A walk down the street of any major California city is a walk through anarchy
As the political class doubles, triples, and quadruples down on catastrophically failed, even fatal policies, I’m starting to wonder: Maybe I’m the one who’s nuts
Eyes forward, head on a swivel, don’t make direct eye contact with anyone. That’s how you walk around Santa Monica, and most places in Los Angeles County, these days. One night last week, for the first time in a long time I went for a walk after dark. It is not even a slight exaggeration to describe the experience as akin to a stroll through an episode of The Walking Dead. Fentanyl, meth, and opioid zombies by the score, many screaming at demons only they could see, inert bodies crumpled in doorways and splayed out corpse-like in public parks. People — almost always young men with haunting, half-dead expressions — muttering to themselves, twitching, gesticulating as they pass you on the sidewalk. At any moment one of them could snap and take a swing, or worse. Two years ago a neighbor of mine, a young Greek immigrant schoolteacher, was sucker punched in broad daylight by a deranged vagrant. She ended up with a shattered jaw, severe concussion, and PTSD that will haunt the rest of her life. There were half a dozen witnesses, yet the Santa Monica Police Department didn’t so much as assign a detective to pursue the case.
It was just another Tuesday in Psycho Monica.
Just a random Tuesday afternoon in one of the most expensive zip codes in North America, which puts Bay City high in the running for most expensive worldwide.
Head on a swivel, pepper spray in one pocket, my trusty Smith & Wesson tactical knife in the other. I know a lot of other people like me: To paraphrase the old American Express line, they don’t leave home without some type of self-defense. It was after I was beaten nearly to death by three hyped-up, strung-out addicts in San Francisco’s Tenderloin in 2004 (I went to law school at UC Hastings, which is smack dab in the middle of Frisco’s most dangerous neighborhood) that I joined a boxing gym and truly learned how to defend myself.
Allegedly, this is still a first world country.
These days, nary a night passes in Santa Monica — where I moved a decade ago in no small part to escape the spiraling chaos in the Bay Area — without at least one screaming meltdown echoing through the neighborhood from somewhere close by. Sometimes, to quote another 80s line, the screams come from inside the building. No one even bothers calling the Santa Monica Police anymore when someone sneaks in through the garage or breaks in through the front door. Why inconvenience the dispatchers? We all know no one’s coming. A few months ago I actually did call 911 when a homeless man began attacking people in their cars at a local gas station. He slammed his fists on hoods, threw a trash can halfway across the station’s tarmac, and screamed that he was going to kill the next person who looked at him. Even though the dispatcher clearly could hear the man screaming in the background, and even though at one point I told her he was coming at me (of course, Psycho Monica’s version of Murphy’s Law kicked in, as it was one of the few times I was not carrying any of my usual protective items and was wearing flip-flops — what a fool I was, walking in flip-flops two blocks from the beach!) it took nearly 15 minutes for a cop to arrive. When she did, she casually drove past the station and nearly drove off until I flagged her down. Lights and sirens? Don’t be absurd, it’s just a sequence of violent felony assaults. When the officer arrived the man was 100 feet away in an alleyway. Yet the cop seemed like she was more annoyed at me than concerned for public safety. Suffice it to say, no action was taken.
In my world, that’s utterly insane. But it’s happening every single day, many times. Arresting someone having a psychotic break isn’t “criminalizing homelessness,” it’s giving them a chance to find help. The stories of families positively begging for loved ones to be arrested are legion; here’s a heartbreaking example published just today, Mother’s Day, on CNN. A woman said of her son, “Incarceration is a good thing for him … keeping him alive, off the streets and giving him a chance in a treatment program.”
Yet the people around me keep voting for and electing the same people who created this mess, and who flat-out promise to keep on, keepin’ on, who say we need to let homeless people even in the depths of psychotic hell free to their own devices. They want to replace cops with minimally trained, unarmed “social interventionists.” Clearly, then, I’m the crazy one, because I think it’s all, excuse the expression, batshit nuts.
I was born and raised in L.A., a fifth generation Californian. My great great great grandparents and their children built and operated the first saw mill in what in the 1850s was still a sleepy, largely Mexican hamlet called Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula — Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula. Some of the first buildings in the newly American town were built with lumber my ancestors milled. I love L.A. with all my heart, but thanks to the current political, economic, and public safety climate, I am actively considering leaving not just L.A. but California, for good.
Pushing someone like me to the brink of exiting the Golden State is like convincing Homer Simpson to leave an all you can eat shrimp buffet. It should be all but inconceivable. Yet here we are.
The biggest reason I’m starting to think I’m the crazy one is that everyone in charge — including political figures I otherwise like and admire, like new L.A. Mayor Karen Bass — continues to insist that the solution is, quite literally, more of the same. Much, much more. More needle hand-outs and “harm reduction” programs that enable, encourage, and indeed incentivize addiction. More “permanent supportive housing” at $500,000 to $1 million per studio apartment, even as it proves to be neither permanent (due to addiction and mental illness, many people cycle in and out of housing over years, even decades) nor supportive (profiteering nonprofits ensure most of their taxpayer funding goes to salaries, benefits, even perks like meals and travel for their highly-compensated, utterly incompetent leadership, not to the actual services that are so desperately needed). Often the units barely qualify as housing, resembling nothing so much as holding cells in county jails. More billions to sustain what many have come to, accurately, call the Homeless Industrial Complex.
