California's homeless are fodder for an insatiable bureaucracy

The state’s political class will never solve the homeless crisis. In fact, they depend on it.

History is replete with tragic examples of powerful rulers sending citizens to die in futile wars, often with little more at stake than the rulers’ own egos. The term “cannon fodder” was coined by François-René de Chateaubriand during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1814, as Napoleon Bonaparte grew ever more desperate to preserve his collapsing empire Chateaubriand wrote a pamphlet called “Bonaparte and The Bourbons” in which he excoriated the French dictator: “The contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling conscripts ‘raw material’ and ‘cannon fodder.'” Thousands of young men were killed or wounded on the battlefields of Nivelle, Bayonne, and Toulouse in a vain effort to sustain a dying imperium. The most visceral example of cannon fodder is the World War II Battle of Stalingrad, in which the combined megalomania of Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler led to the deaths of some two million combatants and tens of thousands of Soviet citizens in the bloodiest military confrontation in history. Two million deaths in the name of two men’s imperial ambitions.

In the twenty-first century California’s political class has created a new kind of human silage: Bureaucracy fodder. The state’s homeless population supports a head-spinning array of well-funded government agencies, nonprofits, charities, foundations, think tanks, law firms, consultants, and developers, all funded and enabled by the state’s (allegedly progressive) political class. As people suffer and die on the streets by the thousands these Brahmins rake in the paychecks, plan scores of multimillion dollar “affordable” and “low income” development projects, hold extravagant galas, and attend posh retreats and “team building” events while clothing themselves in the guise of altruism and community.

While developers vie for literally billions in project funds, many executives on both the public and private side of this archipelago make handsome six-figure salaries, such as disgraced former Congresswoman Katie Hill. Before leaving to run for office she was making nearly $200,000 a year as deputy CEO of a nonprofit called People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). That organization itself has grown its revenue from $8.3 million in fiscal year 2012 to $45.8 million last year. The organization’s CEO, Joel Roberts, made $241,370.

In Los Angeles County, homeless services are coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). According to Transparent California, in 2014 LAHSA had 118 employees, nine of whom made over $100,000 a year. As the homeless population grew so did LAHSA’s staff: By 2018, the agency had grown to 424 employees, with 31 earning six figures and another 16 earning more than $90,000. The Director pulled down $242,242 (coincidentally nearly identical to Mr. Roberts at PATH). Assuming an average salary of $50,000 LAHSA spends $21.5 million annually on salaries alone.

At the state level, the Department of Social Services employs more than 4,200 people whose jobs – theoretically – are to help California’s poorest residents get back on their feet. Nearly 100 employees make more than $200,000 a year, with the Director, William Lightbourne, receiving $313,760.

These numbers, which are just a few of myriad examples, raise obvious questions: What would those 424 LAHSA employees do for a living if they were to actually end homelessness in Los Angeles? The answer is equally obvious: If they were to eliminate homelessness and poverty, they’d have to find new jobs. And no one in their right mind intentionally puts themselves out of work.

It’s important to understand that these people are not contractors, nor consultants hired to solve a problem and then move on to the next one. They are full-time, salaried employees. Public employees also receive generous benefits packages and as many as 45 days of paid vacation annually (many take even more time off). Presumably most of them expect to have their jobs for many years, and many will retire with their nonprofit or government agency. For that to happen the homeless crisis must continue in perpetuity.

Equally important is the fact that the public employees are dues paying union members. LAHSA’s employees are part of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most powerful in the country (their most recent collective bargaining agreement is quite the read). Those unions are among the most important sources of campaign contributions for California’s Democrat majority, adding yet another layer of self-interest.

The famed economist William Niskanen developed the budget maximizing theory of bureaucracies. He showed how bureaucrats acting in their own rational self-interest seek to increase their budgets in order to increase their power. It’s axiomatic that success in government is a matter of raising your department’s budget. In the context of homeless services this phenomenon creates the ultimate paradox: The only way for an agency whose mission is to end homelessness can justify increasing its staff and budget is if there are ever increasing numbers of homeless people in the state. Perhaps that’s why Governor Newsom said today during a tour of a homeless shelter in L.A. that, “Many [homeless people] see California as a place of compassion. If that’s the case, we match our values with action, and as people of faith, we have a responsibility to all of them, regardless of whether they got here last week, last month, or were born here 30 years ago.”

As barbaric as tyrants’ use of human beings as cannon fodder was, it arguably was more humane than California’s bureaucratic fodder. Soldiers died relatively quickly from combat wounds or – more frequently – illness and exposure. In contrast, California’s bureaucratic fodder suffer excruciating circumstances for months, years, even decades. So long as the solutions are in the hands of self-interested bureaucrats, nothing will change.

UPDATED: Police shoot man near homeless encampment on Venice Boulevard (Caution: graphic image)

LOS ANGELES (January 11, 2020) An alleged gunman lays on the sidewalk on Venice Boulevard near the 405 freeway overpass. Photograph courtesy Shawn Yvanez.

