Ron Kaye: Thinking, acting regionally

The red carpet homage to beautiful actresses bedecked with dazzling diamonds and fabulous gowns ended last Sunday night with a commercial celebrating the genius of German engineering, the evolution over decades of the “best of the best,” the magnificent Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster, a jewel of a car with a $150,000 price tag.

Cut to the opening of the 84th annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater — oops, that American corporate icon is bankrupt and dying, so the announcer's first words were: “Live from the Hollywood and Highland Center....”

Whatever they call this heavily subsidized white-elephant venue — and host Billy Crystal called it a lot of things in the Oscar show's longest-running joke — doesn't matter, because it's the last time this narcissistic party honoring the achievements of “Hollywood” will actually be held in Hollywood.

The show — so overblown and tired that the New York Times suggested shrinking the Oscar statuette — is moving downtown to the heavily subsidized LA Live, where the power and the money now are.

These are truly strange times, and the winds of change have never blown so hard.

The picture of the year, “The Artist,” was the only one of the nine nominees actually filmed in Los Angeles. But it was made by Europeans, which like the Mercedes-Benz ad opening the Oscars show, is a sign of just how globalized we have become.

Yet, all too often, we still behave provincially right here in our own communities.

Spearheaded by wannabe mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. launched a campaign several years ago to “bring Hollywood back to Hollywood” from Burbank, Glendale, Culver City and Santa Monica and places far and wide, where so many movies are made.

The city provided huge incentives to produce movies in Los Angeles and offered massive tax breaks, and subsidies from redevelopment funds, to lure entertainment companies back from the suburbs to where the celluloid dream factory began a century ago.

A prime example of how that is working is the plan for a $60-million, eight-story premium office building at 1601 N. Vine St. It was supposed to be filled with entertainment industry tenants who were dying to come to Hollywood, if only they could find high-quality office space.

The “Cesspool on Vine” became the poster child for all that was wrong with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and its sleazy deals, which amounted all too often to welfare for the rich, rather than the help for the poor envisioned by the law.

Five years of controversy over the dirty deals that went into the Vine Street project, and the nearly $5 million in taxpayer money promised for it, had more than a little to do with creating the skepticism that led to abolishing community redevelopment agencies statewide — even the relatively well-run agencies in some smaller towns.

As things have turned out, there are no entertainment tenants, the developer was ousted by the bankers, the subsidy is no longer available, and it seems doubtful now the project will ever be built.

For years, the suburbs around L.A. have thrived on the big city's bungling and deterioration the same way the suburbs thrived on the decay of Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

But in the long term, nobody won. The economies of the entire regions weakened, young people left in search of better opportunities, and the deterioration accelerated.

That is what will happen here unless we adapt the catchphrase “think globally, act locally” to thinking and acting regionally with the understanding that our fates are ultimately all bound together.

Giving tax breaks and subsidies to move businesses from L.A. to Glendale, or from Burbank to L.A., doesn't create jobs or increase sales of homes, furniture or cars. It just shifts them around without creating wealth.

We are a long way from embracing the idea of metropolitan planning for economic development and job creation that is working in many parts of the country. Until we do, we will be competing with each other for who can give the largest gifts of public money to get a short-term advantage, rather than using our money to provide for the long-term economic health of the entire region.

RON KAYE can be reached at kayeron@aol.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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