How grim is L.A.'s future?

A new report put together by a dozen of Los Angeles’ most prominent business, labor and civic leaders offers a dire view of the city. L.A. is “barely treading water,” the report states somberly. It’s a “city in decline.” Once a “beacon of innovation,” L.A. is now “becoming less livable.”

The report of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission should serve as a stark reality check for those Angelenos who believe that with the end of the financial downturn, L.A. is poised for a healthy, happy recovery. The city, according to the report, is afflicted with weak job growth; high poverty; bad traffic; underperforming schools; weak, inactive government; red tape that stifles economic development; crumbling infrastructure; unfunded pensions; budget gimmicks and a disaffected electorate. Yes, L.A. has the “ingredients” to be a great 21st century city, and yes, certain promising first steps that have been taken, but all in all, the tone of the report is that of an urgent wake-up call.

There’s certainly value in compiling a list of L.A.'s woes, even if many of them are already well known. The co-chairs of the commission, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former L.A. Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, note that you can’t solve a problem until everyone agrees there is one. And the commissioners make a convincing case that L.A. is falling behind other major cities.


But it is not enough to lay out the city’s problems with “candor,” as the report purports to do. Nor is it sufficient to declare a “crisis in leadership” and hope to shame L.A.'s political leaders into action. The commission’s real work — the difficult part — is to come up with practical recommendations to change government and civic culture to make Los Angeles competitive on the national and international stage.

For that, we must wait another 90 days. It turns out this is just Part 1.

The commission was created last March at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson after voters rejected a half-cent sales tax increase to help balance the city budget. Its mandate was to figure out how the city could create jobs, attract business investments and create financial stability. It is made up of 13 members with very different viewpoints, representing business, labor, public sector, not-for-profits, academia. If they can reach consensus on, say, how to pay for public pensions and still have enough left to pay for city services, or how to permit economic development without compromising neighborhood and environmental concerns, their suggestions would carry tremendous weight.

The commission has gone to great lengths to outline the seriousness of L.A.'s problems. We hope the recommendations are as bold and direct as the criticisms.