Opinion newsletter for Saturday, May 9, 2015

It's the ultimate tech-induced "disruption," to use a venture-capitalist trope that might actually be appropriate in this case: Your quiet, hillside neighborhood, brimming with curb appeal and expensive real estate, suddenly becomes the preferred rush-hour commuting route for impatient motorists, all because of a single app. For the last few months, Waze – the app offering drivers real-time, crowdsourced traffic tips – has been prompting complaints from L.A. residents who blame it for an increase in traffic and dangerous driving in their neighborhoods.

In the past, Times readers have written to denounce Waze. Others have lamented the extinction of once-quiet residential streets identified by Waze users as good alternate routes to backed-up thoroughfares – and they have the attention of sympathetic L.A. City Council members who want to effectively regulate Waze.

Brian K. Roberts is having none of this. In his Op-Ed article this week, he defends Waze, "that brilliant smartphone app" that "is a quantum leap forward for those of us who want to keep our blood pressure down during the daily commute." He writes:

Twenty-five years ago, before GPS and smartphones, Richard Schwadel and I co-wrote a book called "L.A. Shortcuts: The Guidebook for Drivers Who Hate to Wait," born out of a bet as to the fastest route to LAX. You could say we were the original Wazers. We had our 15 minutes of fame, made a little money and had an easy conversation starter at parties.

We also took a lot of flak from every homeowner's association and well-to-do neighborhood from Pacific Palisades to the Hollywood Hills, upset that hoi polloi were passing in front of their properties to avoid traffic. And it wasn't very long before that flak turned into communities erecting "no left turn" signs on some of our favorite shortcuts.

Shortly after the book was published, I was late for a meeting and turned onto Outpost from Mulholland Drive to avoid the dreaded Cahuenga Pass parking lot, and I was pulled over by one of L.A.'s finest. When I asked him what I had done, he said that "two idiots had written a shortcut book" and that it was no longer legal to use Outpost to go into Hollywood during certain hours. I told him that I was one of those idiots. He laughed and let me off with a warning.

Though I dodged a ticket, that traffic stop raised serious questions. How was it possible that a public street maintained with my tax dollars was no longer available to me? I wasn't speeding. I wasn't intoxicated. I had a valid license. It wasn't my fault that homeowners didn't look at a simple map or check the traffic patterns before they bought a house. Who were these people who had persuaded the government to give their private interests priority? What shortcut did they take every morning to get to work on time?

And by the way, it wasn't like anybody with a house on Fountain or Willoughby Avenues was getting any traction on changing traffic patterns. I could still fly across town on those streets without getting pulled over.

A lot has changed in 2½ decades: The financial meltdown has vaporized the middle class, the notion of retirement has become a long-lost fantasy, and because of our love of fossil fuels, the ice sheets may soon turn your beachfront property into a water park. Traffic has gotten worse — and the traffic workarounds have gotten more sophisticated.

Waze, that brilliant smartphone app that uses input from millions of drivers to redirect you away from traffic trouble spots, is a quantum leap forward for those of us who want to keep our blood pressure down during the daily commute. I use it religiously.

But now, just like a quarter-century ago, homeowners are screaming "not in my backyard!" Or, more precisely, "not the street in front of my frontyard!" What's worse, Los Angeles City Council members are listening.

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Surprise! Readers who live on Waze-afflicted streets weren't pleased. Their complaints echo Sherman Oaks resident Leon Sturman: "We had a peaceful residential home prior to Waze. Now we live on a pretend freeway." L.A. Times

The Times editorial board takes a stand for free speech. It doesn't matter that Pamela Geller's event in Texas was provocative or insulting to Muslims – it's still speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. L.A. Times

Working in L.A. doesn't stop us from writing about the royals – or even giving them advice. Editorial writer Carla Hall has helpful hints that Princess Charlotte might want to read – once she learns to read, of course. L.A. Times

Speaking of writing from afar,  the drought has made the End of California As We Know It something of its own punditry genre. New York Times


Jonah Goldberg gets to the root of what's wrong in Baltimore. To fix the problem of poverty, he says, you have to fix the culture of poverty. L.A. Times

Write letters to The Times, and you may get results: In response to a letter from a rabbi on an Op-Ed article about soldiers who come home from the battlefield with "moral injury," the article's writer, Nancy Sherman, tweeted this: "Intriguing response to my @latimesopinion piece is about using religion to help heal morally injured veterans."

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