Column: Monorails, affordable homes, maybe personal blimps? Our readers redesign Los Angeles


Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wanted to know: Do you think Los Angeles has gotten better over the years? Or worse?

My recent question was offered up like a fat pitch down the middle of the plate:

Is greater Los Angeles getting better or worse?

Your answers were as far apart as Inglewood and Indio:

It’s hell on earth. No, wait, it’s paradise and getting better all the time.


For the frown-faced pessimists, fear not. In the span of just a few days, readers solved at least one of the region’s intractable atrocities and daily annoyances, sort of.

Traffic jams will become a faint memory when we implement Ryan Trambley’s plan.

Are you ready?

Those with even-numbered license plates can drive only on even numbered days. On other days, they’d have to carpool with those who have odd-numbered plates.


Or we could go with Andy Decker’s fix.

“One word: telecommuting,” said Decker, who wonders why so many people commute to jobs where they sit in front of a computer, which can be done without ever leaving the house.

Related: Read more responses from readers »

And if you must leave the house, go by scooter, says Anders Christensen, who claims he gets everywhere faster at a fraction of the cost of driving a car.


I got calls for skyways and monorails, and Tim Hall wants us to “immediately prioritize and treat as an emergency” the building of an elevated train line above the 405 from Long Beach to Westwood.

I like his sense of urgency.

Robert Aronson will have us traveling in computer-directed swarming pods, and Lisa Landres will persuade Elon Musk to build small personal blimps while he’s working on underground highways.

Geoffrey Booth says more dedicated bus lanes, with buses moving faster than cars, might or might not improve traffic but would provide a reliable alternative to people who don’t want to be trapped in their cars and their neighborhoods.


All of this is possible, right? Maybe not the blimp idea, but in designing a better place to live, we’re limited only by our imaginations, ever-elusive consensus and political will.

Unsurprisingly, traffic woes dominated the more than 400 responses from readers, with homelessness and housing costs also high on the list of quality-of-life issues, along with calls for better schools, whether they’re traditional or charter.

Homelessness is complicated, said Grant Janes, but he criticized public officials for not “distinguishing between those homeless who want and need help and those who are content to openly harass, do drugs and turn our public spaces into dumping grounds.”

Janes extolled L.A.’s virtues — diverse, energetic, entrepreneurial — but said he and his wife have been shocked to see encampments spread in the Los Feliz area and elsewhere, with tents blocking sidewalks and people living in open-air drug markets.


“The city is not only failing its residents — it is failing the homeless by enabling this self-destructive behavior,” Janes said.

Steve Kay fondly recalled riding his bike around Burbank and Colfax as a kid, and walking along railroad tracks to the North Hollywood public pool, where he’d swim all day for a quarter.

Now he lives in Northridge and rues what’s been lost.

“My kids haven’t ridden their bikes anywhere for the last seven years. Too dangerous,” he said, and they don’t stray too far on foot, partly because of concerns about homeless camps.


Kay noted that his childhood home, two bedrooms with 1 ½ baths, sold for $30,000 in 1971 and is worth $1.4 million today.

Such numbers are great for people able to cash out that kind of equity, move to less expensive areas and live comfortably. But home ownership is a dream too big for many people, and high rent is a killer for many others because wages have not kept up with housing costs.

“My fix for the housing shortage is for every two homes a developer builds they need to build an affordable home for working-class people,” said Fran Potaski of North Hills.

Potaski for City Council, the line starts here.


Steven Simich of Westwood had a thought about L.A.’s astronomical income inequality. Many of Hollywood’s moguls are liberals, he said, but they are ruthless hypocrites when it comes to demanding tax breaks and skimping on employees who make their multimillion-dollar salaries possible.

“They mock Trump, which is easy, but they conduct their lives just like him when it comes to business — private jets, squeezing workers,” Simich said.

He suggested that CBS President Les Moonves should be content to keep 10% of his salary, a reported $69 million last year, and donate the other 90% to the 401k accounts of his thousands of employees.

My guess is that we will all have personal blimps before that happens. Then again, Moonves seems to be in need of a PR makeover at the moment, so what do you say, Les?


It goes without saying that if you ask how to make Los Angeles a better place to live, or even if you ask about the weather or the Dodgers’ chances, you will hear from a one-note army of people worked into a permanent lather about illegal immigration.

Yes, those here illegally do have an impact on the housing shortage, traffic, homelessness, wages, schools and hospitals. But erasing their presence, which offers benefits as well as costs, doesn’t solve any of the big problems.

Besides, there’s the impractical cost of deportation. And there’s the long-standing hypocrisy of demanding the cheapest prices for lettuce, nannies and gardeners, but despising people who escape violence created largely by America’s thirst for drugs and risk their lives to come here, which is exactly what most of us would do in similar situations.

So let’s move on.


It’s worth noting that all the great cities of the world have major unmet challenges, some of which we share and some of which we don’t.

In Los Angeles, we always seem to be making it up as we go, too unfamiliar with the past to plan intelligently for the future, and seldom on the same page.

“There are presently 88 fully autonomous municipalities in Los Angeles County alone, each with its own governing charter. In many instances, each are which are regionally redundant...and promoting ...policies which are competitive rather than cooperative,” said Donald Koelper, who offered a plea for a little more regional cooperation.

“I love Los Angeles. I love its grit and its promise,” said reader Yvette Roman Davis. “Los Angeles is, at this very moment, in the midst of existential crises, while simultaneously enjoying one of its greatest moments — a renaissance of extraordinary art and exceptional food, culture and opportunity, butting right up against tent cities and abject poverty. It’s not for the faint of heart.”


Brad Smith said air quality is better than it was, crime is lower, and “there is tremendous opportunity and quality of life compared to much of the rest of the U.S. and the world.”

What’s not clear, Smith said, is “whether that success may overwhelm the carrying capacity of the physical geography, climate and economically sustainable infrastructure.”

Then he pushed the thought forward.

“In a rationally planned and governed society, reasonable growth can be accommodated while sustaining and improving quality of life for Angelenos; whether politics will allow such thoughtful work is an open question.”


That’s a nice setup for me to offer a closing thought.

We’ve had too many school board elections with 10% voter turnout and mayoral elections with 20% turnout. Politics and governance are influenced more by a tiny fraction of the population — through lobbying and political donations — than by ordinary people.

But L.A.’s absence of a more traditional structure, and of reliable political courage, can put more power in the hands of people and neighborhoods, and leaves plenty of room for social movements and political uprisings.

So pay attention. Follow the news. Get involved.


Work for the L.A. you want or you’ll get the one you deserve.

Get more of Steve Lopez’s work and follow him on Twitter @LATstevelopez