The Mismanagement of the City of Los Angeles: A City in Crisis

MacArthur Park. Image Source: City of Los Angeles.

If one were to look at the media portrayals of the City of Los Angeles, it is a city basking in good fortune, beautiful people, fantastic weather, and safety for undocumented workers – opportunities abound.  It is portrayed as a city that is unified in its support for the Dodgers, unified in its compassion for the less fortunate, and a fantastic example of how social justice and government can work together in creating a utopic society.  Mayor Garcetti’s public appearances and statements seem to support this perception.

This portrayal is right out of Hollywood, ironically.  It is completely false.  For example, the image above is of MacArthur Park taken from the City of Los Angeles website. It looks beautiful in this photo.  What you aren't seeing are the hundreds of homeless who live in MacArthur Park on a daily basis. I'm not sure if they were asked to leave for the photo, or if the magic of Photoshop erased them.

This is the reality. Image source: Mark Ridley Thomas/County of LA.
Los Angeles has a management problem.  It is a city that has forgotten its responsibilities to its constituents.  It is a city where income disparity is the central theme and the government acts in ways that promote the disparity under the guise of compassion.  The veneer of prosperity and compassion is thin.  What lurks underneath is a city mired in crime, corruption, extreme poverty, an inability to manage growth, and policies that hurt the average constituent. 

The Protection of Undocumented Residents

I think most Angelenos understand and have empathy for those who have fled the corrupt, impoverished, and war-torn countries to our South.  I think most Angelenos believe in creating opportunities for undocumented workers to be able to exercise their basic human right in working to create a better life for themselves and their families.  I am one of them.  That said, one must examine, in a thoughtful and strategic way, how to achieve this objective.  The current model is that the City of Los Angeles government has declared itself a sanctuary city, which treats undocumented residents with protections that enable them to exist as if they are legal residents of the City.  This seems like a good thing on the surface, but how does that protection manifest and how does that affect the average constituent, as well as affect the average undocumented resident?

These undocumented residents are still undocumented and under federal law, they are not entitled to work in the United States.  Because Los Angeles provides a sanctuary status, employers know they can hire undocumented workers and the City will not penalize them.  As a result, small businesses in Los Angeles who employ undocumented workers are able to pay them cash under the table at a lower rate than a legal citizen.  The only way they will get into trouble is if the federal government intervenes and the odds are so low that this will occur, the benefit far outweighs the risk.
How does this model affect the undocumented worker?  It sets the undocumented worker up for exploitation.  The undocumented worker will work long hours for low pay.  The undocumented worker cannot complain to the labor board when they are not paid overtime.  The undocumented worker cannot complain to the City if they are being paid below minimum wage.  The undocumented worker can more easily be sexually exploited without recourse.

How does this model affect the average constituent?  It saturates the labor force and brings wages down for everyone.  If an auto body shop can hire an undocumented worker for $10 an hour cash, they have no incentive to hire a legal citizen at a competitive wage that is at least minimum wage or higher.  Some people are of the belief that the undocumented workers in the City of Los Angeles take the jobs no one else wants.  This is fiction.  Undocumented workers are employed by grocery stores, clothing shops, law firms, construction companies, florists, butchers, specialty stores, property management companies, restaurants – virtually every small business in Los Angeles has the ability to employ an undocumented worker over a legal citizen and as a result of the benefits to the employer, they often choose the undocumented worker over the legal citizen.  On the occasions when they do choose the legal citizen over an undocumented worker, that legal citizen is likely to be paid a lower wage than their counterparts in other cities.  That legal citizen is also more likely to be exploited because desperation and lack create an environment where employers can abuse and exploit their employees without consequence because that employee is usually one paycheck away from losing their apartment.
LA Sweatshop. Image Source: Lawyers, Guns & Money Blog


This model also skews the numbers that employers use for insurance purposes. 

