world that kind of technological loss isn’t just unfortunate, it’s dangerous. One of the reasons NASA sustained the Space Shuttle program for years beyond its expected service life was that there was nothing to replace it, no technological leap. We had gone from Explorer 1 to Apollo 11 to Skylab to the Space Shuttle to – the Space Shuttle. When the Columbia disaster forced the end of the Shuttle program in 2003 the US space program went into a decade-long dark age. We were reduced to purchasing fare on Russian heavy rockets, the ultimate humiliation.
Into that void have stepped billionaires celebrating feats that others with more moxie and at far greater risk achieved generations ago. At this rate Bill Gates soon will announce a radical new plan to transport human beings in machines that soar through the skies, followed by competitor Tim Cook’s declaration that Apple is on the verge of mastering the wheel and Mark Cuban’s daring effort to harness the power of fire.
There is a glimmer of hope. Regardless of how one feels about Elon Musk, SpaceX may well be the last best hope for the future of the US’s presence in space. That maniac pothead may get us to Mars yet. And there’s ample reason to believe in the eventual triumph of that incorrigible and incorruptible fact of existence, human curiosity.
Look skyward next week. You might see the last flicker of a dream crest the horizon on its way to oblivion. Then turn your eyes toward the California coast. That’s where from time to time at night or in the early morning you might catch the smoke trail of a new one rising from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Help us, Elon Musk. You’re our only hope.
With the governor’s signature on SB 9 and SB 10 last week, California Democrats have made trickle down economics their core economic platform — 50-year transition from warriors of the working class to guardians of the gilded class
They’ve shed even the pretext of concern for low income Californians, except as (highly profitable) pawns in the homeless and poverty industries
History’s greatest political satirists couldn’t come up with this stuff
Here’s a funny joke: Have a political party spend a half century as the avowed “slow growth” environmental party, the party that creates regimes of coastal, air, water, soil, wildlife, and other protections in the name of planetary emergencies both real and imagined, bureaucratic ecosystems consuming hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars annually and employing hundreds of thousands. For fifty years have that party impose height, density, and other land use controls at the local and county levels so that both the supply of multifamily homes and the infrastructure that sustains it max out by the early 2000s. Simultaneously, have this party quietly loosen many of those same kinds of land use and environmental controls in suburbs and exurbs where an ever-increasing portion of its base resides, even as it publicly decries the alleged environmental depredations of those places.
Meanwhile, at the macro level make sure the party imposes policies that create more low-paying jobs and fewer good-paying jobs than the national average, somehow managing this feat even though California ranks as the world’s fifth largest economy and is a global center of innovation in everything from aerospace and technology to entertainment and finance. Just as this confluence of wage stagnation, regulatory stasis, and below-average housing production collide with one of the worst recessions in recent history and – as always happens – lower income and impoverished people are the first to start looking for help, have that party dismantle the agencies responsible for distributing block grants for affordable housing, business improvement districts (BIDs) and replace them with — nothing.
For good measure, have that party turn once thriving inner city school systems into unionized institutions of mass produced failure, hopelessness, and dependency that overwhelmingly hurt black and brown children, crippling entire generations, while middle and upper class white families with more money flee to the better school systems of the (publicly hated but secretly coddled) suburbs. Last but not least, have that party oppose even the most moderate efforts at wildfire control and preparation measures until fuel loads build to the point that a cubic foot of mountain deadwood can have the same BTU potential as a cubic foot of crude oil.
To top things off, have this party support so-called “criminal justice reform” that unleashes heretofore unimaginable postmodern hellholes in dozens of cities, releasing criminals by the hundreds of thousands to both become and prey upon the homeless population and terrorize law-abiding citizens, then impose a series of draconian, life-crushing, scientifically laughable COVID-19 health orders that further decimate urban cores and send people fleeing to the suburbs and exurbs by the million. As the cherry on top, ensure that party brahmins enforce those rules on others while themselves enjoying a carefree, mask-free, debt-free life of wine country fundraisers and late night dance club parties.
The punchline and the 1% payoff
The punchline: When the inevitable consequences of this half-century experiment start playing out in the form of unaffordable housing, living, food, and other basic expenses for tens of millions of ordinary Californians, pushing the state to the brink of economic collapse, have this party take measure of the situation and declare without reservation that it has all been caused not by decades of misguided, often contradictory, frequently corrupt, and ultimately counter-productive legislative meddling but…..racism.
You may have thought that single family houses were inanimate objects. Intimate, emotionally essential inanimate objects, but inanimate just the same. In this joke you’re wrong. Single family homes are racists, products of decades, centuries, even millennia of injustice. You might as well drape a white hood over your chimney (California pretty much won’t let you use it for actual fires anymore anyway).
This punchline gives this political party – let’s call them “Democrats” – free reign to pass hundreds of laws and thousands of pages of new regulations that all but ensure future generations of Californians will live in cramped, low-quality-but-still-hideously-expensive shoe boxes with all the charm, character, and soul of Soviet row blocks. Because, again, houses racist.
Lost in the political hullabaloo is the fact that this joke is being played by elected and appointed politicians entirely bought and paid for by the 1% — in many cases by the 0.01%. By effectively eliminating local control over development, housing, and land use those hundreds of new laws and thousands of new regulations amount to open season on every single family neighborhood in California. Urban, suburban, exurban, rural, agricultural, mountain, every kind of zone you can think of is about to be opened up to the highest bidders. That’s because, with apologies to the late Senator John McCain the Democrats’ new core philosophy amounts to “Build, baby, build.”
The first few years will be very good for a very small number of very well-connected people. The headlines below are from across the political spectrum. As the real economy and the Wall Street economy continue to diverge there is enormous, albeit artificial, pent-up demand in the form of inflated stock portfolios. Hedge funds, venture capital firms, pension funds, and other institutional grade investors have accumulated hundreds of billions just in the last two years. All that money is looking for somewhere to go — and California’s “progressives” just completed a housing policy superhighway for them.
Make no mistake: These opportunities will not be available to average families. Anyone who thinks mom and pop homeowners will have the wherewithal, much less the expertise and time, to develop duplexes, fourplexes, and up to 10 or more units on their single family properties — there’s a bullet train in Fresno for sale. No, it will be investors with zero connection to or concern for the neighborhoods where they’ll be hoovering up single family homes, demolishing them, and building more of those shoe boxes for other investors with zero connection to or concern for the neighborhoods to then purchase and rent (or, more likely, hold for a decade or two while the chaos plays out).
Mark the date: On September 17, 2021 California Democrats completed their journey to the dark side. In the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, given a choice between millions of working and middle class Californians and the party’s benefactors in the 1% of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street, the party have chosen the latter. Resoundingly. Unequivocally. And unlike World War II, it wasn’t even close.
Senate Bills 9 and 10, better known as SB 9 and SB 10, are the penultimate nails in the coffin of California’s urban and suburban single family and smaller multifamily neighborhoods. They are further proof that the dream of home ownership for millions of people of all demographics is effectively dead.
