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TIM CAMPBELL NOVEMBER 06 2023
iAUDIT! – When I was a college undergraduate, most of my courses were lectures. The professors shared their subject expertise with the class, and students were expected to absorb it and assimilate it into their greater body of knowledge. When I moved on to graduate studies, the classes were primarily discussion groups. The assumption was that students already had the required subject knowledge, and discussion was the best format to gain deeper and more nuanced understandings. Likewise, when I entered the working world, most meetings were one-way, where I learned from managers. As I moved up in management, I was expected to share my experience and knowledge as a peer rather than a recipient. My job was to gather other managers’ perspectives and knowledge and apply them to a given project. At some point, whether it’s school, work, or in society at large, lectures become ineffective, even insulting to the intended audience if that audience is already familiar with the subject matter.
Many housing and homeless advocates seem to be stuck in lecture mode. Whether through arrogance, naivete, or lack of respect for their intended audience, advocates seem to think the best way to implement their policies is by lecturing residents on why their ideas are the one true solution to homelessness, and that opposing views are ignorant and prejudiced. Advocates love claiming the moral high ground so they can pontificate about doing what’s right for the downtrodden, while supporting policies that keep people on the streets, and at the same time antagonizing the taxpayers who pay the bills for their hubris.
Examples abound. Everyone from the editorial board of the LA Times to the Mayor to Katy herself praised Councilmember Yaroslavsky for taking “bold action” promoting a new homeless shelter in Pico/Midvale, despite impassioned opposition from home and business owners. Press releases from the city talked about a driving need for shelters, and how important it was to make the “difficult decision” to provide transitional housing in the face of her constituents’ objections. But the self-serving PR left out a few things:
An August 8 “listening session” was shut down because residents had the temerity to voice their concerns to Yaroslavsky and Mayor Bass in person, and ask questions that weren’t part of the preapproved script.
Yaroslavsky’s chief of housing and homelessness is a recent employee of L.A. Family Housing, the nonprofit that will manage the new shelter after being given a no-bid contract. LAFH already “manages” a shelter in North Hollywood that’s notorious for being poorly run and a center for open-air drug use and for allowing a tent city to spring up in the surrounding neighborhood. (Yaroslavsky opposed special enforcement zones).
The “underutilized” city-owned parking lot where the shelter will be built provides parking for many surrounding small businesses, whose owners expressed concern over the dearth of parking for their customers.
Then there’s the preposterous proposal to use $2 million of federal money to perform a feasibility study for demolishing the Marina Freeway and build a so-called Marina Great Park with 4,000 new apartments. The proposal ignited a firestorm of opposition from the communities that would be impacted by having 100,000 daily vehicles trips dumped onto their already-overcrowded streets. In response, Erika Smith, a columnist for the L.A. Times, wrote a one-sided article deriding opponents for being closed-minded NIMBY’s. Hypocritically, the column allowed no comments to counter the biased story. Again, important facts were omitted from the narrative:
The “grassroots” organization proposing the study, Streets for All-L.A., is financially backed by California YIMBY, a housing advocacy group that has been harshly criticized for being a front for developers and hi-tech executives looking for places for their employees to live close to work, (the development would be very close to Silicon Beach).
The feasibility study would be funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant meant to redress harm to disadvantaged communities caused by freeway construction–think the 10 slicing through West Adams. The 90 was a late addition to L.A.’s freeway network and didn’t have the devastating community impact other highways did. The Centinela drainage channel also parallels much of the freeway, so the idea that the 90 is divisive is a red herring. Tellingly, demolishing the freeway is opposed by many residents of Ladera Heights and other neighborhoods at the freeway’s east end; these are communities of color who would be cut off of ready access to the coast. Streets for All saw there was money to be had from a community reconnection grant and bent its proposal to meet a need that doesn’t exist.
In response to a request before a recent meeting of the land-use committee of the Del Rey Residents Association, Michael Schneider, head of Streets for All, said he would not release his organization’s application for the grant. So much for transparency and the “community outreach” Mr. Schneider promises will be part of the feasibility study.
Schneider seems to have a tenuous relationship with the truth. As detailed here, he claimed Supervisor Holly Mitchell supported the study, when in fact her office offered no such support.
As with most advocates who are convinced of their own superiority, in a 2019 interview, Mr. Schneider said “I’m tired of mostly older, wealthier homeowners holding the entire city hostage from real progress around transportation – because they’re scared of change. Or because they want a parking spot right in front of wherever they go.” In one sentence, he devalued the needs of people with mobility issues who can’t take a bus or ride a bike. He devalued working parents who depend on private vehicles to get their kids to school on the way to work. And his ageism is obvious.
