by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
March 23, 2001
Save Our City!
Editorial: A CITY AS BIG AS ITS DREAMS
The great rollicking blues number "Save Our City!," a tune that the wild L.A. R&B band Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs transformed into an anthem of the 80s, may be even more timely now.
Seattle has just suffered a stunning blow to its gut with the departure of the Boeing Co. Atlantic Richfield, the last Fortune 500 corporation in Los Angeles, left the city two years ago. Now the L.A. crime rate is turning upwards again, and cities across the nation are feeling the pressure of building population and declining economic growth. Where is the roadmap that will get cities through the difficult days ahead?
Today, two distinguished young journalists, Samuel J. Scott and Joyce Marcel, explore the past and future of their very different cities, both struggling now with the cycle of boom and bust, recession and renewal, that was so blessedly interrupted by the advent of the Internet's popularity about eight years ago.
They offer ideas, experiences and visions of what American cities can become. But for those of us in vast urban centers like Los Angeles, a vision of the future -- a better future -- is elusive.
In Los Angeles, as we try to define ourselves, we seem like a curiously abandoned people. All of our major media is owned by corporations that are headquartered elsewhere; one or two fading magazines and a few Spanish-language radio stations and television stations remain.
Los Angeles lost its flagship newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, to the Chicago-based Tribune Co. last year. Even the L.A. Weekly, our major alternative paper, is owned by a corporation in New York, and the alternative to the alternative, the feisty New Times, is also a Chicago product.
Both of our "competing" all-news radio stations are owned by CBS, which is owned by Viacom and headquartered back east; so is Channel 2, the CBS affiliate. Channel 4 is owned by General Electric, headquartered in Connecticut; Channel 7 is owned by Disney, headquartered in Anaheim, and so is Channel 9. Most of the rest are too small to matter, or are merely channels on cable, which is dominated by three huge companies with millions of customers here but with their corporate headquarters in places like Virginia, New York and a small town in Pennsylvania. Fox is headquartered here, though, and it often seems to cover the city with far more energy than the other stations.
In general, all our sources of information are owned by corporations from other cities that surely have competing interests to satisfy. In the current mayor's race, we are in the position of being told, like tenants in the house of an absentee landlord, what candidates and what policies are best for us by people who do not live here.
Part of our future must include locally-owned newspapers, magazines, Websites, studios, radio and tv stations and advertising agencies that are part of the Los Angeles experience, that take our risks and share our dreams, and that spend the profits of our patronage in our stores and shops, that pay our taxes and pave our streets, build our schools and give us jobs.
No corporation headquartered back East, no matter how benevolent its local news outlet may seem, is going to try to make that difference.
Regaining control of our local media is just part of the battle forregaining control of our lives and destinies. We must look with a sharp and critical eye at the vast expenditures for roads and rail transportation to find out why they are now slowing us down on our way to work instead of speeding us up. Bold ideas for transportation are an essential element of creating a future that works.
One part of the solution is making sure that money that is supposed to be earmarked for building new parking facilities is used for that purpose. Beyond that, we need to complete the dream of a comprehensive light rail mass transit system, with spurs that serve the Valley neighborhoods of Woodland Hills, West Hills, Mission Hills, Granada Hills, North Hills, Van Nuys, Sylmar, Panorama City and Pacoima. We need to open transitways to the communities of South Central and Watts, to Baldwin Hills and beyond.
Housing is going to be a critical need here in the next decade. We have an ancient group of public housing projects built shortly after World War II that are almost uniformly all two stories high. We can double the number of low-income units available simply by rebuilding earthquake-safe four-story housing on the same site.
At the same time, we have a set of housing regulations that allows the city to seize dozens of buildings every year from their owners and resell them to new and "better" owners. But why shouldn't we create a Corps of Carpenters that works with the tenants of those same buildings all across the city to rehab the buildings and earn ownership of them? That is a relatively simple and direct way of ensuring that neighborhoods that are now run down become in the future neighborhoods that are proudly owned by the people who live there.
I am offering these solutions as a candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles who believes that part of our future will come as a smaller, more compact, more governable city. As the lone advocate of Valley Cityhood on the April 10 ballot, I see a New L.A. that will rise far above the deterioration of the past, and a city that will rise above its boundaries to achieve greatness.
That future is one in which the power that has long been enjoyed at the ballot box in the San Fernando Valley will shift to the far more populous and neglected areas of the city that remains south of Mulholland Drive.
That will allow the New LA to elect a City Council that is composed of far more minority members than in the past, and that can begin to formulate a tax code that is fair both to the wealthy downtown business core and to the crumbling neighborhoods that now surround it.
We must not let our lives and voices be ruled by others who do not have the stake of blood, sweat and sacrifice that we have planted here. The cry for independence is to more than our boundaries, but for our rights and our spirit as people of the West.
Even as a small child, reading by flashlight beneath the blankets on our family farm, the heritage of the American West beckoned to me as a powerful symbol of hope and progress. We must realize that potential before we are cruelly abandoned by those who would sacrifice our city to their bottom line.
Save our City! Long live the Valley, and long live L.A.!