Make no mistake: California Democrats have set the stage – down to the minutest local details – for a new California gold rush. Only this time prospectors and speculators won’t be digging into the ground in far-off mountains, they’ll be coming for your neighborhood.
None of this is opinion. State legislators have openly — one might say gleefully — declared war on single family neighborhoods and openly, eagerly embracing Reaganomics, the Democrat housing policy that dare not speak its name. The tell is that they’ve unleashed the same bag of tricks they deploy on issues from immigration to education: Create a crisis, then set up a system that richly rewards politicians, bureaucrats, nonprofits, and parasitic phalanxes of lawyers, consultants, advisors, experts, academics, and bean counters, all supported by even larger armies of administrators, support staff, IT staff, and inscrutable contractors. Fortify this new branch of the Establishment by howling racism at the most pedestrian critique, the most anodyne questioning of the political class’s authority and expertise. Claim you are on the side of the downtrodden and historically marginalized even as your policies manifestly drag them even further to the margins.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Education. Environment. Business regulation. And, now, inevitably, the very ways in which we live, work, and get around. It’s the biggest gold strike yet for the new gilded class and their political enablers. And it’s just getting warmed up.
It’s time for Californians to reckon with this new reality. The party that gained a supermajority on issues including civil rights, environmental protection, and racial equality has failed spectacularly on all three. As Leonard Cohen sang, The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes.
The only question is whether it was the plan all along. Was California’s progressive Utopia a lie from the start?
The annual homeless count is designed to produce outcomes officials want — Big enough numbers to shock the conscious and loosen taxpayer billfolds, but not so big as to expose the true scale of the humanitarian crisis in the world’s fifth largest economy
In 2020 there were 161,458 homeless people in California, officially. If that strikes you as a peculiarly precise number your spider senses are tuned up. The true number is much, much higher, like by an order of magnitude or more. That’s the conclusion of numerous studies going back decades, including data-driven analyses by the nonpartisan Economic Roundtable, the National Institutes for Research, scholars at Cornell University, and many others.
Consider: According to the California Department of Education, in 2018 more than 204,000 students experienced homelessness in the state, a number that has grown consistently over the last decade. Obviously, both of those numbers – 161,458 total homeless in a state where more than 200,000 children alone experience homelessness every year – cannot be true. And the Education Department’s numbers are based on actual reporting from school districts based on personal interaction with students. In contrast, official total numbers are based on what can only be described as glorified tea leaf reading.
That’s because pursuant to federal mandates, every year cities nationwide engage in an elaborate act of performance art called the homeless point in time (“PIT”) count. On the surface it’s a census of the unhoused, used to guide policy and – crucially – government spending on the crisis. In reality it’s designed to produce the numbers officials want, numbers big enough to shock the conscious and loosen taxpayer billfolds but not so big as to reveal the true scale of the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding every second of every day in the not-so-golden-anymore state.
Official counts are not just unreliable, they’re disastrously misleading
The PIT count fundamentally distorts our understanding of homelessness because it only captures a small and very specific subset of the population, those living openly outdoors. The so-called “hardcore homeless.” Given that the vast majority of homeless people – as many as three-quarters – have some form of shelter at any given time, the magnitude of this limitation can scarcely be overstated. The PIT count actually ignores most homeless people. Worse, it ignores the ones who can most benefit from early interventions to prevent them from falling into street life. And equally importantly, regardless of population dynamics there are monumental policy differences between assisting 161,000 people versus a million or more. We’re collecting the wrong data in support of the wrong policies.
There are other methodological problems with the count. The “raw” data – the chit sheets volunteers use to record their counts, about which more presently – passes through several levels of custody: Volunteers do the counts, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) employees collect and collate the data, then hand it over to experts at the USC School of Social work to crunch the actual numbers. And while the core methodology hasn’t changed procedures vary slightly from year to year and city to city, making comparisons all but impossible. That last fact is crucial: Without meaningful comparisons over time, it is literally impossible to know if billions in taxpayer dollars are having an impact. Of course, that sort of accountability is kryptonite to government bureaucracies like LAHSA.
Like the data the quality of volunteers also varies widely. I volunteered for the 2019 and 2020 counts. The experiences felt more like a matter of doing something for the sake of doing something than serious efforts to assess the population. There are no prerequisites, anyone can sign up. Consequently the vast majority have no experience with census-taking or any particular familiarity with the issue of homelessness. There were small numbers of “old hands” who had participated in multiple counts, as well as a couple of employees from a local homeless nonprofit. But most depended on a 45-minute training session.
The training was like a bad SNL sketch. Both years they started late and were comically mismanaged, to the point that in 2020 the city workers doing the training couldn’t agree on the rules. In the middle of the training in front of 50 or more people two of them got into an argument about the rules regarding counting disabled homeless people. I won’t describe the physical appearance of these two taxpayer-paid city employees, but trust me when I say your imagination doesn’t have the range. Mine certainly didn’t. You can’t make this stuff up.
The count itself was unserious, again feeling like doing something to do it. Teams of three people drove or walked around designated areas, at night. I was in a car group both times. The driver drove, the front passenger counted, and rear passenger made chit marks on the LAHSA form (apparently officials believe the average Angeleno would be overwhelmed by the dual tasks of counting and making pencil marks on a piece of paper; then again if their trainers are any indication of the general quality of LAHSA employees you can see where that concern might originate).
There are more restrictions on the process than in a TSA security line. Volunteers are told to have zero contact with the people they’re counting. Those in cars cannot get out of their cars and those on foot cannot look inside tents or knock on the doors of buildings or vehicles to assess how many people are inside. They are told to assume one to a tent or car and two to an RV. Buildings are completely off-limits, which means by definition people with temporary lodgings – a family member’s couch, an empty building – are missed. There could be a warehouse with 50 people squatting inside and not one would be counted. Likewise, entire areas are excluded from the count altogether, including national and state parks where many people camp.
As noted, the PIT count’s shortcomings are well-documented. It’s not some wacky conspiracy theory – it’s been studied by researchers and scholars for decades. That it continues to be used is an excellent example of the homeless industrial complex at work. At this point, after a half century of “fighting homelessness,” there’s simply too much money and too many jobs at stake for the establishment to admit they’re lying dog-faced pony soldiers when it comes to the true scale of the crisis. It’s a matter of producing the desired outcomes to sustain public sector jobs and billions in federal, state, and local spending.
We’ve been here before
The other agonizing truth is that we’ve been down this path before, with the so-called War on Drugs. That half-century effort did nothing to stem drug use and addiction but did produce millions of hideously unjustified, life-destroying prison sentences that support the multi-billion dollar public defender, bail bond, and incarceration industries. It also created a massive federal bureaucracy called the Drug Enforcement Agency as well as a new branch of the Justice Department, and birthed an entire industry that today employs hundreds of thousands of lawyers, administrative law judges, clerks, recordkeepers, analysts, and the rest of the usual bureaucratic rogues’ gallery. The one thing it most assuredly did not do was end the drug crisis.
