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Column: Los Angeles is facing an apocalypse as we lollygag in our flip-flops

Los Angeles, CA April 5, 2019: Clouds roll across the skyline over downtown Los Angeles on the fir
Storm clouds gather ominously over downtown Los Angeles on the first day of spring.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles, we have a problem.

Or two.

I’m not talking about the flaming wreck that calls itself the Lakers, or the knuckle-headed City of Commerce officials who knocked each other around at a fancy desert resort over the weekend.

I’m talking about the big stuff. Namely, what it costs to live here, what it’s like to live here, and what we’re in for if we stay the course.

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Not to be apocalyptic — I won’t even mention the Big One — but storm clouds are gathering on the horizon and we’re still lollygagging in our flip-flops. Especially when it comes to fixes for the Big Two on the local misery index: killer traffic and sky-high rent.

On Friday, I went to a funeral in Laguna Woods, driving in what used to be known as off-peak hours both coming and going. But the only off-peak hours left in Southern California are between 2 and 4 a.m., and even then a SigAlert is not out of the question.

My soul was sucked out of my body on the 405 South, or maybe it was the 605 North. I don’t recall, and I’m not even sure there’s a difference, really. I felt lost in both directions, and eager to punch somebody, like those hooligans from the City of Commerce.

Maybe I should have taken the train. But will transit ever work around here?

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A Times story on the multibillion-dollar remaking of Union Station, aimed in part at improving transit connections, noted that Metro ridership has been sinking.

Do you see the problem there?

We have invested, and will continue to invest, a fortune in transit. A good idea if you ask me, at least in principle. But partly because of Uber and Lyft, lots of people have decided they prefer the convenience of gig drivers to bus drivers.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft drivers are pawns in a scheme that put cabbies out of work and now the gig drivers are rebelling because they can’t afford to live here. Some of them are living in their cars, according to a Times story by Johana Bhuiyan, and when you can be both a participant in the new economy and made homeless by it, it’s pitch-fork time.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 20, 2019 - Los Angeles traffic on the 105 freeway near the 405 interchange Mon
Los Angeles traffic on the 105 Freeway near the 405 interchange.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

I wanted to march on Sacramento myself last week when Senate Bill 50 died a quiet death. As I noted in a recent column, SB 50 — which called for more density and more housing near transit — wasn’t perfect. It might even have fueled rather than slowed gentrification and rising rents in some areas.

But in a refreshing departure from normal public policy ideas, it was bold rather than meek, and it could have been tweaked.

Unfortunately it crashed without even coming to a vote when Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, shelved it because local zoning control would have been diminished, among other concerns. So now our fearless leaders tell us we’ll have to wait until next year to try again.

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Wait a minute. This is May, not December.

Is Sacramento so inept that a bill 18 months in the making now has to sit around for nearly eight more months before anyone can get back to work on it?

“There is no way to sugar-coat what happened here. This is a legislative failure,” SB 50’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), told me this week. “It’s one thing if a bill gets voted down on the floor. That’s the Democratic process and we’re all accountable for our votes on critically important issues.”

To be denied a vote, Wiener said, “is very frustrating, and I think for a lot of Californians, they wonder if the Legislature is serious about addressing the housing crisis.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, for his part, said he was disappointed the bill stalled.

No, I’m disappointed. In his disappointment.

Leadership is more than a nice suit and a good haircut, Gavin, so do something. Call Portantino, or Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), and tell them to get back to work today instead of eight months from tomorrow.

Thanks partly to years of too little, too late from L.A. city and county officials, we are in the middle of a HOUSING EMERGENCY here. More than 50,000 people are sacked out in tents, alleys and riverbeds. We’ve got more campers than KOA, and at least KOA has bathrooms.

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- MONDAY, MAY 20, 2019: Pedestrians walk past a homeless man laying on the side
Pedestrians walk past a homeless man on the sidewalk at 8th and Broadway in L.A.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

I suppose it’s possible that the combination of gridlock, low wages and unaffordable housing will get so bad that people will up and leave.

But I doubt it.

L.A. has too much going for it — the culture, the climate, the scene, and too many people willing to celebrate those things whatever the cost. That means the problems will only get worse without radical leadership, and I hereby appoint myself king of California for at least as long as you continue reading.

I’ll begin with traffic.

Another rail extension here, another bus line there. Sure, and maybe Elon Musk can tweak his underground highway hallucination once his electric car company burns out and he’s got more time on his hands.

But that’s all child’s play, and as we know, we’re pumping pollution, destroying the planet and living on year-round wildfire alert. California is burning and this is no time for fiddling.

I will wipe out gridlock overnight by imposing a mandatory odd-even driving lockdown. If you are a noncommercial driver and your license plate ends with an even number, you can’t drive on an odd day, and vice versa. With a vanity plate, you can’t drive at all.

Stay home. Use transit. Ride a bike. Walk. Carpool.

Get caught cheating and it’s a $1,000 fine, with proceeds going to the expansion of mass transit, which, by the way, will be free for everyone until further notice.

On housing, there will be a massive statewide workforce housing program for teachers, nurses and a dozen other professions chosen by local committee. Housing assistance will be paid for with a tax, at the time of sale, on every homeowner who has made $500,000 or more in equity thanks to zoning restrictions, mortgage deductions and Proposition 13.

Because both the affordable housing shortage and traffic insanity are partly caused by population growth, I see no way to avoid mass deportation.

Nearly one-third of California’s voters cast a vote for Donald Trump in 2016, and as far as I can tell by their correspondence with me, every one of them hates living here. They correctly note that the state’s problems are stacked at the feet of the Democrats who run the state, but the GOP hasn’t had an interesting gimmick since Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped a wrecking ball on the car tax, and even that backfired.

A tax on whining would no doubt push some of these Trump supporters over the edge, and we should also consider a levy on top earners among Trump voters for the cost of all the legal battles California has waged to combat Trump’s efforts to turn back the state’s leadership on environmental safeguards.

These people belong in a place like Texas, where they wouldn’t have to carp and moan about state politics all the time, but they’d still be able to find a good cantina, hire cheap immigrant labor and keep complaining about border crashers.

The king of California has spoken.

Please hold your applause.


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