Ideally, if we ever have a federal government that functions again, undocumented workers would have a viable pathway to citizenship for those who want to become Americans, and the government would allow for a visiting worker program so that people coming solely for financial opportunities could do so in a way where they would have legal protections.  Unfortunately, a municipality cannot make laws regarding citizenship or visas.  I share the compassion that many Angelenos have for the plight of our undocumented residents.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers.  However, when constituents suffer as a result, and we are, compassion has to be weighed against responsibility of elected officials to their constituents.

The City Budget and Allocation of Resources

The City Budget is a finite number.  There are numerous departments and services that are included in this budget and all of them should be working in unison to meet the needs of the City.  As with any budget, you have revenue and allocations.  The mismanagement begins when certain departments and services get a lopsided allocation of funds that contradicts the needs of the citizens.  Prior to any budgetary allocations, each department should be examined and assessed as to whether it is working in an efficient manner and is meeting the needs of the constituents.  The general population also matters, such as tourists, undocumented residents, and so forth, but the needs of the constituents should be at the top of the list.  They are the people who voted for the Mayor and City Council.  They are the people who are invested in the community.  They are the people the City should want to keep happy.

Let's examine one department in particular, the Los Angeles Police Department.  Allegedly, public safety is the number one priority for the LAPD.  They allocated $14 million for this area in the 2016 budget.  However, that goes beyond the LAPD.  That would include the LAFD and other safety agencies within the City of Los Angeles.  Let us look at the numbers of officers based on population and square mileage.  The LAPD has 9,000 officers for a population of 4,041,707.  This allocates one officer for every 449 people in Los Angeles.  Los Angeles is 504 square miles in area.  This allocates 17 officers for every square mile in Los Angeles.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Image Source: Amanda Myer/AP


Let us contrast this with New York City.  New York City has a population of 8,538,000There are 49,170 officers in the NYPD.  This allocates one officer for every 173 people in New York City.  New York City has an area of 304.6 square miles.  This allocates 161 officers for every square mile in New York City.

As you can see from these numbers, the Los Angeles Police Department is severely understaffed to meet the needs of a large city like Los Angeles.  Because of this deficiency, the officers we have are spread so thin very little gets done.  Violent crime has risen in the City of Los Angeles by 69.5% since 2013.  An additional effect of this deficiency is that officers become so severely overworked, they burn out and the calling they had when they decided to become a police officer is replaced with apathy and disenchantment.  I would guess in this climate, most officers are collecting their checks and biding their time until they can retire.  This has a disastrous effect on the community.  Response times are slow or non-existent, the laws that exist go unenforced, crime becomes rampant, lawlessness prevails, and the quality of life for every inhabitant of Los Angeles goes down.  There are no phone numbers to call that will evoke an immediate response if you see someone break the law or if you see something suspicious.  Unless someone is in the process of murdering someone, the 911 dispatch will transfer you to the non-emergency line.  By the time you’re transferred to the second dispatch, after you sit on hold, and once someone finally answers the phone, the person you saw breaking the law or the suspicious thing you saw is likely long gone.  Certain laws on the books that can affect the quality of life for citizens like vagrancy, littering, harassment, property damage, and identity theft go unanswered when they are reported. 

My anecdotal experience:  I was a victim of identity theft and I got a text immediately when the purchase was made.  I had possession of my card, so it was cloned by one of three places where I had used it.  I immediately called the store and spoke with the manager.  They said they would save the videotape and attempt to determine which register made the purchase.  I had the time the purchase was made and the amount debited from my card.  I reported this to the police and was told to come in and file a report.  I went into the Rampart division and filed a report.  About a month and a half later, I received a copy of my report in the mail.  Not a single bit of the information I had provided such as the amount, the location of the store, the time of the purchase, the fact that the videotape was being preserved was included in the report.  When I called to find out what had been done and why my report was incomplete, I was met with complete apathy by the officer who answered the phone.  I gave her the name of the detective who signed off on the report and she said that was not possible because he works nights.  I don’t work there so it’s not my job to know who he is or what he is or isn’t supposed to do, but I was seeking answers from her and she was completely unwilling to assist me.  When I called back and spoke with someone else, I was finally told that it was sent to commercial crimes division.  No one has ever called me from the commercial crimes division and with an incomplete report, I have to assume they have done and will do absolutely nothing.  The LAPD could have potentially caught an identity theft ring because I could narrow down where I had used the card to three places, yet they dropped the ball.  I was told by two officers that they get so many identity theft complaints they cannot even process them. 