I feel like I’m going crazy because I look at the payroll of outfits like the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which just hired a new Director for a cool $430,000 per year. Her previous gig? CEO of one of the most notoriously corrupt homeless nonprofits, St. Joseph Center. Regular readers of the all aspect report will recall that that’s the organization we caught literally dumping an elderly, handicapped homeless woman behind garbage cans in an abandoned parking lot in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. It was so brazen, they even gave her a brand-new tent. I feel crazy because that kind of failing upward shouldn’t even be possible in the biggest, wealthiest, most resource-rich city in the world’s fifth largest economy.
Yet with homelessness, and addiction, and mental health, and crime, the pattern repeats over and over and over.
I’m obviously going crazy because in the reality I inhabit, the official number of some 2,000 homeless people dying on the streets of L.A. every year (the real number is much, much higher) qualifies as a national crisis. Over the last decade more homeless people have died in California than U.S. soldiers during the entire Vietnam War. More homeless people die in California every year than U.S. soldiers in the entire, decade-long Iraq War. Let that sink in a moment. Looked at from another angle, between April 2021 and March 2022, officially 1,988 homeless people died in Los Angeles. Accepting the official death toll and the official homeless population of 41,980 (the real numbers are substantially higher), that’s a 4.7% death rate. The COVID-19 death rate is around 1%, and that was sufficient to shut down the entire planet for two and a half years.
I’m crazy because in a rational world it would not possibly be more dangerous to be homeless in the City of Angels than to be a combat soldier in a war zone or to contract a deadly virus. It would not be possible to shut down an entire country of healthy people over a virus while letting homeless people die at record numbers.
Yet here we are, and everyone in charge is running headlong in the same machine gun fire. More to the point, they’re sending thousands more of the most vulnerable into that hellish No Man’s Land, while they sip champagne at Shutters. Consider, in 2020 one nonprofit in Santa Monica spent barely $120,000 on meals for their homeless and low income “clients” — and more than $600,000 on meals and travel for their executive staff. If this is the new normal, I am obviously out of my mind. Because I find data points like that incomprehensible. Truly, it’s inconceivable.
Meanwhile, I called one of my good college friends yesterday. He and his 10-year-old daughter live in Montreal, where he co-parents with his ex. As we were talking, another good college buddy called. He and his wife have three sons and live in Raleigh, North Carolina. We got on a three-way and had some good laughs for half an hour. The whole time, my friend in Raleigh was watching his sons play in the street in their cul-de-sac neighborhood, occasionally remonstrating them because, three boys. It occurred to me that no children play outside in Santa Monica these days. When you stop and think about it, it’s downright creepy, driving through quiet, leafy suburban streets without seeing so much as a couple of kids having a catch, riding bikes, or jumping rope. In Santa Monica. Where it’s 72 and sunny 300 days a year.
“You can still die when the sun is shining.”James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
This is normal, ergo, I am crazy. Throughout California, cities are waging a war on cars, installing all manner of obstacles that officials promise will not only reduce traffic accidents, but eliminate them completely (a mathematical impossibility, but that’s another story). And in most places, those “Vision Zero” projects have led to increased accidents, injuries, and fatalities, while wreaking havoc with emergency response times and, terrifyingly, evacuation routes.
Former L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti launched Vision Zero in 2015, a year in which 73 pedestrians were killed on the city’s streets. Seven and a half years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, 153 pedestrians died in L.A. in 2022, a three-decade record. What are officials doing? Demanding more money for more Vision Zero projects.
See? I must be crazy, because I think these projects are killing people, but everyone keeps electing the same politicians and giving them a mandate to, again, keep on, keepin’ on.
I oppose road diets and unchecked development in high fire danger severity zones, so I must be crazy. I oppose giving free needles and meth pipes to homeless addicts without so much as offering services, so I must be crazy. I oppose thousands of people dying in horrific ways on our streets and in our public spaces every year, so clearly I’m nuts. I’m insane because I see a state in unarrested, indeed accelerating free-fall, with a body county approach six figures — while our governor travels the nation touting the “California model.”
Most of all, I must be crazy because I still live here. I haven’t (yet) joined the growing exodus of now-former Californians to more hospitable climes, like Ogden, Utah (not exaggerating — in 2019 Northrup Grumman relocated some 1,200 employees from their El Segundo headquarters to a new campus in the Salt Lake City suburb). I must be nuts because I think this bonkers state still stands a chance. Because when all is said and done, the sagebrush mountains of Southern California are in my blood. Because when I was a child the coyotes in those mountains and glens sang my lullabies at night and mourning doves were my wake up call. Because despite what our current — oh, let’s call them “leaders” — have wrought, I still love this place with all my heart.
Which ought to give those “leaders” pause. Because the one reason I think I may, possibly, be sane is that an ever-increasing number of people are awakening to the the same nightmare I’ve been watching and living since that fateful night in the Tenderloin in 2004. Because a lot of good people, decent people, kind people, are saying “no more.”
I just may be sane after all. And a sane Christopher LeGras just might be the California political class’s worst nightmare.
To paraphrase one of the greatest writers currently at work in L.A.: So. Here. We. Go.
Game on. Game. On.