Two Views of What Los Angeles Is and What It Needs

Richard Riordan and Tom Hayden were interviewed for The Times by Warren Olney, host of "Which Way L.A." program on KCRW-FM. Their comments were edited

Mayoral challenger Tom Hayden is a state senator and longtime political activist.

Question: How would you define Los Angeles?

Answer: The story of Los Angeles has been a continuing morality play about rediscovering Eden and then losing it. It’s about what humans do to their surrounding environment. The original people lived a very rich spiritual life and a productive life where the river met the sea. Their Eden was the place of an original blessing. Later people came from a tradition of original sin rather than original blessing. They felt they had fouled Eden, and they were going to re-create it in Los Angeles. But they kept discovering Eden here and then spoiling it.

Q: So where are we now?

A: We’re still spoiling it. It’s paradise lost, but it can be redeemed.

Q: Is it the job of the mayor to redeem it?

A: Yes, a mayor can redeem L.A. by igniting a positive dream that brings our diversity into balance. There’s got to be balance between racial and ethnic groups, between our economy and nature and between our striving and our seeking peace of mind. The city is always vibrating with negative tension, envy, hostility and underlying violence because it’s out of balance. A mayor can establish a vision that protects our diversity and all of our citizens and can steer growth in a direction that doesn’t do further damage. This could be the great global city, but only if there’s local healing.

Q: Are there models of mayors who do that?

A: Teddy Kollek was mayor of Jerusalem for a long time. He tried to do two things at once. First, to symbolize and promote Jerusalem as a great cultural city of the world. Secondly, to spend a lot of time in a van driving around the city trying to patch up problems in neighborhoods because that city was divided deeply.


Q: How badly off do you think we are?

A: If Rodney King came back and asked again, “Can we all just get along?” what do you think the answer would be? It would not be a resounding “yes.” It might be a mumbled “yes,” but a lot of people would just shrug.

Q: What do you think about the removal of Willie Williams as chief of the LAPD?

A: I think the mayor should have kept Chief Williams because he was a stabilizing, healing center of hope, and he closed the gap significantly between the black community in particular and the police establishment. I find it truly humorous that the mayor would take credit for lowering crime and draw the conclusion that, therefore, the chief should be fired.

Q: The mayor has suggested Deputy Chief Bernard Parks, who’s also African American, as the interim replacement. What about him?

A: Behind the scenes, there’s nothing going on now but a quarrel between different racial and ethnic groups over who’s going to succeed the chief. But it’s not a question of ethnicity alone. It’s a question of who’s best able to lead the Police Department from the Gates era--and Riordan was a Gates backer and intimate--into a new era, where they not only have to do the traditional work of stopping the bad guys, but also have to be part of solving the problem of violence and creating harmony in the city. Bernie Parks is very competent, but I don’t think that reform will come from the traditional wing of the LAPD.

Q: Should the next chief be another outsider?

A: Not necessarily. Outsiders sometimes don’t work, for the same reason that heart transplants don’t always work.

Q: Who’s inside that could do the job?

A: I’m not going to name anyone. I have to be mayor first. But there are certainly reformers on the inside of the LAPD. The issue is, how can you achieve the most effective reform and prevent an erosion of the reform that’s already occurred. That’s what I’d be looking for in a chief.


Q: What about your background qualifies you to accomplish this “healing” you’re talking about?

A: I’ve seen, over 30 years, a lot of failed urban experiments, so I know what works and what doesn’t work. Human rights issues are in my blood, and that’s a crucial understanding that a mayor of this city has to have and has to send out. I’m an environmentalist who believes the environment has to be seen as not only a natural blessing but a tourism attraction and an economic asset. We could transform the DWP into a job-creating, energy-saving public utility and create a downtown riverfront development. Also, I’m more of a politician than Mayor Riordan, and I can work more successfully with the City Council. But I’m also an anti-politician politician. I think the present system is a failure because of money, pride and greed.

Q: Don’t you risk creating enemies of both the bureaucracy and the private interests, who are certainly essential to the functioning of the city?