Another anecdote:  I was rear-ended in my car.  The driver and the owner were present, neither had a drivers’ license, there was no insurance on the vehicle, the owner did not have the registration, and the driver admitted to being high – which was evident just by looking at him.  Calling the police did no good, as they never showed up.  Finally, I was able to flag down a police car and they attempted to blow me off until I told them the driver admitted to being high.  I should not have had to do that. Yet, despite this severe law enforcement shortage, the City of Los Angeles has allocated $2 million (in addition to the County’s $3 million allocation) to pay for attorneys for deportees.  This is a lovely gesture, but it is unfair to the constituents.  Constituents’ needs should come before the needs of those who took a risk to come here and were caught.  While one can sympathize with their plight, one should not have to sacrifice safety and quality of life to meet this need.  The constituents who seem to be okay with this are the constituents who can afford to live in the unfettered areas of the City behind big gates with security systems.  The majority of constituents are not these people.  The majority of constituents are suffering and this is like pouring salt in the wound of that suffering.  That money should be going to an Airbnb task force or additional officers.  If there were absolutely no problems within the City of Los Angeles – if there were enough officers to enforce the laws, if the streets were safe to walk at night, if the greenspaces were safe to enjoy, if the streets weren’t littered with garbage, if the wages were on par with the cost of living – then allocating City funds for something like this would probably be applauded.  However, without those fixes, this expenditure is a knife in the backs of those who voted for the Mayor and City Council and are suffering.

The Rise in the Cost of Living

Los Angeles has the fourth highest percentage of renters in the country at over 50% of its residents renting their homes.  The cost of rent in the City of Los Angeles is at an all-time high.  Since 1980, rents have gone up by 55% while income has only increased by 13%. The average rent in the less desirable neighborhoods is now up to $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom on the low end and as high as $2,800 for a one-bedroom in some of the new construction in those same neighborhoods.  These areas are undesirable because they are high crime, gang-infested, strewn with litter and scores of homeless people living on the sidewalks and in the greenspaces.  These are places where it is unsafe to go out alone at night.
Boyle Heights. Image Source: Genaro Molina/LA Times


The rents in the more desirable areas of Los Angeles, such as the West Side, Los Feliz, Franklin Hills, and the Fairfax District start at a much higher rate, in the ballpark of $2,500 a month at the low end for a one-bedroom apartment.

The price of rent has skyrocketed in the last five years and one of the biggest factors for that increase was the inception of Airbnb.  Entrepreneurial-minded investors saw the opportunity and began gobbling up vacant apartments to use as short-term rentals.  This created a supply shortage and as with any supply shortage, demand increases and prices go up.  Throughout the City of Los Angeles, you can find studio apartments shared by as many as four people because they cannot afford to live here otherwise.  Adults are advertising for roommates who are strangers to share the same bedroom or rent out their living room as a bedroom because they have no choice.  Rent control only applies to construction prior to October 1, 1978.  Anything built after that is not eligible for rent control.  People or groups of people renting out single-family homes are not protected by rent control no matter what year the home was built.  Renters are at the mercy of landlords who have become greedier because the City of Los Angeles has become a greed-based culture.  Real Estate Brokers are colluding to keep rents at a certain extremely high baseline, whether it is justified or not.  One increase in rent can put a tenant on the streets.  Because of the low wage problem in the City, very few constituents are able to save money let alone meet the increases in housing costs.  Because there is such a disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the haves feel more entitled and the have-nots are more desperate, and this creates a very stressful and anxiety-ridden undercurrent.

