The Living Wage, Affordable Housing, Subsidies, Public Works, and the Myth of Job Creation

LA Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa (Photo: Mark Berndt)

In his desperation to save himself politically, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has reluctantly reached out to the civic elite — people like former Mayor Richard Riordan, billionaire Eli Broad, LAEDC head Bill Allen — to create jobs, hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.

The mayor’s own efforts have been a dismal failure with the official unemployment rate among the highest in the nation at 14 percent and another 14 percent so devoid of hope they have given up the search for work.

He loves to talk about creating a “green corridor” but couldn’t bring home the cornerstone of his promise, an Italian rail car assembly (not manufacturing) plant, despite promises of subsidies and didn’t lift a finger to capture even a fraction of the billions in state funding for stem cell research.

He throws his muscle behind huge subsidies for luxury hotels and expensive entertainment venues with obnoxious digital billboards and gets nothing in return except guarantees of living wage jobs while corporations reap huge profits that end up in bank accounts far away.

He talks endlessly about streamlining the wearyingly complex permit processes for major developments but fails to follow through even as he arranges for massive public subsidies and does his best to exclude the public from any influence.

He gives tax breaks and other advantages to the entertainment industry but runaway production continues unabated.

He touts a $5 billion program to build affordable housing that hardly gets off the ground and never spells out just what affordable means. Affordable for who?

Huge increases in taxes, fees and rates are imposed for public works projects that keep the local economy from collapsing entirely but make no dent in the long-term problems of soaring poverty and the flight of the middle class.

And now he turns to the civic elite he shunned for four years to bail him out of the catastrophe his policies have created.

The business community assuredly will line up behind them as they use the tools at hand: More public works spending, hasty approval of development projects that will give us bigger malls and more high-rises along with more traffic congestion and greater demand for water and power that will require huge rate hikes.

The plain truth is these efforts haven’t worked for 30 years and they won’t work now.

Large corporations and high-tech industries don’t set up shop in cities with vast numbers of people who lack the disposable incomes to consume their goods and services and lack the skills to do their jobs.

If they want to do business in the region, they go to Santa Monica and Glendale and Pasadena and Thousand Oaks and most of the other cities that encircle LA, or the areas of LA like the Westside and the 101 corridor in the Valley where there is still affluence.

We have talked for three decades now about the failure of our schools, our gang-infested neighborhoods and the vanishing middle class and keep on using the same tools to reverse the trends.

It’s time we faced the truth head-on.You aren’t going to create sustainable jobs in a jobless recovery from the worst recession in a generation.

Hard as it is to believe, LA is a city following the path of dying old industrial towns like Detroit and Cleveland — not the path of vibrant cities that endlessly regenerate like Chicago and New York.

Our governance system is hopelessly broken. City Hall for too long has been a jobs program, not a service provider. City government simply costs too much and does too little. The bills for that have now come due and we are slashing even those services in an effort to reduce massive deficits and avoid bankruptcy.

The real problem isn’t structural — it is leadership.

The civic, political and business leaders keep on supporting band-aid approaches to what is wrong and settling for crumbs that mask the severity of the problem for a little while.

Great cities require the belief of the people who feel their interests are being served today and will be in the future. That’s why they stay and invest in them.

If anything should be obvious it’s that LA long ago became a city of limits where “thinking big” no longer works. There isn’t enough land or other resources to support more and more development and more people.

We need to think small, to put the quality of our lives at the top of the agenda, to devolve power from City Hall to the neighborhoods, to empower our residents to bring to life a new city out of our extraordinary diversity and the shared belief in personal freedom that is the essence of what LA is all about.

Antonio Villaraigosa once held the promise of being the leader who could bring us to this promised land.

Maybe he still can but not as long as keeps on looking to enrich his friends and allies at the expense of others, not as long as keeps looking for his next job, not as long as travels the world rather than attending to his duties, not as long as he keeps thinking the people are fools who will fall for hollow promises.

ronkayecartoonI dream of a city where every individual feels empowered to affect the course of public events, where people feel an ownership stake in their city’s public life, not categorized as stakeholders to be manipulated.

I believe LA can reinvent itself as a free city where people come first and freedom and mutual respect flourish in place of greed and selfishness. It seems to me that is the destiny of LA, the logical outcome of all that has come before. The alternative of a city separated by grotesque differences or wealth and poverty is unthinkable.

Maybe I’m wrong and there’s another way but I haven’t heard anyone propose anything that isn’t already a tried and proven failure.

Ron Kaye

Republished with permission from Ron Kaye L.A.

LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on December 31, 2009
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