Before the War on Drugs was the War on Poverty, which did reduce poverty somewhat in its first decade (though how much of even that success was due to governmental efforts versus the once-in-history postwar U.S. economy remains a matter of debate). In the decades since it has become another hydra-headed government patronage system, the precursor of the modern homeless industrial complex.
Anyone watching the homeless industrial complex metastasize should not be the least bit surprised. Homelessness is the new crack – that the government’s failed War on Poverty begat the failed War on Drugs which led directly to the current failing war on homelessness should, again, surprise no one. They’re the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan of domestic policy. Like those foreign failures these domestic disasters unequivocally are bipartisan (less so in California, where the other party – what are they called again? – has not the slightest relevance). Keep your eyes on the appropriately Byzantine-sounding United States Intergovernmental Council on Homelessness, which currently sports a mere $3.8 million budget and 20 employees. Check back in four or five years.
Unless and until policymakers begin dealing in reality when it comes to the true scope of the homeless crisis California – and the United States – will continue using bad data to support bad (and expensive) public policy. In a sense the political class has painted itself into a corner with the PIT count. They’ve relied on artificially low numbers for so long, at least two decades, that if the true number were to become widely known it would destroy their credibility on the issue that a majority of Californians rank as their single biggest concern.
Or would it? Californias are proving a shockingly apathetic lot. As our streets are handed over to mere anarchy, as crime spikes everywhere, as quality of life plummets by virtually every measure we keep electing the same people who got us into this mess, while the opposition party continues its death spiral into Trumpian irrelevance. So perhaps it doesn’t matter, in the end, what the true number of homeless is in California.
After all, at the rate we’re going the difference between housed and unhoused will soon be all but irrelevant.
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Residents of the Golden State are trapped in a toxic relationship with the dominant Democratic Party — And we keep rewarding and empowering our abusers
To the surprise of absolutely no one with a functional frontal cortex California Governor Gavin Newsom has survived recall. As recently as mid-August tracking polls suggested he was in trouble, with voters expressing wide discontent on issues ranging from ongoing issues like homelessness and crime to specific ones like his $30 billion (at least) bungling of the state’s unemployment agency during the COVID pandemic. He and the rest of the state’s political class have routinely, brazenly flouted public health diktats they impose on 40 million other people. The infamous incident at the French Laundry will rightly go down in political history as a literal let-them-eat-cake moment, the princling giving the v-sign to the hoi polloi from inside the banquet hall. Nevertheless he won the election handily by an almost 2-to1 margin.
The question is, why? Why were so many Californians so eager to retain Mr. Newsom’s services? Even his own campaign couldn’t come up with reasons voters should keep him, relying instead on vicious, often racist attacks on the leading Republican candidate, Larry Elder. Only in California could a self-made black Ivy League graduate, son of a janitor, and lawyer be considered the racist alternative to the whitest and most privileged governor since Pat Brown. Only in the alternative looking glass world of the Left Coast could liberals get away with calling a black man the “blackface of white supremacy.” Only here could a protestor in a gorilla mask (!!!) assault Mr. Elder without eliciting so much as an indignant tweet from the Democrat political establishment.
The answer is: We have Stockholm Syndrome. The political class rub our faces in it and we say thank you may we have another. California Democrats in the 2020s are like New England Catholics in the 1990s: Deep down they know something is terribly wrong with the institution in which they are so deeply invested, that is so central to their identities. They know that something monstrous, quite possibly evil, has been gestating for a long time. But they’re in too deep, the institution is essential to their very sense of self, their place in this chaotic world. Their neighbors and family members belong. Besides, they tell themselves, their parish – excuse us, congressional district – is the exception. Their local clergy – again, excuse us, elected officials – aren’t commodified cogs in an irredeemably broken system. They are the good guys, fighting the good fight.
Actually, considering the number of pedophiles and other sex predators that seem to populate the upper echelons of the Democrat Party and its fundraising apparatus these days, the analogy is perhaps a little too on the nose – but we digress.
Meanwhile, the less said of the state’s hapless Republicans the better. At least Democrats can tell themselves that their people are in charge of the hostage situation, which perhaps offers a glimmer of hope to the traumatized (the church will change its ways, we just have to stick it out and have faith). The GOP hasn’t mattered in state politics since it alienated the fastest growing voter block with Prop 187 in 1991. The party never recovered from that self-inflicted political gunshot wound. In fact Republicans have spent those decades seemingly trying to lose elections. It’s as if they want the Democrats to retain their statewide supermajorities. Over the last five years they’ve accomplished the impressively unlikely feat of rendering themselves even less attractive to liberal state voters by fully embracing Donald Trump – a man most Californians hate slightly more than Charles Manson. Meanwhile you’ll hear Republicans empathize with Newsom, because “his job is really hard.” Well, sure, hostage situations always are. Again, Stockholm is the only explanation.
Let them eat cake — or drink Savignon blanc, as the case may be
During the eighteen months (and counting) of the COVID crisis the hostage takers consistently reminded people in the starkest terms that there are two Californias. There is the California of the political class where maskless (overwhelmingly white) millionaires and billionaires fete themselves at fundraisers whilst masked (overwhelmingly black and brown) servants tend to their every whim and megrim.
Life is good in this California, in some ways better than ever. Establishment politicians and their fellow travelers in places like Silicon Valley and Hollywood send their own offspring to exclusive academae while consigning millions of (overwhelmingly black and brown) children to remote learning at some of the nation’s worst public schools. A California where Mr. Newsom dines mask-free at a restaurant where meals start at $350 a plate sans wine – with healthcare lobbyists no less – while enforcing diktats that keep 40 million people masked and at home. A California where San Francisco Mayor London Breed, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Khuel, and countless others also have brazenly flouted those same orders at exclusive restaurants, spas, and vacation spots. It rankles yet more how many of these neo-Brahmans did not earn their privileged stations but were born into them.
Then there is the California in which 40 million actual people live, a state with some of the nation’s worst schools, roads, infrastructure, and social welfare systems. A state in which more than a million people experience homelessness every year (the official count of 161,840 statewide is the sort of too-precise number that government bureaucracies churn out). A state in which more than a quarter of a million children – children – experience homelessness every single year. A state in which hundreds of thousands more children are crippled every year by subpar public shooling.
In this California people often quite literally feel civilization crumbling beneath their feet. The sorts of catastrophes normally associated with third world countries – failing dams, collapsing roadways, unchecked natural disasters, human beings expiring in public places as if on public display – have become depressingly quotidian. In this California thousands of people die every year due to homelessness, poverty, and preventable disease.
These days in much of California it’s rare to make it through a day without seeing something truly horrific in the streets, on sidewalks, in parks.
….and this is the other.