According to police and eyewitnesses, an armed man was reported on Venice Boulevard near a homeless encampment under the 405 freeway. He was quickly taken down by LAPD officers. Subsequent updates confirmed that the allegedly armed suspect was wounded at least once and transported to a nearby hospital. According to the department’s initial statement the incident occurred at approximately 12:40pm.

UPDATE (5:30pm) According to a post on the citizen app the suspect was pronounced dead at the hospital at or around 1:44pm. Local media have confirmed that report.

In an initial statement LAPD spokesman Sergeant Frank Preciado told reporters that, “At approximately 12:40pm we received a radio call of a 415, individual with a gun. The first responding vehicle here was actually the supervisor. He encountered the suspect and an officer involved shooting occurred.”

It remains unclear whether the man was armed at the time of the shooting. In a follow-up statement Sergeant Preciado said that the LAPD’s Force Investigation Unit was on the scene.

Resident Nick Diaz was across the street in his truck when he heard “six or seven shots.” Mr. Diaz, a Vietnam veteran, said they sounded like pistol shots. An Orange Line Metro bus was stopped near the scene, and Mr. Diaz said he saw two women fall off the bus to the ground. “I thought they got shot, but then they got back up and I was relieved to see that they were fine,” he said.

Within minutes LAPD vehicles swarmed the area. Mr. Diaz described a “swarm of police” with shotguns and pistols drawn. He said, “I think they were here already. I think maybe something already was going down.” By approximately 1:00pm officers had established a wide cordon, shutting down Venice Boulevard between Sepulveda and Sawtelle Boulevards.

The LAPD vehicle allegedly involved. Photograph by Christopher LeGras.

Shawn Yvanez, a technician at Z Expert Automotive across the street from the scene, captured pictures and video apparently showing a body laying on the sidewalk in front of the Shell station. A woman who had been buying food at a nearby food truck said the individual had been running toward the homeless camp when the police arrived. Several people speculated that the incident began as an attempted robbery at the Shell station.

The LAPD tweeted that the man’s condition was unknown. However, Mr. Yvanez said that he overheard an officer’s radio that the individual had died.

While it was not immediately clear whether the individual had any connection to the homeless encampment under the 405 overpass, that camp has been the scene of ongoing criminal activity including at least two previous shootings in February and June 2019. George Frem owns Exclusive Motors on the corner of Venice Boulevard and Globe Street. His security cameras have caught a shooting, as well as myriad drug deals, prostitution, and assaults. Last week his cameras captured residents of the camp throwing explosive devices into the street at passing cars.

LAPD subsequently tweeted that the area will be closed for up to 14 hours while the investigation continues.

More details as they emerge.

Videos and pictures show how dangerous and deadly many “road diets” are

The “road diet” on Foothill Boulevard in Sunland-Tujunga, CA severely exacerbated gridlock as people fled the 2017 La Tuna fire.

One of the central arguments officials and advocates proffer in favor of “road diets” and other traffic calming measures is that they improve safety. Unfortunately, in too many places nationwide the reality is the opposite of the rhetoric. Over the past year people around the country have documented the impacts of these projects in their communities, particularly when it comes to emergency response times. Many have shared images and videos with the all aspect report.

Traffic calming measures often increase rather than decrease accidents, injuries, and fatalities. For example, after three years of road diets and other projects under Vision Zero in Los Angeles, pedestrian fatalities have almost doubled.

The trend in L.A. isn’t good.

As we’ve noted previously, in November 2018 “road diets” in Paradise, CA contributed to gridlock during evacuations from the Camp Fire, the largest in California history. Demonstrating just how far the anti-car ideology has gone in the Golden State, the Butte County Association of Governments (BCAG) brazenly ignored a 2008 Butte County Grand Jury report recommending that roads in Paradise be widened and otherwise improved for evacuations during wildfires. The pictures speak for themselves (notations ours):

Tragically, the steps BCAG took to reduce road capacity contributed to mass gridlock as people fled the Camp Fire in November, 2018. That conflagration was the biggest in California history, destroying some 15,000 structures and leaving at least 88 people dead. Numerous interviews with survivors in the immediate aftermath (we joined the first evacuees to be allowed back into the fire zone on November 22) confirm that the narrowed roads made it harder for people to flee. As one resident put it, “Even before the fire we wondered what the hell they were thinking.”

The main picture above was taken during the fire, and it shows cars struggling to pull right as fire engines race toward the flames. There can be no more definitive evidence that traffic calming, when done without due regard for public safety, not only impedes evacuations but also the ability of first responders to reach the scene. It’s a lose-lose.

Frighteningly, counties throughout California are reducing lane capacity by installing traffic calming devices and “road diets” in fire evacuation zones. For example, the Shasta Living Streets initiative calls for lane reductions on roads that served as major evacuation routes during the 2017 Carr Fire. Sonoma County is narrowing roads used during the 2018 Tubbs Fire. Oakland has installed numerous road diets on streets that are actually officially designated emergency routes, many of which served as critical lifelines during the deadly 1991 firestorms. Captain Henry Holt of the Oakland Fire Department says, “I found out about a road diet in front of my station when I arrived for a shift one morning.”