Given these facts, it is little wonder Mayor Bass recently rescinded her endorsement of Streets For All’s Great Park proposal. Nevertheless, in true lecturer fashion, Mr. Schneider said he’d complete the study even if he must raise the funds himself, which shouldn’t be difficult given his financial backing. He’s trying to ram the project through despite widespread community opposition.
On October 27, I was a member of a panel discussion on housing and homeless at the Valley Industry and Commerce’s annual business forecast. The panel included State Senator Scott Weiner, the author of a slew of housing bills meant to usurp local land-use authority. His need to lecture the audience and belittle anyone who had opposite views was on full display. He mocked community advocates by saying they all think it would be just awful if a duplex, or even worse, a fourplex, was built next to their homes. It would be awful if a multifamily building was built in the middle of a residential neighborhood, since in their wisdom, the state and city have exempted many developments from any parking requirements to force people to use L.A.’s anemic public transportation system. When new residents inevitably buy cars, parking, which is already at a premium in many of the city’s neighborhoods, will be a nightmare.
Senator Weiner also shared his economic acumen with the audience. He said dividing single family lots into multiple units would not increase the cost of housing. As he explained, if a single family lot is worth $1 million, it may sell for $2 million to a multifamily developer, but that cost would be divided among four or six units. Therefore, the cost of any given unit would be lower than a single home. As a realtor acquaintance of mine explained, that is failed logic. Real estate is market-based, and the cost of the land is just one factor. If those six units are located in a high-demand area, they will indeed sell for $1 million or more each. It is little wonder Senator Weiner is the darling of corporate developer interests in Sacramento.
On the wider front of housing and massive city-wide upzoning, we are being told by our government that hundreds of thousands of new units are needed to meet the crushing demand for housing. As I just mentioned, the state has taken it upon itself to impose its wisdom on local governments regarding land use, despite projections from its own agencies that California’s population will decline for at least four decades. Although there is little empirical evidence the witches’ brew of developer-friendly laws will have a significant impact on housing costs, our leaders insist widespread proliferation of multifamily housing is the only solution to the state’s housing shortage. Anyone who expresses a concern, either for the character of their neighborhood or for the quality of life for the new residents, is branded a reactionary NIMBY. Even true grassroots organizations like United Neighbors, that propose more nuanced affordable housing development, are, at best, ignored in favor of panic-driven voices calling for nearly unbridled construction.
Yet, at the same conference I attended, Dr. Fernando Guerra, a professor with LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles, said there is already sufficient housing for everyone in the City. The problem is state and local regulations that encourage making housing a commodity like stocks, driving up housing costs. Corporations have become a major purchaser of housing in LA, and they treat it like any other investment, generating income by constantly selling, buying, and reselling property. Each transaction adds to the property’s cost. If state and local governments encouraged individual home ownership, as they once did, instead of steering housing income to corporate real estate interests, affordable housing would be available to a much broader population.
Katy Yaroslavsky, Michael Schneider, and Scott Weiner are among the more obvious examples of the belief that being a leader imbues one with superior knowledge that must be imposed upon, rather than shared with, a less enlightened public. There is certainly no shortage of self-anointed experts who feel they have a duty to impose their beliefs on everyone else. They are modern-day versions of Gnostics, early Christians who believed only those with special secret knowledge of Jesus’ teachings were worthy of being saved. Like the Gnostics of old, their modern day counterparts conduct much of their work behind closed doors until its time to spring their ideas on an unprepared public. This explains the lack of public outreach in the Pico/Midvale shelter, The Marina Great Park, the proposed upzoning, and a host of other decisions. And like True Believers throughout history, they refuse to think they may be wrong.
Los Angeles is a living city of nearly four million people. It is not a petri dish for a tight-knit, self-validating cadre of theorists to test the latest economic and social hypotheses, especially if they can’t admit their mistakes. Housing First and Harm Reduction have had decades to prove themselves and are abject failures by any objective standard. Advocates’ refusal to admit the serious role untreated mental illness and substance abuse play in causing homelessness has steered billions of dollars to developers, ineffective nonprofits, and other special interests while starving service and support programs of funding. They have made Los Angeles a city at war with itself: homeowners versus corporate real estate firms; renters versus landlords; self-appointed advocates versus residents; the housed versus homeless, elected officials against their own constituents. Their absolutist, arrogant approach has made the homeless crisis a zero-sum game, where they will accept nothing less than abject compliance from an unquestioning public. Truly, its time for the vast majority of Angelenos of good will to come together, and politely but firmly invite the lecturers off the public dais, so the voices of reason, practicality, and compassion can be heard.
(Tim Campbell is a resident of Westchester who spent a career in the public service and managed a municipal performance audit program. He focuses on outcomes instead of process. He writes iAUDIT! for CityWatchLA.com.)
Featured Image: The Story Bridge and Brisbane CBD taken from Wilson s Lookout. ID 69404621 © Anujavijay | Dreamstime.com
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