By: Joel Epstein
March in Los Angeles is heaven to this New Yorker. It’s sunny and warm and the smell of jasmine and citrus blossoms are a welcome change from the cold and gray of Gotham on a winter’s day.
It has been five years since I moved back to New York from Los Angeles. I miss and love El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles and wish it well. So on my latest victory lap of a visit, I say this out of love:
I fear for a city that has found no solution to the tents of the thousands of homeless, some of them mentally ill or debilitated by legal and other drugs, who have found “shelter” on the streets of too many underpasses and sidewalks from downtown to the beach.
When the history of this period is written, it will fault Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council for failing to address the most basic of human needs. Homelessness will be to LA what the Bronx’s fires and the graffiti covered subways of the late 1970s were to the legacy of New York Mayor Abe Beame.
Still, with so many problems globally including Putin’s army on the doorsteps of the Ukrainian capitol, why pray for Los Angeles? Aren’t there others who need our prayers, and arsenal, even more?
Yes, but even this non believer knows there are enough prayers in the world for both LA and the Ukraine and everywhere else on this earth ruined by fossil fuels and the likes of Putin.
So this is my prayer for the City of Angels.
May it be a city served by public servants with the bandwidth and sense of purpose to continue to transform LA from the car dependent to the transit rich mecca it can and should be. And may LA solve its homeless problem before the city becomes even more dystopian.
I pray for LA because while I lived and raised my family here, it was a city that embraced my dream of becoming a transit friendly city of buses and trains and tree lined streets that blessed rather than cursed its pedestrians and bike riders.
Does that sound selfish? Maybe, but back then LA’s disparate constituencies of labor and business and faith communities, transit advocates and students working together for the passage of Measure M, was a vision of a better LA. The no sunset half-cent sales tax measure which passed in 2016 with the support of 71 percent of the County’s voters meant funding for projects to expand public transportation, earthquake retrofit bridges, subsidize transit fares for students, seniors and the disabled, and repair local streets and sidewalks. And, in the words of M drafters, as creative as Hollywood’s finest writers, “ease traffic.” Ha! In 2016, for that New York minute before MAGA and the other plague, anything seemed possible.
LA then, as now, was a massive tableau of dozens of nationalities, immigrants and transplants striving and struggling to realize their dream of a better life for themselves and their children.
My dream was and is that the ever sprawling city of myriad challenges from climate change to homelessness will one day be a place where most residents don’t need a car to get where they need to go.
So much has changed for the worst since 2016. And sadly, the freeways still reign and smog from the traffic of commerce and daily commuting still choke the lungs of the millions of residents trapped, or happily ensconced, in the bowl between the Santa Monica Mountains and the sea.
On the plus side, thanks to the foresight of those of us who worked for Measure M, there are countless signs here on the best coast of expanded public infrastructure including a subway “toward the sea” being built to move Angelenos from downtown to the Westside.
So what’s eating me? Why the disappointment?
Because you failed us, my adopted City of Angels. Even before the plague of Covid you continued to allow the streets to be speedways for solo drivers from near and far and the sidewalks to become homes for those crushed under the wheels of the machine that no longer runs for too many Americans.
The fact is, today’s Los Angeles is “led” by a smart, once committed mayor who has checked out. He’s dreaming of the beach at Goa and the energy of Mumbai and Bangalore, and a respite from the daily scrutiny of his failures as mayor. And this fatigue has opened the door to a financially successful developer of theme park malls with valet parking who has added nothing to the life of the great city.
Eric Garcetti’s fatigue has given a Westside Republican in what should be a solidly Democratic minority majority city a strong shot at becoming the next mayor.
I hold out hope but I am saddened by the failure of the current mayor and the widely tarnished or under indictment City Council to make of this city the pluralistic, forward thinking, transit oriented, climate change resilient dream it can be.
Whoever is elected in November, I hope she or he continues the forward progress achieved by Measure M and LA’s once real commitment to transit.
Sí se puede. But not like this.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New Yorker and an advocate for public transit, livable cities and public space. He loves LA.
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