On a more quotidian but no less distressing note, residents in Mar Vista, CA and Queens, NY have captured dozens of pictures and images of fire engines, ambulances, and police cars slowed by road diets on Venice Boulevard and Skillman Avenue, respectively. Both projects have been the focus of intense community opposition. Again, the videos speak for themselves.

Off the record we have spoken to dozens of first responders nationwide. Almost without exception they express frustration and disgust with these politically motivated projects. Example after example, study after study after study confirms that traffic calming devices increase emergency response times with deadly results.

When will officials and advocates wake up and realize they’re threatening lives every day?

A fire engine and ambulance stuck on the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
A police car slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA (note the bicyclist on the sidewalk)
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine crashes into parked cars on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A police car slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
An ambulance stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
A fire truck and ambulance slowed by the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA
An ambulance stuck on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens, NY
A fire engine and ladder stuck on the Venice Boulevard road diet in Mar Vista, CA

Fifteen years ago officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco pledged to end homelessness in ten years. What happened?

Officials including Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti were part of efforts that came to nothing.

“This Bring L.A. Home plan initiates a 10 year plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles County.” Bring L.A. Home final report, co-authored by then-Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, April 2006

“We can cut this problem in half in five years. And in 10 years we can end life on the street.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, March 2018

“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.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, June 30, 2004

“This crisis has been more than a half century in the making, and this Administration is just getting started on solutions.” Governor Gavin Newsom, October 19, 2019

Advocates for changes to California’s approach to homelessness were disappointed this morning when the Supreme Court denied certiorari in City of Boise v. Martin. The petitioners in that case sought to challenge a 2018 Ninth Circuit ruling preventing cities from citing or fining people for camping in public spaces overnight unless alternative shelter is available. In reality, even though more than a dozen cities in the western U.S. urged the Court to take the case, like all petitions to the high court review was always a long shot.

Nevertheless, it is being viewed as another setback as California’s homeless crisis continues to spiral with no end in sight. In Los Angeles public anger erupts routinely and with increasing frequency on social media, at community events, and at town halls hosted by city councilmembers. It has spawned an effort to recall Mayor Eric Garcetti and prompted calls for the resignations of Councilmembers including Mike Bonin and Paul Kerkorian. Mr. Bonin has all but stopped appearing in public outside of carefully stage-managed events.

Angry residents confronted Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin in Venice last year. Photograph by Christopher LeGras

In fact, officials in Los Angeles and across California have been failing for far longer than most people realize. In 2018 Mayor Garcetti promised to end chronic homelessness in ten years. The pledge came on the heels of his 2014 pledge to house all of the city’s homeless veterans, first by 2015 and then 2016 (he eventually scrapped the timeline). Back in 2013, during his first mayoral run, Garcetti vowed to end chronic homelessness in ten years. Likewise, upon assuming office as Mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Gavin Newsom pledged to end homelessness in that city within – wait for it – ten years.

California’s political class has not lacked for grand plans, all of which seem to fall under the ten year category. Mayor Newsom’s pledge was accompanied by the formation of a “Ten Year Plan Council” comprised of 33 local leaders. Advocates criticized the body for being too heavy on political insiders and light on subject matter experts. Nevertheless, they released their Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness in July 2004.

Likewise in 2004, the City and County of Los Angeles convened their own “blue ribbon commission” called Bring L.A. Home, to study homelessness and recommend workable solutions. Like San Francisco’s Council the 60 members comprised a who’s who of ensconced city insiders and power brokers, including Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry, Mike Feuer, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, then LAPD Chief William Bratton, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

The result of Bring L.A. Home’s efforts was a report released in April 2006. As in San Francisco the authors promised “a 10-year campaign to end homelessness in Los Angeles County by setting forth a broad range of strategies that address a multitude of issues related to homelessness.” They declared, “Nothing of the magnitude proposed by this Plan has been attempted before in Los Angeles.”

It turned out that nothing proposed by the plan was attempted, either. Today the website https://www.bringlahome.org redirects to what appears to be an Indonesian consulting firm (caution: possibly unsafe website). Email and telephone inquiries to several members of the blue ribbon committee were not returned.

Officials like Messrs. Newsom and Garcetti have been failing for nearly two decades

When Bring L.A. Home released its report and recommendations, Eric Garcetti was president of the City Council. No one other than Mayor Villaraigosa himself was better positioned to turn words into action. Yet nothing happened. No new housing was built, no programs launched. Now, fifteen years later, Mayor Garcetti rarely goes a month without a new, equally grandiose plan.

In the midst of the worst homeless crisis in history Eric Garcetti moved into the mayor’s mansion, Getty House, in Hancock Park.

