Report calls L.A. a city in decline, warns of crisis in leadership
Los Angeles is a city in decline, strangled by traffic, weighed down by poverty and suffering from “a crisis of leadership and direction,” according to a report released Wednesday by a 13-member citizen panel.
The Los Angeles 2020 Commission, convened by City Council President Herb Wesson to examine the city’s economic woes, offered a harsh assessment of civic decision-making, warning that Los Angeles is heading to a future where local government can no longer afford to provide public services.
The panel, chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, said Los Angeles lacks a coherent approach to economic development and trails other major cities in job growth. City government spending is growing faster than revenue and the pension benefits of city employees are at risk, said the report, titled “A Time For Truth.”
“The city where the future once came to happen has been living in the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out,” the report said.
Wesson, who is scheduled to appear with commission members at 9 a.m. to discuss the report, asked Kantor to convene the panel and choose its members nearly a year ago. “He and others felt there was value in having an independent look at the city’s problems,” said Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson.
The panel plans to offer recommendations for solving the problems it has identified later this year.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took office partway through the group’s deliberations, offered a statement on the report that did not directly address its assertions.
“We welcome the authors’ ideas as we focus on growing our economy and reforming City Hall,” said Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb. “We appreciate this report and look forward to the next one.”
When it first convened, the panel promised to review ways to create jobs, expanding Los Angeles’ economy and restore the city’s financial stability. But the group went further, staking out positions on traffic congestion, poverty and the state of public schools.
The report warns the Los Angeles Unified School District is “failing our children and betraying the hopes of their hardworking parents.” It says Measure R, the 2008 tax hike designed to pay for new rail lines, would leave traffic essentially unchanged. And it concluded that the city’s push to have 10,000 police officers -- a benchmark reached by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- is “not real” because of the way the officers have been deployed in recent years.
A key contributor to the report was Austin Beutner, a commission member who served as Villaraigosa’s “jobs czar” at City Hall. Some of the commission’s members have been doing business at City Hall for years -- and had interests that made their way into the 2020 report.
Part of the report criticizes city leaders for taking eight years to approve a rail yard backed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway -- a company that was represented by Kantor, a corporate lawyer. “Competitive ports have all made major improvements, while Los Angeles bent to the will of special interest groups and NIMBYism,” said the report, referring to the concept known as “Not in My Backyard.”
Another passage hit city leaders for taking three years to approve a $1-billion development plan sought by USC. “Not a sensible way to treat the city’s largest private employer,” the report states.
Thomas Sayles, USC’s senior vice president, serves on the 2020 commission.
The report also warned that the city is “dramatically underinvesting” in the harbor, the airport and the Department of Water and Power. One of the panel’s members is Brian D’Arcy, who heads the DWP’s powerful employee union. Sayles served on the DWP commission until last year. And Beutner ran the DWP for nearly a year.
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