“The plan produced by the Ten-Year Planning Council is both a blueprint and a bold step toward a new and revolutionary way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness….it’s a national disgrace.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, June 30, 2004
“When it comes to homelessness, as governor I actually want to get something done. I don’t want to talk about this for a decade.” Governor Gavin Newsom, May 21, 2021
Establishment politicians like Gavin Newsom have been failing for decades. And still we continue voting for the same people. The silver lining in this recall was that voters clearly were voting against Mr. Elder, not for Mr. Newsom. Had the GOP mustered a more viable candidate the outcome may have been different. With every crime, with every atrocity in a homeless camp, with every wildfire, with every confusing, contradictory public health order more and more people perhaps break through their trauma. Whether that will ever be enough to change the state’s downward spiral remains to be seen. The fate of 40 million people in the world’s fifth largest economy depends on the answer.
A man who has been at the forefront of California politics for a quarter century remains unknown to much of the state — Never mastered retail politics — Establishment figure riddled with self-inflicted errors — Polls show that the more people hear from him, the less they approve of him
If there were a political supermarket, California Governor Gavin Newsom would be in the generics section. He has figured prominently in the state’s political class for a quarter century, since San Francisco mayor Willie Brown appointed him to the city’s Parking and Traffic Commission in 1996 and to a vacant Supervisor position a year later. Yet he remains virtually unknown to the vast majority of people in the state – not his name and face, of course, which are ubiquitous, but his convictions and politics, his vision. No one really knows what he stands for or believes in. Ask ten people and you’ll get ten incompatible answers. He’s a “business-friendly moderate” and a “progressive change maker,” which means he is neither and nothing. He is, literally, just a politician.
Politicians fall into one of two general categories, technocrats and evangelists. The former gain voters’ confidence through their (at least apparent) mastery of legislative and policy minutiae, a zest for rolling up their sleeves and spending long hours in the law library. Think Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. Evangelicals lead from the heart with an alloy of personal conviction and near-religious fervor. The Ronald Reagans and Bill Clintons of the world.
Again, Newsom is neither. Despite his infamously tedious PowerPoint based speeches he’s no wonk, and he lacks the natural empathy that makes someone like Barack Obama come off as downright magical in certain settings. There’s a reason a San Francisco Chronicle columnist once referred to the former president as a “lightworker.” No one would tag Newsom with that appellation. He’s just there, for no other reason than that he has been for so long. He isn’t a leader, he’s part of the furniture. And in 2021 a lot of Californians want more than a handsome demilune in Sacramento.
It’s incongruous to refer to the rich, dashingly handsome chief executive of the world’s fifth largest economy as a wasted opportunity, but Newsom is just that. It’s hard to conjure a more charmed political career. His father, William A. Newsom III, was a state appellate court judge. More importantly, for three decades he was consigliere to the Getty family, in particular J. Paul Getty himself and later his son Gordon. When J. Paul Getty III was kidnapped in Italy in 1973 Judge Newsom was the bag man with the ransom money (delivered after the notoriously miserly J. Paul spent months negotiating the price down as his grandson was tortured, relenting only after the kidnappers cut off and mailed one of his ears to the tycoon, and even then only agreeing to pay an amount he could claim as a tax deduction – it’s worth keeping in mind that these are the sorts of people who formed Gavin’s worldview – and J. Paul certainly would have recognized and approved of his philandering over the years).
Starting when Gavin was a child the judge leveraged his position with the Gettys to craft his son’s business and political fortunes. Starting in middle school Newsom fils accompanied various Getty family members on traditional aristocratic grand tours of Europe, introducing him the cultural and political centers with which a future Establishment leader is expected to be at least conversant. A 2003 story from SF Weekly called “Bringing Up Baby Gavin” is well worth reading, if only for the portrait it paints of the world in which the embattled governor was raised:
Savvy Irish-American operator that he is, the judge continues to answer a reporter’s questions suavely and smoothly over lunch. His back goes up only when he discusses the San Francisco Chronicle‘s recent story detailing Getty loans to his 35-year-old son and Getty investments in Gavin’s “PlumpJack” businesses, including five restaurants, a Napa winery, a Squaw Valley hotel, and two retail clothing stores. The newspaper concluded that of the self-described entrepreneur’s 11 enterprises, Gordon Getty was the lead investor in 10. The article helped reinforce the view of some that the younger Newsom is a silver spooner who has grown wealthy not as a result of his own business moxie, but because of his connection to the ultrarich Gettys.
Suffice it to say, not many 35-year-olds have their own wineries, ski resorts, four star restaurants, and high end clothing boutiques. Judge Newsom’s financial and political savvy paid other dividends, and he wasn’t particularly discreet about the centrality of nepotism-by-proxy in his son’s nascent political and business careers. He boasted that Mayor Brown – one of California’s most legendary political operators in his own right – appointed Gavin to his first two political jobs based on their friendship. “Besides,” he told the Weekly, “they needed a straight white male on the board.”
Indeed, it is difficult to conjure a politician in modern times who ambled such a gilded path to power (soon to be former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo comes to mind, not the most flattering comparison). Along with the Gettys he enjoys the patronage of San Francisco establishment families like the Pritzkers, Fishers, and Trainas. The state and national Democratic parties have spent lavishly to secure his positions. In his first run for mayor of San Francisco the party spent more than $2 million and dispatched everyone from Nancy Pelosi, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Clinton to Bruce Springsteen to campaign on his behalf against a third tier Green Party candidate who at one point employed a “minister of propaganda” called h. brown.
Of course, politicians with abbreviated CVs and extensive financial statements have become commonplace not just in this country but around the world. Figures like Canada’s Justin Trudeau come to mind. However, in Newsom’s case that gilded but sparse resume may be coming back to haunt him.
A career marked by inevitability, invisibility, and unforced errors
Perhaps the fact that he entered politics was via nepotism and not by winning actual elections left an impression on Newsom that he was different, special. Despite his razor thin margin in his first real race against a political nobody, despite the fact that it took the biggest lights in his party and millions in outside spending to carry him across the finish line against that nobody, perhaps in the back of his mind he decided he didn’t really need the pesky voters in the first place. He certainly behaved accordingly.
Newsom quickly ensnared himself in multiple scandals and unforced errors, including an affair with his best friend’s and campaign manager’s wife, another affair with 19-year-old cocktail waitress to whom he was photographed handing a glass of wine at a taxpayer funded event (the girl’s name – you can’t make this stuff up – was Brittanie Mountz), a well-publicized and abbreviated stint in rehab he later claimed he “didn’t need,” and a near complete collapse of his relationship with city workers, especially the police and cable car operators. Local news was filled with stories about San Francisco’s crisis of confidence and downward spiral, with the Chronicle wondering “Where is Mayor McDreamy?” His first term was bereft of substance to the point that the paper observed “Searching ‘Gavin and Newsom and hair’ on Google reveals 86,900 articles. ‘Gavin and Newsom and Muni’ yields just 81,700” (then again that probably says as much about the media as the governor, but still).
As George W. Bush might have said, it was a heck of a first term. Meanwhile the city’s increasingly dystopian poverty, homelessness, addiction, and crime crises spiraled out of control throughout his mayorship even as the tech industry pushed living expenses to mind-numbing levels, presaging the statewide crises that metastasized on his watch as lieutenant governor and governor.