The road to Hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. Bring L.A. Home and San Francisco’s Ten Year Plan were nothing if not ambitious. The Chair of San Francisco’s Council, the consummate insider Angela Alioto, declared, “For the first time in the twenty years that I have been in public life, I feel the united excitement, the electric energy, the profound intelligence, and the strong will to end chronic homelessness in our great City.”

Likewise, L.A.’s blue ribbon commission said, “In the last twenty years, bold initiatives to end homelessness have come and gone.” Ironically their plan quickly joined that sad retinue, as the city’s approach to the issue devolved into a money grab by officials complete with allegations of impropriety, nepotism, and outright fraud (an excellent 2012 article in CityWatch by then-mayoral candidate and current president of L.A.’s Public Works Commission Kevin James highlighted some of the abuses).

Then again there’s good cause to question whether the reports themselves, and the individuals behind them, were serious. L.A.’s plan was replete with gauzy lingo that belied an underlying lack of focus, much less specific actionable steps. Indeed, much of it consisted of virtually incomprehensible bureaucrat speak: We must build, support and develop funding and legislative strategies for 50,000 new units. As a matter of urgency, we must create at least 11,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI) and 15% of AMI, including 4,900 units of housing linked to services and 2,845 units made affordable through tenant-based deep subsidies. We cannot be complacent, however, as we need to develop an additional 38,500 units of housing targeting homeless families and individuals earning less than 30% and 15% of AMI, including increasing from 4,900 to 21,000 the number of units of housing linked to services and from 2,845 to 12,452 the number of units made affordable through deep tenant-based subsidies.

If you can translate that, please email us.

Moreover, consider that over a decade later, with none of the units proposed in Bring L.A. Home having been built, voters in the City of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to support 10,000 new units in 10 years. That works out to $120,000 each, compared to the 2008 Plan’s anticipated $165,000. Apparently, officials thought that in ten years construction costs in L.A. had dropped by 30%. Of course, Angelenos know now that the actual costs are averaging more than $500,000 per unit, with some projects potentially exceeding $700,000 per unit.

Worse, in October Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released a damning report that concluded, “Not a single bond-funded unit of homeless housing has opened since voters approved the bond measure three years ago.” And if the units end up costing on the low end of $500,000 each it would require $18 billion to house all of the city’s 36,000 homeless. That’s nearly twice the city’s total annual budget. To house all 59,000 homeless people in the county would cost nearly $30 billion. Suffice it to say, these are not real numbers. They are no more real than the math found in Bring L.A. Home all those years ago. Meanwhile, according to San Francisco’s 2004 Plan there were an estimated 15,000 homeless people in the city by the bay that year. Last year there were at least 17,500. And the conditions in which homeless people exist statewide continue to deteriorate.

While the political classes in L.A. and San Francisco are the worst offenders, they are tragically far from alone:

  • In 2006 the City of Sacramento released a Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The homeless population in that city has continued to increase, including a 20% spike in 2017 alone.
  • In 2006 Marin County issued a report called “The Next Decade: Marin County’s Ten Year Homeless Plan.” Nearly ten years later the Marin County Grand Jury released a report entitled “Homelessness in Marin —A Call for Leadership.” That report concluded that County-wide efforts were “unfocused and disorganized due to a lack of collaboration between the County, the cities, and the service organizations.” A subsequent 2018 “progress report” concluded, “This Grand Jury sees homelessness as a continuing and urgent problem in the County worthy of reconsideration” (Marin did report a drop in its official homeless population last year).
  • In 2006 Alameda County released a report called Everyone Home, which “outline[d] a reorientation of housing and service systems to end chronic homelessness within ten years and significantly reduce housing crises for these vulnerable populations in Alameda County over fifteen years.” Over the last three years Alameda has led the state in the rate of increase in its homeless population.

Numerous studies have concluded that California’s official homeless numbers, based on federally-mandated annual counts, are highly suspect. The true numbers are significantly higher. To cite one of myriad examples, a 2014 report from the National Center on Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research estimated that 526,708 children were homeless for any amount of time in California in 2013. One in four Californians live in Los Angeles County, suggesting that as many as 131,677 children experienced homelessness in L.A. that year, or more than three and a half times the total number of reported homeless that year. And that was six years ago, before the problem truly spiraled.

As the cliche goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. While not strictly accurate it’s an excellent description of conditions in California.

How many more chances will Californians give to the same failed leaders?

California on the brink

LOS ANGELES (August 25) Home sweet homelessness: The new normal in California. Photograph by Christopher LeGras

In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Mask of the Red Death, Prince Prospero hosts a hedonistic masquerade while outside his ramparts the population succumb to a gruesome plague. The prince installs garish, grotesque décor in his castle’s seven interconnected halls. He provides revelers with music and wine, dancers, clowns, buffoons, and “dreams.” As far as the prince and the nobility are concerned, beyond their debauched bacchanalia “The external world could take care of itself. Meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.”

