Breaking LA’s Auto Dependency

streetcarThe Greater Los Angeles area has long been plagued by a thought that individual neighborhoods don’t add up to a whole. And the good of that whole (the Greater Los Angeles area) is the largest micro situation in the macro dependency on foreign oil there is.

With the dependency on cars that Los Angeles has (transfer that in your mind to the 26 other cities that had their Subways yanked out during the Eisenhower years, to appease U.S. Oil., U.S. Rubber, General Motors etc. — when the superhighways were built) and you begin to see the larger problem. My friends in New York discuss “how are we going to get the rest of the nation on bikes?” and they are serious. People here laugh, they can not fathom a situation where they could bike to a nearby subway to go longer distances, then bike to their job or destination. Or a situation where the cab drivers are regulated properly so the price of a cab ride is not a complete gouge (this is an L.A. problem, not a New York one; a cab costs three times as much in Los Angeles to ride). Or a situation where they would not have to own a car, as I did for the eight years I lived in San Francisco, then New York. Or the job creation and re-education that could happen for people who have lost their jobs, who can now work for a federally-regulated rail company.

And another thing; our tiny, selective L.A. rail system is ridiculously un-manned by the kind of police presence, both undercover and uniform, that makes it so there are minimal shennanigans on the rails in New York City. People don’t feel safe to ride them here in Los Angeles, even if they happen to be convenient to their neighborhood (a situation that is also too far from common).

Plans for rails that have been made here have been somewhat corrupt, poorly planned, and take no cues from situations like New York that are functional. Too often, we hear solutions that involve more oil-consuming buses, completely missing the point. Perhaps it is because Angelnos refuse to take any cues from New York. This Greater Los Angeles area is still run like a small town in comparison, and yet, this is the largest radio/television market in the country, and also a locale that has more homeless than New York, San Francisco and Chicago combined. I witnessed the renovation of New York during the ’90s first hand, and it came back from a lot worse than L.A. has to right now. It was unbelievable to watch.

There can be no borders for there to be a proper, functioning subway system for the Greater Los Angeles area. Business people would like the public to believe that Orange County is a separate universe, that Santa Barbara is not part of “L.A.” and that San Bernardino and Santa Monica are not connected. But everything in these communities depends on the outlying areas for all forms of business or pleasure. That is a reality which is not being addressed in Los Angeles, for over 30 years now. A local mayor on the East side of the county actually stopped the Green line from going all the way from Downey to the airport, and, the city of El Segundo made it so the Green line now doesn’t even go to the airport. This is the problem we are dealing with; the small feifdoms of Greater L.A. are clueless to their citizens overall needs or best interests within the larger community that we are all truly a part of. Unless, of course, one prefers to hide in a hut in Bell.

The Greater L.A. community should work on moving away from its dependency on foreign oil, and can work as a model for all the (26) other cities that the rails have been pulled from. This happened over 50 years ago. Imagine the impact that alone has had on global warming.

Historically, federal funds do not come to Los Angeles in the manner they get to other cities. Private enterprise has ruled the lay of the land, out of necessity, going back to the 1800s. Sacramento, and San Francisco, saw to that in the old days, and this continued at least through to the mid century. It is one of the reasons I see San Franciscans having more common energy to make change in their neighborhoods. Compared to the Bay area, I recognize there are many strong individuals here who share the same kind of concern, but are not backed up by common neighborhood people the way it happens in San Francisco. The general person on the street in the Bay area has the attitude “oh, another civic involvement thing? I’ll support that” because they are used to seeing these things having an effect in their town, constantly, every month, every year. There is a belief in the Bay area the common Angeleno does not have.

red-car-train-lines-in-los-angeles

The Red Car went everywhere; why can't you?

Washington D.C. so very rarely sees us, we are really, really far out of the picture here on the West Coast, actually. Washington D.C. sees our California economy as self-sufficient* and Los Angeles is especially overlooked. This is a big part of what we are up against, but it is matched by the inability of Angelnos to perceive life beyond L.A. as well. We are all told we live in such a wonderful place, all the time. So are people in Omaha, for that matter (yes, I lived there too, briefly).

That is where the booster complacency comes in, and then these development deals shape everything, while overlooking actual dysfunction. They throw money around at Hollywood and Highland, the Staples Center et al. and leave decaying neighborhoods… and the majority of the people who live in them… out of the picture. The developers and their political allies are basically saying to Angelenos “come to our monolith and spend money,” but those monoliths (like Hollywood and Highland) have proven to be financial disasters. The “renovation” of downtown L.A. recently is just another one of those great scams. A plan to fix Broadway up real nice rests with Conservancy-minded folk, and not with those interested in developing bogus civic icons.

I watched as Willie Brown in San Francisco made this kind of mistake, and watch again as our current Los Angeles mayor goes down the same road of pork with his friend Mr. Garcetti. Democrats mess up too, though we work hard to get them elected, rather than the far worse options we are offered. I feel it is really time for Washington D.C. to recognize this larger problem that Los Angeles has, and if this can be fixed here, again, it is a model as to what can happen in other American cities. The job creation alone would stabilize so much, but the larger effect on green issues, and quality of life here in Los Angeles, escalates this to a much higher priority than it is being given.

domenic-priore-author-photoI know that President Obama is interested in getting the high-speed trains going between cities, and that is good, too, (Republicans recently criticized him when talk about a “train between Disneyland and Las Vegas” cropped up), but ultimately, the cities themselves need to be properly hooked up on an interior level. Consider the accelerated local business that will happen when the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles is but a two-hour train ride. All the Auto Industry employees who have lost their jobs could be working elsewhere, and it’s more than just them that can be hooked up via a rail super-system.

Domenic Priore

Domenic Priore is the author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood and Beatsville

Published by the LA Progressive on June 2, 2009
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Comments

  1. Hi Domenic,
    Great to hear this. Totally in agreement. Have to correct one small point, though when you say, “Too often, we hear solutions that involve more oil-consuming buses, completely missing the point. ”
    You’re stating an inaccuracy, at least as things currently stand with L.A. buses. The L.A. bus system prides itself on being the largest fleet of compressed natural gas powered buses in the country. No oil burners used. Not that CNG is perfect, but it is better than burning oil for a number of reasons.

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