This is an ugly truth and as much as I hate to say it, it must be said.  The City of Los Angeles has approximately 375,000 undocumented residents.  Those undocumented residents live in apartments.  It appears that no one in government has considered the burden this creates on the housing market.  Imagine if every undocumented resident in Los Angeles left tomorrow.  There would be thousands of available apartments.  The supply would increase (assuming they aren’t hoarded for Airbnb) and the price of rents would go down.  While I understand that our City’s political donors greatly enjoy the benefits they receive in maintaining a large undocumented workforce they can exploit, it seems our City’s leaders have not considered this in their bid to become a magnet for undocumented workers during a housing shortage.

Because of the high rents based on greed, Airbnb, and a supply shortage, Los Angeles is now home to over 34,000 homeless people where 3 out of 4 of those are not sheltered.

The Urban Camping Problem

Of the 34,000 homeless people in the City of Los Angeles, approximately 25,500 are unsheltered.  Many of homeless are living on the residential and commercial sidewalks of Los Angeles, with and without tents.  Some are living under freeway overpasses.  Some are living in our parks.  Some are living in their cars.  Some are living in RVs.  Some are living in unsafe abandoned buildings.  While many of the homeless are simply down on their luck and lost their housing due to a rent increase, a job loss, or other circumstances, a very high percentage of these homeless are mentally ill and/or drug addicts.  It is possible they did not start out as drug addicts and only used the drugs to manage the anxiety and pain of being homeless, but the end result is a city marred by human waste, medical waste, trash, and violence. 

Speaking generally, the people who tend to live in the enclaves of tents under overpasses and on sidewalks are the drug addicts.  The homeless who are not part of that culture tend to go off by themselves for their own safety and they do not bother anyone.  I see one elderly woman who hangs out at Barnsdall Art Park in the day, and at night, she sleeps standing up, hovering over her shopping cart under the bright light of the doorway of a religious bookstore.  She is always by herself and she does not bother a soul.  She is not the homeless of whom I am about to speak.

The City of Los Angeles is experiencing what I call a Meth Zombie Apocalypse.  These drug addicts live in tent enclaves without a care in the world.  If you speak to them, they will tell you that they have chosen this alternative lifestyle because they can exist as a free spirit without the rules of society or the burden of bills.  Meth is a drug that will cause schizophrenia (which can become permanent), delusions, violence, loss of empathy and lack of conscience.  It is the worst drug imaginable and the people that are on it do not care about anyone or anything except their own needs and wants.  Let us assume that half of the homeless population falls into this category.  That would mean that the City of Los Angeles has 17,000 Meth Zombies roaming our streets.  They have made our streets, and sometimes our homes, unsafe.  They have been known to destroy property simply for the sake of being destructive.  They have harassed people.  They have attacked people.  They have walked into people’s homes in broad daylight.  They have stolen property, especially bicycles.  They hoard items they find or use and create mountains of garbage.  Wherever they pitch their tents, you will find human feces, rats, mice, cockroaches, scabies, lice and of course, Hepatitis A (which I will expand on shortly).

In neighborhoods where their presence is high, residents and visitors cannot walk safely in the streets, day or night, without being harassed or attacked.  People cannot enjoy the few greenspaces the City provides.  People cannot sit on a bench to wait for a bus because someone likely urinated on it or is sleeping on it.  People cannot walk into a 7-11 without encountering them and possibly being violently attacked without provocation, as one unfortunate person found out.  People cannot stop at a stoplight without being attacked.  Businesses suffer because they are either inaccessible due to these sidewalk villages, or they are harassed by these individuals.  The situation is completely out of control and utterly untenable and there is not enough law enforcement, as outlined earlier, to do anything about it.  I have called my community police officer to complain and his frustration was on par with mine.  They do not have the labor force to deal with any of this, let alone deal with regular crimes if this situation did not exist.