It’s a classic trope, Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Literature and history are replete with let-them-eat-cake moments. In the 21st century California’s political class has joined the sad cortège. They have their own Prosperos in the likes of Gavin Newsom and Eric Garcetti, les élues whose keeps are gated communities in Marin County, bastioned manses in Palo Alto, compounds in Bel Air and Malibu. They most assuredly aren’t thinking about, much less grieving for, the external world.

While hundreds of thousands of homeless decay on the streets of the state’s once-great cities, California’s elites cloister in their rarified confines, perversely feting themselves for their enlightened benevolence. While some 6 million of their fellow Californians struggle in poverty they refuse to return so much as a farthing; indeed, the extract ever-more tribute. While millions of children languish in some of the country’s worst schools they host fundraisers for their own children’s exclusive acadamae, lavish events at which they auction diamond earrings and Tahoe vacations. Their concern for the commoners is but a pretext as their own vaults runneth over. All the while they assure themselves that thanks to their sagacity, outside the battlements all will soon be well in hand.

In reality, California already is bankrupt. Decades of public sector profligacy have left the state with some $1.5 trillion in imminently due bond payments, loan service, and other long-term debts, not to mention unfunded liabilities for post-employment benefits (primarily public sector retiree healthcare), as well as unfunded pension obligations. And that’s just amount we know about: California politicians are infamous for flubbing numbers. Add to those numbers the hundreds of billions that will be necessary to repair and maintain the state’s crumbling infrastructure. No one has the slightest idea where the money is going to be found. Tax receipts have been declining for years thanks to the state’s ever-increasing hostility to small business and the exodus of millions of middle class residents. The state’s careening fiscals have led to perverse proposals like Newsom’s tap water tax. As with all such ideas, the fixes would hit the lower middle class and poor the worst.

The “bullet” train is Exhibit A for the political class’s misguided (to phrase it gently) priorities. It was sold to voters in 2008 as a miracle green machine that would cost $35 billion to connect Sacramento to San Diego. A decade behind schedule and $44 billion over budget, the current plan will only connect Bakersfield to Modesto, for the same original price tag. Suffice it to say, $35 billion would solve a great deal of the homeless crisis, but it will be used instead to build an already outdated rail system between two remote towns. Such is the way of things in the California chirocracy. But the contractors and consultants will make out like bandits. Literally.

These are not the qualities of a prosperous, successful state. They are harbingers of horrible things to come. Not that the political class notices.

California’s political class send their kids to schools like this one in Marin County for a cool $45,000 per year…
…while hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens languish in conditions like these.

Newsom’s patrons are among the eldest of California’s nobility: the Gettys, the Fishers, the Pritzkers. He wasn’t born rich, but his family was well-connected. His father William was a state appellate judge and trustee of the Getty family fortune. When John Paul Getty III was kidnapped in 1973, William helped deliver the ransom. Gavin was raised safe within the palace, groomed from a young age with European grand tours, African safaris, and a Rolodex sure to set him for life. As a consequence, his contact with average Californians always is fleeting, ephemeral, a sort of half-hearted, modern day noblesse oblige. He plays his part with a cheery gusto that is gruesome in light of reality. Like Prospero he is “happy and dauntless and sagacious.”

We have our Prosperos. The plagues outside their walls are Poverty, Addiction, Mental Illness, Ignorance, Hopelessness, Helplessness. The first victims already are dying in the streets – Los Angeles has experienced more than 1,200 homeless deaths since 2017. The victims are addicts wasting away before your eyes, lunatics being devoured from within by demons only they can see and hear, people who have given up on life. They live in mile after mile of tent cities, from Sacramento to San Diego, Yreka to Calexico, and all points in between. Unreported crime is rampant. We’ll never know how many homeless women will be raped or assaulted.

Meanwhile huge swaths of L.A. and San Francisco have been reduced to near-anarchy. Dozens of fires break out in illegal encampments in both cities, as in countless others, on a daily basis. Crime, including property and violent offenses, have become routine. Entire neighborhoods resemble Third World shantytowns and entire communities bring to mind the End of Days.

A missive Mayor Garcetti recently sent L.A. city staff was leaked to the all aspect report. He advised staff to “stay in well-lit areas, pay attention to your surroundings, and travel in groups.” This is the mayor of the wealthiest city in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in human history acknowledging that it is no longer safe to walk down the street alone. He alone seems blissfully unaware of the import of his advice. Unimaginably, conditions are even worse in the Central Valley and northern counties.

The plagues afflicting California are not just metaphorical: Typhoid fever, typhus, hepatitis, and tuberculosis all have been identified on our streets. There are increasing fears of a full blown outbreak of bubonic plague.