As Lieutenant Governor he was nearly invisible, a fact that has as much to do with the thankless nature of the job as with Newsom himself. Still, for eight years he seemed content to collect his taxpayer paychecks and spend his time building the necessary war chest and machinery to run for governor and, presumably, President. He didn’t make a name for himself, championed no causes, took no risks. It’s a safe bet that no one in California, including Newsom himself, can name a single accomplishment in those years, an unforced error of its own. Everyone knew he was going to run for governor, mostly just because he was there, and he was content to bide his time in the wings.
As Governor, well, choose a scandal de jure: His $30 billion EDD fiasco, his billion dollar deal for Chinese-manufactured coronavirus masks with a company that had been in existence for less than two weeks, his lies about increasing the state’s woeful wildfire prevention and fighting budget as conflagrations engulf the northern part of the state, allegations of another affair with a staffer, his Getty-supported winery receiving nearly a million dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, and of course the infamous French Laundry incident.
Just this week, with millions of Californians still staring down the barrels of unemployment or reduced hours, decreased government assistance, and fast expiring eviction moratoriums, comes news that Newsom and his wife (beg pardon, “First Partner”) quietly sold their Marin County compound last month in an off-market transaction for a cool $6 million, a $4.5 million profit over barely two years. No word yet on the couple’s charitable donations over that period. At a certain point he’s just rubbing people’s faces in it. The truly sad part is, he doesn’t seem to realize it.
Lashing out at the wrong people
As the race tightens Newsom’s camp has run increasingly aggressive attack ads against the recall itself, and anyone who might even be possibly thinking about voting “YES.” It’s become all but impossible to avoid TV, radio, and online ads decrying “Trump Republicans” and the “Republican recall.” Last week a radio ad compared supporters of the recall to “January 6 insurrectionists.” This week the ads reached a hysterical pitch, calling the recall a “matter of life and death.”
It is a desperate politician who literally warns his constituents that they could perish if they commit the mortal sin of voting against him.
It’s also a curious tack when you consider that recall organizers working on a shoestring secured more than 2.1 million signatures in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 and a substantial proportion of independents swing liberal. It’s theoretically possible that only Republicans signed the petition (which would require a good proportion of the entire GOP population in the state) but it’s highly unlikely. Moreover, given that even a strong majority of Republicans swiftly condemned the riots in the capitol, it’s a safe bet that “January 6 insurrectionists” aren’t exactly a big cohort driving a recall in California. On the other hand, the ad risks alienating people still on the fence, the way Joe Biden’s “you ain’t Black” remark alienated moderate Black voters.
The administration’s closing strategy is also a perfect emblem of Gavin Newsom’s political career: As Establishment as they come, deaf and dumb to what actual human beings think and feel. That most voters, particularly in California, have moved on from Donald Trump is lost on his camp. The Donald was political gold for Democrats for more than four years, none less than Gavin Newsom. That’s a tough habit to break, and he doesn’t seem any more inclined to go to political rehab than he was to kick the sauce 15 years ago. He and his team seem oblivious to the fact that outside the Sacramento-Bay Area bubble people are far more concerned about wildfires, COVID-19, homelessness, crime, drought, and the state’s overall economic health after 18 months of economic upheaval. All of which are huge problems for Newsom: With the exception of the surprisingly – shockingly, when you think about it – robust economy, which has little to do with him, he earns low marks on the key issues. His margin of error is gone: One more major wildfire, one more hideous crime, one more well-intended but poorly executed COVID-19 mandate, one more let-them-eat-cake moment could well be the tipping point.
All of which helps explain why those increasingly strident attacks are decreasingly effective. Despite outspending recall proponents by a nearly 10-to-1 margin he has slipped in the polls, by a lot. According to the moving average of polls from fivethirtyeight.com, in just the last five weeks the recall swung from an 11% advantage for Newsom to a statistical dead heat. That is not the trend line anyone wants to ride into an election.
The above chart ought to cause cold sweats and fitful nights for his staff. It seems that the more Californians hear from and learn about Gavin Newsom, the less they like him. Many are listening to him for the very first time, and many don’t seem to like what they hear.
At the end of the day, of course, this is California. Democrats have indicated they’re willing to spend half a billion dollars to keep Newsom in the governor’s mansion for another 18 months (fun with math: That works out to almost exactly $1 million per day for the rest of his term, just to keep a warm Democrat in the capitol. Imagine what could be done with that kind of money for, say, the homeless crisis). If for no other reason than cold, hard cash it remains more likely than not that he will survive the September 14 recall election and remain governor of the world’s fifth largest economy.
Yet after 25 years of entitlement and privilege, after the French Laundry “let them eat cake” moment, after innumerable personal and political scandals compared to even a few months ago his position is far less secure. If he does ultimately lose, he will have plenty of time to reflect on what happened.
It will be one tough look in the mirror for the erstwhile Mayor McDreamy, who will have only himself to blame.
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Homelessness is a symptom, not a cause — As long as we keep treating symptoms we’ll never cure the underlying maladies — The real crises are addiction, mental illness, and lack of opportunities — But for the Homeless Industrial Complex cures are less profitable than “services” and “treatments” that keep people half alive, helpless, and dependent
Part 1: Paul’s story
In the summer of 2017 a homeless man took up sporadic residence in front of my building in Santa Monica. Let’s call him Paul. Several days a week around the same time in the early evening, Paul had what I came to think of as his “6pm meltdown.” He would stand on the sidewalk screaming horrific things at top volume. He was particularly fond of the n-word, which is bad enough in any situation but particularly awful considering my neighbors are a Black family with two young children. There wasn’t enough soundproofing in the Southland to smother Paul’s eruptions, so after the second or third instance I confronted him (should things have gone sideways I figured I had less to lose than parents of two young children). It was tense, as people experiencing psychotic episodes can turn violent, but thankfully the encounter was enough to discourage him from using our block as his forum.
Afterward I saw him around town from time to time. When he wasn’t enduring an episode he was a nice enough guy. An artist from Michigan, he said he had a good family but his mental illness reached a point that, “they just couldn’t handle it anymore.” He decided on California because “it’s the easiest place in the world to live like this.” He loved the fact that he could spend one day on the beach, the next in the park, and the day after that exploring downtown L.A. via transit. We had conversations about the creative life. He liked my dogs and they wagged their tails when they saw him – confirmation that he was a decent human being. A decent human being wracked by the demons that mental illness and addiction unleash, demons that led him to a long list of crimes, many of them violent.
A supportive new home – or a barren jail cell?
On the morning of Thanksgiving 2019 I bumped into Paul at the grocery store. He looked different, with a fresh haircut, new shoes, and a nice clean set of clothes (he was never particularly dirty, but I’d never seen him quite so put together). His eyes lit up when he saw me. “Chris!” he exclaimed. “I got an apartment!”
