May 1, 2001 - From the May, 2001 issue

State Of The City Address: Dan Garcia Offers A Real Agenda

In mid-May, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan gave his final State of the City speech--a glowing docudrama recounting his achievements. Unfortunately, what the speech left out was the continuing dysfunction of our city departments, the further in-fighting between neighborhoods and the growing sentiment that secession might actually happen. Coincidentally, Dan Garcia--an acommplished civic activist as well--gave his version of mayoral leadership to a Westside Urban Forum group just days earlier. Garcia's review is much different than the Mayor's. And, unlike the Mayor, he offers some suggestions on how to respond to the City's challanges. TPR is pleased to excerpt this WUF event.


Dan Garcia

I don't know how many of you remember the movie Viva Zapata. I think it was made in 1952. The screenplay was ironically written by John Steinbeck. There's a line from that movie that goes something like, "A great people don't need great leaders." I thought about that a lot and it occurred to me that one thing that Haussmann in Paris and Wren in London (of course he needed a fire to help him rebuild a city, as did Nero) and Robert Moses in New York had in common is that they didn't face 50 or 60 separate forms of government. Historically, city building has not been a democratic enterprise.

The mindlessness and the lack of rational discussion about real issues in the context of land use planning or any urban use is appalling in our society. We have become uncivil to each other and we are reducing ourselves to schoolyard discussions in the resolution of matters which effect us all. And the examples are everywhere around us.

The L.A. Planning Department is not a Planning Department, it's a building regulation department. The number of regulations are now such that the amount of planning time spent on regulating the footprint of single family residences is probably as much as it is in all of the building, in all of the poor sections of Los Angeles multiplied by several. That's our reality, we still treat the City-from an environmental standpoint-the same way we treat land in a pastoral state of nature.

In the City of Los Angeles, 75-percent of our land mass is or was zoned for open space or single family residential. That means that the entirety of the city's commercial, multifamily housing, retail and industrial uses must be accommodated on 25-percent of the land. And that 25-percent has been subject to an onslaught of political fights at the local level because nobody wants to make any sacrifice. Everybody want to preserve the status quo.

I say this over and over again, the planning context in L.A. lies in the unresolved and powerful struggle between those who believe that regulation should be used to stop change- whether in the name of neighborhood, environment or community-and those who believe that it is the obligation of the structures of government to prepare for change in an early fashion. I suggest to you that that schism is apparent anytime you look at anything that happens in the context of our irrational decision making process.

Let me talk about crises. A crisis is when the electronic media recognizes something is wrong. And we have just as big a crisis in transportation as we do in energy. Yet, if you look at the Smart Growth movement in state's like Washington, Oregon, North Carolina and so on, in each case the state played a major role in framing the discussion about what should and should not be developed. I would suggest to you that the state of California has played no role, it has been laissez-faire . [And] the absence of any state guidance or policy with respect to uses has lead to, among other things, anomalous state laws.

If you want to build a school, you're treated in Modesto, Merced or Truckee as you are in L.A. The same regulations apply. There is no distinction between agricultural or rural schools and how they fit into the surrounding fabric, not to mention the cost per square foot or per pupil comparison discriminates against urban sites as well

Economics is a neutral art. People will go and people will invest where it makes sense to, where there are fewer barriers. What we have done is erect a series of barriers and governmental decision making processes which are destined to continue sprawl and defy any rational tying together of what we are-a region, a city and a series of communities whose fates are bound together.

I suggest the single most important thing we need to do as a society is understand that we need to identify a common enterprise where people in Brentwood have something in common with people in Compton-or at least Los Angeles. Instead we have become a series of armed camps. I'll never forget Orange County where people moved down there to get away from desegregation. They built walls around themselves, think about the symbolic importance of that. They tore themselves away from a bigger more threatening mass so that they didn't have to be associated with it or live there anymore.

I have been involved with the Coro Foundation trying to put together the City's first mass orientation session for new City Councilmembers. And the first two issues I've identified that they're going to have to confront on their agendas are: 1) Secession (a tearing away) and 2) How they deal with a separate form of government-the LAUSD Board members-changing their districts in whatever way the school system decides And again we have a series of fragments glued together. And we call ourselves a city.

So here's my quick and dirty laundry list of specific thoughts about what needs to be fixed in L.A.:

1) Break up the MTA, it's dysfunctional. I have no idea how to replace it, but if anybody can define the difference between Caltrans, the MTA, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Authority on Mass Transit and the Southern California Association of Governments. Whatever system we have now is no system at all.

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Amateur politicians, purport to manage the day-to-day affairs, negotiate extraordinarily complex sociological and economic transactions with no training and very little insight into them, and that's what runs our system right now. It doesn't work.

And lastly, our mass transit doesn't link centers. The biggest single tragedy that happened from a city building standpoint this half-century was the discontinuation of the metro-rail line. It should've gone from Downtown to the Santa Monica Pier and then linked up to the Valley and with LAX It hasn't happened. It's not on the planning books now, it hasn't been brought up in years.

2) LAUSD. The staff of the LAUSD has done a better job of recent then they're given credit for. What hasn't changed is the politics of the School Board. I suggest to you that we shouldn't break up the LAUSD, we should break up the School Board. It's dominated by union vs. anti-union politics which are irrelevant to the sociological and educational issues that really haunt the district. In my view the purpose of a school board should be to act as advocates of children, not as real estate negotiators.

They are attending sessions of infinite complexity about school siting and the environmental toxic cleanup issues and all the other paraphernalia that surrounds it. They have no business doing that, that's not what they should be aspiring to do, but that's what has happened and as a consequence the true mission, the true function of school boards has further eroded.

3) I would establish a state agency and make it responsible for school siting and functional at the local level. We need to take school siting out of the hands of the school district. It is not a real estate enterprise-the union runs the schools and the School Board does siting and negotiates leases. That's absurd. Obviously, I'm being potentially controversial so I'll keep on going

4) There's absolutely no economic development strategy for the city of Los Angeles. The last administration basically thought that the public sector was either stupid or incapable of doing anything rational so it provided development teams, but if you analyze the job characteristics [created,] they were at the lower end.

I would simply create a Department of Economic Development, obliterate the lines of distinction between the CRA, CDD and the Housing Department. I would also create a citywide grant making office. We are constantly out hustled by other cities because each L.A. Department has perhaps 1 or a half-time person in grant making. There's no holistic organizing principle behind it, I guarantee it.

We also have to invigorate the CRA. CRA is a dirty word to politicians and to the press, that's absurd. You want to make a city work, you've got to have tools. The single most difficult impediment to overcome in real estate development is land acquisition. You need to have eminent domain, it ain't pretty, but it needs to be done But to simply disregard it, to throw away the tools is ridiculous.

And 5) I would establish a regional port and airport authority consisting of LAX and the two ports. I would not make LAX a part of L.A. City. And I would sell Ontario airport back to Ontario, they ought to manage it, it's in their jurisdiction. That might help make decisions re: the most critical elements of our long term infrastructure and economic health-the preservation and modernization of our ports and our airports. Without that we are dead.

[F]or good environmental reasons we've wiped out all kinds of manufacturing. Trade, tourism and commerce is what sustains us. If you don't have an airport, you don't have trade, tourism and commerce. And anyone who thinks that Palmdale will suffice as a replacement for LAX is smoking hemp. The airlines have made it clear that they will not go there. There are all kinds of profound reasons for that that never get addressed. Nobody likes an airport. Major cities need one.

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