LOS ANGELES (August 19, 2019) Life in L.A., the richest city in the richest state in the richest country in human history. Photograph by Christopher LeGras

You see the victims also in our public schools: The thousand-yard stare on the face of a South L.A. middle schooler whose best friend was shot in a drive-by when they were both eight years old. The high school graduate wandering lost through a world she was never taught to navigate, lacking so much as the ability to fill out a fast food job application. In 2018 alone child homelessness spiked by 50% in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Outside California’s one-great cities, entire counties are being consumed as people sickened by one or more of California’s plagues abandon their neighborhoods. As the older generation passes no one is there to take their place. In the Central Valley hundreds of communities resemble ghost towns. So too in places farther south like Palmdale, and in the far north like Siskiyou; these places are previews.

The political class whisk past and tut-tut and remind their minders to remind them to mention it in their next address.

Poe’s tale has a final, crucial element: A clock. Within one of the chambers in the castle is an enormous ebony clock that on the hour chimes a peculiar, and peculiarly chilling timbre that freezes the revelers in place: “While the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.”

The clock reminds them that the whole garish, phantasmagorical affair is a lie. They are going to die the same agonizing death as the commoners.

We’ve begun to hear the chimes of Prospero’s clock in California. We hear it in a hundred car windows being smashed by vagrants every night in San Francisco. We hear it in the screams of the insane in the streets in the darkest nights, the wail of a siren racing to resuscitate a drug overdose victim.

We hear it more earnestly when a mentally ill homeless man stabs and kills a father while he’s at a café, his five-year-old daughter on his lap. It becomes deafening when we hear the pleas of millions of children in failed public schools: I want to learn.

In the end, of course, the Red Death reaches the nobility. In the end, the only difference between Prince Prospero and the lowest commoner is the opulence of his demise (and, perhaps, his ultimate destination).

Unless things change, Prospero’s clock will soon be tolling for every Californian.

Out of control spending and lack of oversight impedes progress in L.A.'s homeless crisis

The official rendering of the planned bridge housing site in Venice Beach.

How much does a bed cost? In Los Angeles, it’s more than $50,000. Despite a a lawsuit brought by residents of Venice Beach, the city has started construction of a so-called “bridge housing” facility located at a former Metro bus yard at 100 Sunset Avenue. The facility, which when finished will provide beds and some services to 100 adults and 54 children, costs $8,000,000, which works out to $51,948 per person. That’s in addition to the annual cost of maintaining and operating the facility.

The per bed cost is consistent in bridge facilities citywide. The Schraeder shelter in Hollywood cost $3.3 million to construct and has 72 beds, or $45,833 per bed. The first bridge housing facility to open, in downtown L.A.’s historic El Pueblo district, contains 45 beds and cost $2.4 million, which works out to $53,333 per bed. And a recently-opened bridge housing facility for 100 homeless veterans on the West Side cost $5 million, or $50,000 per bed. What’s more, that facility is temporary and consists of two “tension membrane structures” as well as modular trailers. Translation: Los Angeles spent $5 million on two tents and some campers.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) recently released the results of the 2019 homeless count. To the surprise of no one besides Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city council (who were shocked, shocked!) the number of homeless people in the city increased over last year, by 16%. Officially that means there are nearly 36,300 homeless in the city, though the actual number is much higher. If studies from organizations like the Economic Roundtable are accurate, the number of people experiencing homelessness – and therefore needing a bed – over the course of a year in Los Angeles is closer to 100,000 (even that number may be low; according to a 2014 report from the American Institutes for Research, that year as many as 130,000 children may have experienced homelessness in L.A.).

Even accepting the official number, existing bridge housing projects reveal how utterly unserious L.A.’s political class is about solving the homeless crisis. Assume the average cost per bed is $50,000. To provide $50,000 beds for 36,300 people would cost more than $1.8 billion. And if the Economic Roundtable is correct it would cost $5 billion to provide beds to everyone who will experience homelessness for any amount of time in L.A.

This is what $100,000 buys in Eric Garcetti’s Los Angeles.

Bridge housing by definition provides temporary shelter for people awaiting permanent supportive housing, meaning that $1.8 (or $5) billion would fund only an interim solution. Which is bad enough. But where you really see the rub is in the city’s approach to permanent housing for the homeless. Contrary to politicians’ promises during the campaigns for Measure H and HHH, the city currently is spending between $400,000 and $500,000 per unit of permanent supportive housing. To provide housing to 36,300 people at an average of $450,000 per unit would cost $16.5 billion. A more recent analysis suggested that the per unit cost of permanent supportive housing may top $900,000, for a total of $36.7 billion.

Of course, that all assumes the city ever builds any units. As of this writing, officials have completed none at all.

What’s more, construction costs are only the beginning of the tally. While annual operating costs are difficult to come by – perhaps by design – the L.A. Daily News reported in 2016 that permanent supportive housing costs $22,000 per resident annually, meaning that annual costs to support 36,300 people would be $800 million. Once again that number may be on the low side: Last month L.A. Downtown News reported that the cost of LAPD patrols at the El Pueblo facility run to $96,171 per month, or more than $1.15 million annually, in addition to annual operating costs of $1.3 million. And that’s just one, small facility with 43 temporary beds. That works out to $56,976 per bed per year. Annual operating costs at the Schraeder shelter are $4.7 million, or $65,277 per bed. For perspective, that’s nearly two and a half times the average annual rent in the City of Los Angeles. It works out to $5,440 per month. That’s how much it costs to rent a 1,500 square foot, two bedroom new construction apartment four blocks from the beach in Venice.