A: What I’ve found is that, if you’re a good politician, you can bring your adversaries to the table. I don’t have that power as a senator. But as a mayor, if I wanted to build a gang truce and restore peace in the city, for instance, I would look for ways to make that a win-win with the business community. Corporate America needs a lot from politicians. So it’s just a question of creating the right social contract. I think we need something like Rebuild L.A. to be restored, a public-private partnership.

Q: But even when Rebuild L.A. had corporate titans on board, they didn’t get investment in the inner city. How can you do it?

A: There was no insistence from the mayor. I’m not ready to say that corporate America has abandoned the cities of America. I believe there’s a new generation of businesses coming along who understand that you have to have social responsibility, that there has to be a new social compact of some kind and that you can’t just shift economics and politics to the remote suburbs and let the cities thrive on a drug economy and sell a lot of beepers.


Q: How would your new Rebuild L.A. work?

A: The mayor would be chair. A council of public and private parties would constantly engage the issue of how to get investment into the inner city and find out what combination of incentives or disincentives are necessary to do that. The city I see is divided between areas that are underdeveloped that desperately need investment and areas that are overdeveloped and have too much. Mayor Riordan’s plan is for the kind of growth that will leave the inner city further behind.

Q: The mayor says the developments are needed to produce quality jobs.

A: His growth plan will increase the racial gap in the city. It will concentrate jobs in the areas that have the lowest unemployment and do very little for African American or Latino neighborhoods. At the same time, the environment and the quality of life in residential neighborhoods are put at risk by these grandiose schemes that profit the developers. If you could prove to me that DreamWorks at full buildup (with 224,000 car trips per day on the Westside) can be combined with the doubling of passenger flights out of LAX to improve the quality of life in Westchester or Venice, you get the Magic Castle award. If you can prove to the residents of the Cahuenga Pass, Toluca Lake and Studio City that quadrupling of the size of Universal City is good for family values and neighborhood peace and quiet, you get the Academy Award.

Q: Do the neighborhoods have common interests that can unify the city or are they all interested only in themselves?

A: They have a common interest in preserving their right to review development decisions that are going to affect their backyards, and they want to have elected neighborhood councils. I agree that they should have direct power over zoning and development in their neighborhoods, and this is a fundamental difference with the mayor.

Q: But you and he use some of the same terms. You both want neighborhood councils. And yet it often sounds as if you’re describing two different cities.

A: Well, he thinks L.A.’s on a roll. That may be for people who are rolling around in Mercedes-Benzes. I believe that the city of L.A. is not on a roll--or if it is, it’s rolling downhill fast toward Rust Belt conditions like Detroit or Pittsburgh. I believe homeowners are being rolled over and I believe the inner city is being rolled over. He and his business friends may be on a roll. The city is not.


Q: He’s concerned about what he sees as the growing gap between rich and poor.

A: You can look out the car window and see that. I think he lives in a dream world, behind the curtains, disconnected from reality. He ventures out very little. Speaks very little. I’d love to have him as a citizen of Los Angeles, but he hasn’t really made a transition to the real world of public life where the mayor has to be a visionary that keeps people’s hope up. And you have to be a shock absorber who’s out there able to be in the thick of things when tensions are high.

Q: What are your top priorities?

A: There was $63 million in park bonds approved last summer, supposedly to create jobs for at-risk youth so they could do park restoration and cleanup. As far as I can tell, people are still debating what’s “at risk” and what’s “youth,” so the mayor has to come in and solve that problem--that’s an immediate, burning issue--before this summer. A second imperative is to lobby for the end of redlining in the inner city. You can’t generate economic activity where people are denied access to capital. The third issue is an urban peace process. I want to create a long peace table, and I want to meet with ex-gang members and clergy and business people and look for sources of funding for the prevention of violence.

Q: What’s the main advantage of Los Angeles over the Senate in Sacramento?

A: There are a lot of things that can be done in Los Angeles that can’t be done in Sacramento. And they have the added value of being things that would educate and move the larger society. That is really the fundamental reason that I chose to undertake this venture. With all the media here, there is an incredible opportunity to be able to change your own backyard in a way that affects the whole world.