Because LA’s Meth Zombies tend to have poor hygiene and live in close quarters, there is now a Hepatitis A epidemic.  The City of Los Angeles has minimized this epidemic and the citizens are not getting the information they need to keep themselves safe.  In fact, the Police Union had to make a plea to City officials because their officers were not being immunized and one officer contracted the disease.  What Los Angeles citizens have been told is that you cannot contract the disease from casual contact.  What the reality is that the disease lives in bodily fluids so if an infected person wipes his or her nose, and then opens the door to a store, that virus can live on that door handle for years.  Therefore, when the next person opens that door and then wipes his or her nose or rubs his or her eyes, they can easily contract the virus and never know it. 

The entire City of Los Angeles should be offered immunization for Hepatitis A to protect themselves.  First responders, health care workers, and the homeless should have should have been the first to be given the vaccine as a preventive measure.  That officer should have never contracted Hepatitis A. 

Conclusion

In light of the Hepatitis A epidemic, the homelessness problem, the wage issue, the rent issue, the exploitation of undocumented residents issue and all the other ills the constituents and residents of the City of Los Angeles are facing, the response from Mayor Garcetti and City Council continues to be one that minimizes, ignores, or worsens the situation.  The threats and dangers we face while our City government promotes this utopic falsehood of a highly functioning, compassionate large city is insulting to every Angeleno.  Los Angeles and its constituents are in crisis on multiple levels and no one seems to be listening.  We are angry and we are traumatized.

People are walking around full of rage, disgust, and desperation.  This has affected how people treat each other.  I have watched on numerous occasions people just step over a homeless person laying on the sidewalk or on a bench at a bus stop.  They ignore the person and pretend he or she isn’t there.  That person could be deceased and no one would know.  I’m the person who checks to see if their chest is moving up and down before I keep going, but most of Los Angeles quit caring.  People don’t say hello.  People are no longer friendly.  Los Angeles in the nineties was a different world compared to what it has become.

We see this manifested in driving habits.  People beep the minute the light turns green.  People cut each other off.  People break the rules and endanger pedestrians and other drivers.  The more affluent areas of Los Angeles, especially in and around Beverly Hills, have the most dangerous and inconsiderate drivers of any area in Los Angeles.  These are the wealthy and entitled and I watch them speed, tailgate, and act as if the rules do not apply to them.  Since there are only six traffic officers between Hoover and Fairfax and Franklin and Olympic, as I learned at a community meeting, odds are they won’t be caught, and the behavior will continue to get worse.  There was a recent article about pedestrian deaths in the Los Angeles Times.  This Op-Ed author completely missed the mark.  The laws to prevent this are already on the books.  Lowering speed limits will not change anything because there is no one to enforce them.  In the absence of pedestrian skywalks where foot traffic is above the road, nothing will make pedestrians safer except more police presence and enforcement.

The single most disturbing optic was when Mayor Garcetti was vying for the 2024 Olympics.  Los Angeles is in crisis and although I am fully aware of the financial benefits that can result from hosting the Olympics seven years down the road, there was absolutely no way this City could mend itself in that amount of time.  It would be like having a spouse with cancer who is about to undergo treatment, but there is a party you’ve wanted to attend that is happening the same day, and you opt for the party.  A strong mayor would forego such an opportunity in order to spend his time addressing the mess that Los Angeles has become.  Fortunately, for the Mayor, Los Angeles received the 2028 Olympics, so that gives him 11 years to fix the problems if he is still in office. 

Image Source: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters 
Unless there is a serious paradigm shift, the City will likely treat Los Angeles like the leaders of Rio treated their people – problems will be swept under the rug, the Meth Zombies will be shuffled off to areas tourists don’t tend to travel, and the fa├žade will continue – and the constituents of Los Angeles will continue to pay the price, or they will leave.  As the threats from the violence that are destroying the quality of life for so many struggling in the less desirable neighborhoods continue move into the Los Feliz Hills, Hollywood Hills and the West Side, perhaps the Mayor and City Council will start paying attention.  When the political donors start to flee this once great city that now resembles an impoverished, garbage-filled city in the third world, complete with disease epidemics, maybe that’s when things will change.







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