He threw his arms around me, and invited me to see his new digs. I was genuinely happy for him. What had begun as an ugly confrontation six months earlier had resolved in the best way possible, and during the holidays to boot. Housing, goes the prevailing wisdom, is the first essential step toward escaping homelessness and recovering some semblance of life. It makes sense: The best way to solve homelessness is to give people, well, homes.
I visited Paul the following week at Step Up on Second, one of many nonprofits that have sprung up over the last decade to provide housing and services to homeless people. Step Up owns an apartment building in downtown Santa Monica that provides permanent supportive housing to approximately 50 people. Residents, also called “clients,” receive an apartment and a food stipend and are offered services. Indeed the entire concept of permanent supportive housing rests on the availability of “wrap around” services, ranging from substance abuse treatment to talk therapy, group therapy, job assistance, even help navigating L.A.’s Byzantine social services network. Those services are the critical epoxy that holds the system together: Get people indoors and immediately address their underlying issues.
At least, that’s the theory. I visited Paul on a Wednesday afternoon. The Step Up on Second building is, as its name suggests, on Second Street in the heart of Santa Monica. On one side is a luxury apartment development, and other other are a trendy restaurant and bar. Across the street are two salons where you can get $80 Brazilian blow-outs, and Equinox gym, and law offices. In short, Sept Up on Second is in a seriously high rent district. You’d expect it to be a model of top notch professional care and services. You would be disappointed, just like I was.
I wasn’t exactly expecting Promises at Malibu, the infamous $80,000+ a month luxury detox resort to the one percent. I expected a bare modicum of resources and support available to society’s most vulnerable. The first thing I noticed was the absence of anyone at the door. I punched Paul’s number into the callbox and he buzzed me in. There was no attendant in the lobby, no one to check me in or out or even note my presence. I could have been carrying a backpack full of drugs, weapons, any sort of contraband into the facility and it would have gone unnoticed. I took the elevator up to the fourth floor, and walking to Paul’s apartment passed an individual I recognized from the streets, a man who spent his days hanging out, and often passing out, in front of the local 7-11. A jetstream of stale whiskey followed in his wake. So much for sober living.
All too often, “permanent supportive housing” is not supportive, rarely permanent, and barely qualifies as housing
Paul’s room was reminiscent of a county jail cell, albeit one with a galley kitchen and half bathroom. By “half bathroom” I mean a toilet and standing shower were directly adjacent the kitchen, with a curtain that you pulled around it for, oh, let’s call it privacy. There was a mini fridge, hot pot, and microwave (“they don’t want people here to have access to fire or gas,” Paul told me, explaining the absence of a stove top and oven). The walls were stark white, not so much as a Motel 6 style print to break up the monotony. Paul had taped a few of his own pencil sketches to the walls as decor, which somehow only accentuated the bleakness.
The worst part was that the only window was a small slit in the top corner, literally like a jail cell, and it looked out onto the rooftop deck of a restaurant and bar next door. Paul, an alcoholic who downed an entire six pack in the hour I visited, described how hard it was to fall asleep on weekend nights because of the noise.
My immediate thought was this was the kind of place you would put a homeless person if you wanted to drive them even more insane, to break them. What kind of monsters house a homeless schizophrenic alcoholic in a room overlooking a bar? Here was a man trying to recover some semblance of life, forced to live alone in a box and listen to people party and drink five nights a week. It would drive nearly anyone out of their minds. It reminded me of A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico technique, when the main character Alex is forced to watch hours of ultraviolence in order to cure his ultraviolence.
For that matter, what perverse city licensing process approved a bar next door to a homeless recovery facility in the first place? It was almost as if they were trying to torture him. Paul said that while Step Up offered “some services” they weren’t mandatory and he had not availed himself. I can’t say that I blamed him – who wants to subject themselves to do-gooder social workers of the sorts who work for places like Step Up on Second? Even a schizophrenic knows better.
Ultimately, the end of Paul’s story was as sad as it was inevitable. He lasted less than four months at Step Up. In February I saw his picture in the crime section of the Santa Monica Daily Press. He had assaulted a woman on the street in broad daylight and was being held on $20,000 bail. The paper didn’t provide details but details aren’t necessary. He lost his apartment, and I have not seen him since. Wherever he is today I fervently hope he is finally getting the treatment and services he so desperately needs. Maybe he made it back to his family in Michigan and maybe they found a way to reconcile. I’d like to think so.
Part 2. Paul’s story is the story of homelessness in Los Angeles
Homeless activists say there are a million paths to homelessness. They’re absolutely right. Why do they insist there’s only one path out?
Paul is not a “homeless man.” Paul is an extremely sick person whose multiple illnesses ultimately resulted in a life of crime and homelessness. That’s not semantics or spin. Those are two fundamentally different paradigms that demand fundamentally different solutions. It isn’t abstract Algebra: A mental health and addiction crisis simply requires different resources than a homeless crisis. A homeless crisis can (in theory) be addressed by building long-term, permanent homes. In contrast, mentally ill and addicted people need immediate triage, regardless of what shape the roof over their head happens to take at the time. Waiting for tends of thousands of apartments that cost between half and three quarters of a million dollars to become available is like trying to solve California’s energy crisis by banking on cold fusion.
Paul is an object lesson in the limitations of the “housing first” approach to homelessness. More than half of L.A.’s street homeless population suffer from mental illness, and half suffer from addiction. What’s more, it’s well-documented that just living on the street causes enough anxiety and stress to break people down emotionally. It’s safe to conclude that the vast majority of the people on the streets cannot care for themselves. A cell-like apartment won’t change that underlying fact.
Make no mistake: The only people benefiting from the “build, baby, build” approach are developers, nonprofits, lawyers, and bureaucrats. Just putting a roof over someone’s head accomplishes little to nothing. Indeed, as Paul’s case illustrates in many cases “permanent supportive housing” options are as bad or worse than living on the street. The longer an individual lives on the street the more difficult it is for them to re-acclimate to living indoors. Imagine how your far the average person’s mind has to stretch to adapt to life on the street in the first place. It’s delusional to believe a switch can be flipped just because they’re back indoors.
Paul is not an outlier, not by a sight. If anything he is the archetype of the modern Angeleno homeless person: From out of state, suffering from multiple mental illnesses exacerbated by addiction. He is often delusional, frequently violent, occasionally dangerous. He long ago lost the ability to live on his own, much less for an extended period. He is for all intents and purposes unemployable. Sticking him in a box with a roof didn’t help him one bit.
The lack of anything resembling home decoration in Paul’s apartment is what poker players might call a tell. For a couple hundred bucks they could have at least hung a couple of calming nature prints, maybe a Monet haystack. Apparently that’s a financial bridge too far for an organization whose CEO made nearly $350,000 in 2019. Two hundred dollars to marginally improve a vulnerable person’s mental state was beyond the reach of an outfit that took in $22 million in government funding last year. Another tell: $14.5 million of that $22 million went to officer, board, and staff salaries, with another $1.7 going to lawyers and other professional services. In fact, accounting for all expenditures on staff including travel and transportation, office space, supplies, Step Up spends the vast majority of its revenue taking care of officers and staff.