In L.A., $5,400 a month pays for this….
…or this.

These aren’t real numbers. Only in the bureaucracy-addled imaginations of politicians do they even begin to make sense. To be sure, bridge facilities offer general services for the homeless, not just to the people staying there. Nevertheless, the construction and operating costs are eye-watering. Yet no one seems to be asking where the money is going to come from.

Not every one of the city’s homeless people will need permanent supportive housing. But given that the city’s official count is a massive underestimate it’s reasonable to use 36,300 as a working number. If the real number is closer to 100,000 it’s fair to assume that a third will need some form of permanent support in perpetuity. Indeed, according to the Economic Roundtable’s report, of the 100,000 people estimated to experience homelessness in L.A. in a given year, a third will remain homeless for a year or more, meaning they likely will need a permanent solution.

Like so much of life in Eric Garcetti’s Los Angeles, the more the city spends on homelessness the worse the problem gets. Two and a half years after voters did their part by overwhelmingly approving Measure HHH, not a single unit of supportive housing has opened. The first are expected in December, which will be more than three years since the vote.

Then again, perhaps we should have read Measure HHH more carefully: It promises to deliver 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next ten years, for $1.8 billion. A thousand units a year won’t even staunch the bleeding. 10,000 units is enough housing for less than a third of the city’s current chronic and hardcore homeless population (the real number, not the city’s fanciful official one) over a decade. Apparently we’ll get to the other two thirds at some later date.

The numbers aren’t real. The money isn’t real. The time frame is utterly unrealistic. Officials routinely shoot down any alternatives as “impracticable.” And all the while tens of thousands of people languish in post-apocalyptic conditions, with more joining them every single day. This is life in the wealthiest city in wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in human history.

This Thanksgiving, I’m most grateful for my friends’ lack of cynicism

Despite the lazy nihilism of our era, most Americans still love Thanksgiving. Stock photo.

Over the last two days there were two op-eds about Thanksgiving in the Los Angeles Times. One was entitled, “I am not afraid of Thanksgiving dinner, I just hate it,” while the second declared, “Thanksgiving: A time for family, fun, and food-borne illnesses.” A New York Times op-ed by the reliable miserablist Charles Blow was headlined, “The Horrible History of Thanksgiving,” and just in case readers weren’t sufficiently conscious-stricken a second piece reminded them of, “The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth.” Paul Krugman, never to be outdone in the cynicism department, chimed in with, “Why Trump Should Hate Thanksgiving.”

NBC ran a story entitled, “Turkey social media photos promote harmful obsession with meat,” which included an interactive guilt-o-meter where readers could measure their shame over eating a thigh or breast (seriously). The Huffington Post offered helpful advice on “How To Tell Your Family Being Home For The Holidays Isn’t Good For You.” Meanwhile, at the the ubër-Millenial salon.com, Lisa Haas lamented how last year was when “this vegetarian finally gave in and cooked a turkey.”

The horror, the horror.

“Hate.” “Harmful.” Horrible.” “Gave in.” These are the words the modern media associate with a holiday centered around a singular expression of gratitude. These sorts of desultory écritures transgressives have become distressingly predicable holiday tropes in much of our media ecosystem. In an era when the news delivers little beyond daily doses of despair, the holidays no longer offer so much as a 24-hour holiday respite. Instead, journalists pile on the bleak cynicism.

It’s a perverse bouillabaisse of our era’s twin obsessions: Political correctness and egocentrism. You will not be considered sufficiently woke unless you accept the premise that every traditional and festive celebration is bound up inextricably with historic injustices, and your words will not be sufficiently relevant unless you find a way to make them all about yourself.

To wit, the L.A. Times’s resident Turkey Day hater is Mary McNamara, who opines, “when I see a piece celebrating an author’s ability to work in a cramped kitchen, in a lavish setting or over a campfire, a recipe list rhapsodizing the creativity involved in throwing together a feast in 24 hours or accommodating vegans, vegetarians, small children and all manner of food intolerance at the same meal, I think, ‘Bitch, please.'”

She continues by informing us that, while she’s all too aware of the darker sides of the holiday’s origins, she actually hates Thanksgiving dinner “because I am the adult child of an alcoholic and it is the event I most associate with the emotional damage that implies.” Sounds like Ms. McNamara is, in fact, afraid of Thanksgiving dinner. Somebody pass her the Xanax.

The stuffing….the stuffing. Stock photo.