If the “housing first” approach is a failure, a lot of people are going to have to find new jobs
People increasingly talk about the Homeless Industrial Complex, and it is very real. It’s an unholy alliance of parasitic nonprofits, faceless bureaucrats, and grasping politicians. Put differently, it’s quite possibly the worst combination of resources to solve the problem. As a local business owner in Venice told the UK Telegraph, “The people camped out front my store are not looking for housing, they are looking for drugs and have made this place their permanent home. They sit out on lounge chairs during the day and ask people for a dollar so they can buy crack. These people are in need of help, help to overcome their addictions and help with learning basic life skills. You can’t just put street people in a home and think that’s it, that’s the answer.” Yet that is exactly what L.A.’s political class has spent some $3 billion of the people’s money doing.
Unless and until we wake up and start treating the underlying causes of homelessness, developers will keep getting richer, politicians will amass more power, and everyday folks will continue to suffer – both housed and unhoused.
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Interviews in Westchester, Santa Monica, elsewhere confirm what residents suspected — Homeless moving to those communities from Venice — Not offered services or housing — But Mr. Bonin’s senior staffer demanded a homeless person be removed from in front of her office
Meanwhile, a homeless person was injured in a shooting in Westchester Park in front of Mr. Bonin’s office on Saturday night — Witnesses, including homeless themselves, live in fear — Mr. Bonin’s staffers caught on camera assaulting a news crew
L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin’s last ditch effort to clean up the homeless encampments on the Venice Boardwalk appears to be floundering. Under intense pressure from constituents, his peers on council, and most recently Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, late last month Mr. Bonin launched the “Encampments to Homes” program. He promised to house 200 people from the boardwalk for $5 million (for the mathematically inclined that’s $25,000 per person for temporary shelter with no guarantee – for that matter no mention – of long term solutions). For the last two weeks he’s posted regularly on social media about the number of people allegedly removed so far. As of this he claimed that 110 people were “sleeping indoors” (again, doing a little math, at a rate of 110 people every three weeks it will take 54 weeks to house all 2,000 estimated homeless in that part of Venice alone).
While it’s impossible to verify the numbers, interviews, research, news, and common sense suggest a very different scenario is unfolding. According to a story in the Washington Examiner over the weekend, many Boardwalk homeless are not accepting services and moving indoors but simply are relocating to new illegal encampments elsewhere. Ira Koslow, the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s (VNC) Board of Directors, said, “There are empty spaces now, but if you go to the north…that’s now doubled and jammed. They moved from one end to the other, and there’s no repercussions.”
More than a few Venice residents share his hunch. VNC Public Safety Committee Chair Soledad Ursua told the all aspect report, “We knew this was coming when Bonin announced the initiative. He’s had seven years to clean the boardwalk and now he expects people to believe he can do it in six weeks? Now we learn that he’s essentially rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And no one in CD 11 should be surprised. He’s not solving the crisis, he’s running for his political life.”
Mr. Bonin’s track record justifies residents’ skepticism that “Encampments to Homes” will prove any less of a failure than Mr. Bonin’s many other broken promises. There are still links to videos on his council website in which he boasts that the Rose Street Bridge facility, which he rammed through over vehement local concerns, would shelter the homeless living in the immediate neighborhood. In its first year and a half the facility had the opposite impact, turning the area into what many describe as a veritable war zone.
In all of this, of course, it is most often the homeless themselves who suffer the worst and longest. Every day living in a tent on the Boardwalk or on a sidewalk is one day farther from home, hope, and even sanity. It is well-documented that extended periods of street living can inflict permanent mental and emotional damage. Coupled with the mental illness and addiction that are homelessness’s cause and handmaiden and the depths of their hell become unimaginable. Yet that is precisely the place Mr. Bonin has consigned thousands of his “unhoused neighbors.” People in CD 11 and across L.A. can be forgiven their skepticism that his new effort will help people who need it most.
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic
On Sunday I joined Jessica Rogers, Communications Director for EnvisionLA, and a camera crew as they visited locations in Mr. Bonin’s district (disclosure: I’m on the board of EnvisionLA). We spoke with homeless people living in Westchester Park, where Mr. Bonin coincidentally has a field office, and confirmed people had arrived from the Boardwalk in the last few days. A woman who asked that her name not be used because she lives in fear of an abusive ex-boyfriend told Ms. Rogers that she knows about a dozen people in her immediate area of the park who previously lived at the Boardwalk encampment.
We meet up with Westchester resident and advocate Julie Zahler. She regularly checks on folks living in the park, has gotten to know many of them and established a degree of trust. She brings food, clothing and other essentials. In a videotaped interview she confirmed to Ms. Rogers that she had just met with “a group of new individuals to the park who all have moved from Venice Beach with the clearings and found their way up to the park.” She had just spoken with four individuals who witnessed last weekend’s shootings and were understandably reluctant to give their names or appear on camera. All had just arrived from the Boardwalk.
Later that afternoon we visited Ocean Park Beach, just over the border from Venice in Santa Monica. One of the first things we noticed in the parking lot was a battered old school bus with a badly faded American flag paint job. Venice residents came to know that bus all too well as it was parked near the Whole Foods on Lincoln Avenue for several months. It’s another indication of the migration of Venice’s homeless population to other areas and even other cities. Walking along the bike path we encountered an individual in a tent who identified himself as Matt. He was in a sort of stupor, whether psychological or drug-induced it was impossible to tell. Sprawled on a filthy mattress he said, “Just came up here. Was just down there, now I’m here. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be over there.”
Mr. Bonin has even abandoned is own back yard
Miguel Centeno keeps his orange van parked about 50 feet from the front door to Mr. Bonin’s field office. A graduate of nearby Loyola Marymount University, where he recently applied for a Masters program, he’s dubbed himself “The Mayor of Mike Bonin’s Parking Lot.” Asked if he had been offered housing or services he echoes what the others told Ms. Rogers: “I’ve been here two to three months, and no one has ever approached me.” He even tried walking into Mr. Bonin’s office and was told no one could help him “immediately.” Given that he has lived fifty feet from the office door for months one wonders how Mr. Bonin and his staff define that concept.
It’s bad enough that Mr. Bonin hasn’t offered services to the homeless people living literally within feet of his own office. It’s even worse when you learn that his senior staff actually sought to have them removed. Two weeks ago The Venice Current and other outlets obtained a copy of an email from Hannah Levein, Mr. Bonin’s “Acting District Director” for Westchester, to another city department in which she sought the removal of a homeless person from the doorway. Again, it cannot be emphasized enough: Even though neither Mr. Bonin nor his staff have lifted a finger to assist the homeless people outside the office, they demanded that at least one of them be removed. Because “my office looks directly at the entrance” and apparently actually seeing a homeless person caused her some personal discomfort. She demanded a response ‘as soon as possible.” Mind you, this was at 10:28am on the first Monday she was back in the office. Of all the issues confronting CD 11 and the city of L.A. her own personal discomfort was paramount.
PLEASE let that sink in for a long, long moment. Because at this point it’s really all anyone needs to know about Mike Bonin and the sorts of individuals he chooses to employ.
Even that isn’t the whole story – with apologies to every late night commercial ever, but wait, there’s more. Last week a news crew from Fox11 Los Angeles approached Ms. Levien as she walked to her car. The reporter was trying to ask about the email, but another of Mr. Bonin’s staffers physically accosted the reporter – a woman barely half his size – even brandishing an object to push her away. Based on the footage Mr. Bonin’s staffer committed felony assault, battery, and false imprisonment, while violating a journalists’ First Amendment rights. He initiated physical contact and forced the woman out of his way, even brandishing an object at her. He used his height advantage to intimidate her. Real tough guy.
As of today he remains on the city payroll.
So Mike Bonin is failing yet again, even in his own backyard. He’s lying and dissembling again. And now his staff are assaulting and violating the rights of reporters. At this rate, Mike Bonin is going to recall himself.
Eric Garcetti’s departure is a rare moment of opportunity in L.A. Will his successor seize it or continue the same failed policies?
It’s difficult to conjure a more spectacular fall from political grace than the implosion Angelenos are witnessing of soon-to-be former mayor Eric Garcetti (it’s like music, that phrase: “former mayor Eric Garcetti”). The man who is about to accept the ultimate political consolation prize, an ambassadorship, once spent more time traveling around the country networking than running the metropolis of which he has been the titular leader for seven years. Two years ago he seriously believed he was going to be the next President. Even six months ago he still held out hope for a respectable second tier cabinet position like Secretary of Transportation. Instead, a man who thought he was going to be charting national and international policy will be organizing cocktail parties for the sorts of people who populate consulates, which is to say, overwhelmingly people of little consequence.
He will leave a city in far worse shape than he found it. He will be remembered not for securing an Olympics no one wanted even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the meltdown in basic civic institutions that occurred on his watch and for which he bears ultimate responsibility.
Make no mistake: Los Angeles was in free fall long before 2020 unleashed the one-two punch of pandemic and mass civil unrest, and no one was more responsible than the mayor. To be sure, the City Council isn’t exactly a bunch of slouches when it comes to their preternatural ability to screw things up and hurt people. But Garcetti has been around the longest, from two terms in council, three years as its president, and seven years as mayor. This is his Los Angeles, a place where people already were living a looking class existence in which officialdom consistently proclaimed new accomplishments while conditions for actual people continued deteriorating. Garcetti boasted about new lows in crime even as streets from Venice Beach to Wilmington devolved into post-apocalyptic nightmares. He trotted out “road diets” and “complete streets’ for nonexistent bicyclists even as Angelnos languished literally in the world’s worst traffic. It became downright Orwellian at times.
Historians will require neologisms to describe the new circle of Hell into which the City of Angels descended during the Garcetti Era. Indeed, a lexicon emerged to express the contours of what many have come to call the Homeless Industrial Complex. That, not Olympics or prosperity, is his legacy.
Mr. Garcetti departs his hometown, the city he sought to lead, in the midst of a out-of-control homeless crisis, a historic crime wave, thoroughly demoralized police and fire departments, and an entrenched bureaucracy of patronage that renders terms like Byzantine laughably superfluous. As zombies roam the streets the backrooms of 200 North Spring Street are choked with vape smoke as cronies, ideologues, and useful idiots divy up the spoils of voter approved initiatives to the tune of billions of dollars. At least, the rooms that aren’t boarded up or quarantined due to rat, cockroach, and termite infestations. The capital of a great city no longer.
The Garcetti chapter ends not with a bang, much less an oath of presidential office, but with the feeblest of whimpers. Should this post find its way to our friends and allies in India, a country I’ve twice visited and for which I have great fondness, I can only say I’m sorry. For America is sending you a schemer, a chameleon, a nakedly ambitious narcissist. A person so fundamentally dishonest that he lies about essential aspects of who he is. He is charming, no doubt, so much that even his adversaries sometimes find themselves beguiled in his presence. Do not be fooled. Remember how little time his ambition left for him to run Los Angeles, the place he was born and raised and where his father previously served as district attorney, and ask whether you can have confidence that he will treat a foreign nation any better. Look at the pictures below and understand they portray his handiwork.
Hope for the future?
Garcetti’s abrupt, albeit widely anticipated, departure creates a rare moment of political opportunity in L.A. His successor could be the most consequential interim mayor in the city’s history, maybe the country’s. Angelenos are desperate for new solutions to homelessness, crime, poverty, traffic, sustainability, and a host of other issues that languished under this administration. We know that the current approaches are not failing – they have failed. We are ready to try new things, to take chances and risks to save our city. Like our counterparts in that weird vertical city on the east coast we’re ready to embrace a law and order candidate so long as they’re not too extreme.
On their first day in office this “17 monther” could chart a bold new course. The first thing the next mayor must do is to declare a state of emergency over the homeless crisis. There is no longer any excuse. By any reasonable standard the situation qualifies as a humanitarian crisis. It’s that simple. City and county resources are overwhelmed: Despite (or more accurately, because of) the city spending some $6 billion over the last fifteen years the homeless population has exploded. The city/county homeless agency, LASHA is in chaos and can barely even keep an emergency shelter telephone number connected. A state of emergency will allow state and federal resources to be brought to bear. Instead of homeless encampments we’ll have Red Cross and National Guard humanitarian relief camps.
The models are out there. Look at Venice Beach. Councilman Mike Bonin sat on his ample haunches claiming impotence for seven years as the crisis spiraled and people suffered and died. No matter how you feel about L.A. Sheriff Alex Villaneuva it’s indisputable that he has forced long overdue action on the Boardwalk, in a short window of time. Within a week of the Sheriff’s visit Mr. Bonin started to clean up the boardwalk for the first time in his term. That’s no accident.
The question is, can an interim mayor learn those kinds of lessons? In the early stages Joe Buscaino has certainly said many of the right things. Showing up in Mr. Bonin’s backyard in Venice Beach at 7:30am on a Monday morning was a baller move. Assuming he can sustain, and that he can muster real support, starting in his own district, he’ll contend. Angelenos will be watching him, as well as City Council President Nury Martinez. One would like to think that Mr. Garcetti took the right steps behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition of power, such as communicating with Ms. Martinez and her staff. Then again, over the last decade Angelenos have learned not to expect even basic competence from their elected and appointed officials.
If the interim mayor plays it right, Garcetti’s departure will mark the close one of the darkest chapters in the history of Los Angeles. The city is on the brink, and we can only hope and pray that Mr. Yoga Pants’s successor is smarter, more competent, more honest, and more forthright. It isn’t just right, it’s one of the biggest political opportunities in recent memory.
Will they seize it?