Krugman proffers a more tolerant version of the Thanksgiving creation myth: “the traditional portrait of the first Thanksgiving is as a moment of racial tolerance and multiculturalism: European immigrants sharing a feast with Native Americans.” He acknowledges that the idealistic moment was fleeting, followed by tragic decades and centuries, but nevertheless he concludes, “we still celebrate the tale of a benign meeting of races and cultures.” Of course, the New York Time’s resident curmudgeon doesn’t hew to the happiness for long. Invoking the divisions of the Trump era he grimly inveighs, “there’s no guarantee that we will emerge from this dark chapter as the nation we used to be.” He concludes, “That’s why it’s a holiday true patriots, who believe in our nation’s underlying values, should love — and one people like Trump and his supporters should hate.”

The New York Times columnists direct a lot of hate toward Thanksgiving, for diametrically opposed reasons.

I often wonder what previous generations – the ones who sacrificed, fought, and died so that Americans in 2019 might have the freedom to opine about the oppressiveness of a Meleagris Linnaeus-centric dinner – would say. What would the men who flew heavy bombers into near-certain death over occupied France, or the women who worked 14-hour shifts in often unbearable conditions to build those aircraft, say? Probably something like, “You all are complaining about…roasting a turkey? About the political differences we died to preserve?” I’m guessing that the millions of Americans of all backgrounds who endured the depressions of 1890s and 1920s-30s would have given entire body parts to live in an age in which political bickering over organic heirloom cranberry sauce counts as a traumatic life experience.

Hearing our generation’s laments, Rosie the Riveter might say, “Bitch, please.” Stock photo.

Mr. Blow intones, “I’ve come to believe that is how America would have it if it had its druthers: We would be blissfully blind, living in a soft world bleached of hard truth. I can no longer abide that.” As if generations that endured slavery and Jim Crow, depressions, world wars, and genocides remained somehow blind to hard truths. As if he is the courageous teller of truth.

It’s not clear who Mr. Blow believes his theoretical, anthropomorphic country would be fooling. Few people who have traversed the U.S. educational system in the last half century are ignorant of the darker sides of our history, including treatment of native peoples. The point of Thanksgiving is that we come together as families and friends, as a country, in spite of those hard truths. Thanksgiving is a day to find a little bit of hope and love in the darkness.

All of which is why I am glad that none of my friends have succumbed to the cynicism, misanthropy, and outright nihilism of so much modern media. I am grateful that they are looking forward to the annual indulgence of food, friends, family, and football (or, in my case, basketball).

People like my friend Lydia, who has overcome more challenges in life than I could probably endure. People like Ted, a thirty year homeless activist who has seen the worst that human beings can dole out to each other and still hasn’t lost his faith. Or my friend Nora, God rest her, a lifelong Communist who loved the USA more than anyone I’ve ever known.

People like Bryan, a homeless man in my neighborhood who spent years living on the streets until finally getting an apartment two months ago. I bumped into him this morning for the first time in six months. I had worried that something terrible had happened to him, yet there he was, walking out of the corner store looking better than I have ever seen him. He told me his good news and we embraced. An artist, Bryan told me that thanks to his new home (“I even have hardwood floors, can you believe it!”) he’s been able to paint for the first time in years. He invited me over to see some of his new works.

These people have enjoyed none of the luxuries of academics like Mr. Krugman or full-time pundits and pontificaters like Mr. Blow and Ms. McNamara. Yet there they were, each of them, full of gratitude each in their own way. Lydia, who is disabled and recently suffered a gruesome shoulder injury, nevertheless got up this morning at 4:30am to start cooking and packing meals for some 1,500 homeless people in west Los Angeles. Ted will spend his day serving people in Venice Beach. People who would have every right to indulge in cynicism instead are giving back more than we can possibly imagine. People like Bryan, who could have given up long ago, instead experiencing their own Thanksgiving miracles.

Almost twenty-five years ago I was a junior in college. My roommate Neal and I drove to visit his younger brother in school in Washington, DC. On a frigid winter evening we ducked into a pizza joint to warm ourselves over slices. At one point Neal went missing. Looking through the restaurant’s window I saw him handing two slices and a drink to a homeless man. They exchanged a few words then Neal came back inside. He never said anything, he’d just done it. I’ve never forgotten his example.

And so on this Thanksgiving, this time when we take a day to be grateful for the plenty we otherwise tend to take for granted, I will bow my head and give thanks to my friends and family. People who have endured. People who have risen above everything this world has thrown at them, not only standing strong and tall but making a point of giving back. These are the people I think of and thank when I think of the holiday, and of my country. They have taught and continue to teach me more about life and priorities than ten thousand columnists.

I’ll gather with friends and family who have survived all manner of trauma, abuse, pain, and sacrifice through the course of their lives and who nevertheless will come together in joy, gratitude and merriment to break bread, drink wine, commune, and occasionally talk smack. We may even yell about politics a little bit, because that’s what friends and family do. That’s what Americans do.

I’ll heed Cicero’s maxim that, “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

Or, as the Rosie the Riveters of an earlier age might have said to the pundits of our era, “Bitch, please.”