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Far from Laudable

LA's first poet laureate experience was a fiasco. The woman chosen came to Council to promote herself rather than LA poetry, bringing only her own books with her. She knew so little about the scope of her position and the civic structure of Los Angeles that she said she was proud to be service to ten million people, confusing City with County. She fell ill after three months, and unfortunately has not fully recovered even now, but only resigned her post a long time after that. In the meantime, her publisher released statements on her behalf, again promoting person above culture and forestalling the abandonment of the post as long as possible.

As for the City's role, it was embarrassing to see the General Manager praising the poets for filling out their applications properly, with the award going to the most fully filled out application.

While the discussions regarding the selection of a Poet Laureate for the City are justifiably private ones,the people of the City deserve to know who makes the selection and how it is made. The city should make sure that in bestowing the title of poet laureate that it is not simply providing a publicity bonanza to an individual or a particular press, but promoting the entire poetic art on behalf of the City.

LA's Second Poet Laureate

Los Angeles is on the verge of choosing its second poet laureate. We didn't need a first poet laureate but we're getting a second. LA's poet laureate is a person who has been willing to submit themselves for consideration as such.

I was the only other soul in Council Chamber who could reasonably be described as a poet when the first LA laureate came to Council two years ago; I was there at the invite of Ed Reyes' staff. The occasion was a bit of a fiasco, and then Councilman Garcetti wasn't interested in the proceedings. This time around, I am told, Mayor Garcetti will make the final decision.

Poetry to me is a kind of inherently anti-promotional activity anyway— the best promotion of poetry of all is in the individual attempt at memorable language, rather than promoting a whole subset of types who think they should take a whack at constructing it, many of whom likely should not even try — and thus it does not benefit from the promotional activities of a regional laureate. As such, the very idea of designating a poet as a local "promoter" of poetry builds only more bad irony rather than good poetry. In designating a poet laureate, we are really promoting a person to promote a culture, rather than promoting poetry itself.

LA's first poet laureate was a complete bust. Chosen despite a profound conflict on the selection committee, she wandered into Council chambers promoting only her own work. Most ignored the proceedings; Garcetti, then a Councilman and one who was thought to have a kind of poetic soul, was decidedly removed from the activity. Within three months, the laureate contracted a serious illness, from which she has only partially recovered even now.

I don't begrudge her the $10,000 a year stipend she received. But Red Hen Press, which published her under its lesbian authors series, often spoke on her behalf, and should have recommended that she abdicate her role earlier than she did, because it was obvious early on that she would not be able to fulfill it. Instead, they waited and waited through the illness, indicating to a small subset of observers that they were only wondering how they might hold onto something of promotional value (to the degree that such capitalization is possible in this cottage economic realm). It was only after her illness was made public that she indeed abdicated her "title"— or someone abdicated on her behalf. All in all, the selection of a poet laureate, as I had predicted, only made for a climate of back-biting, recriminations, and general messiness, where the hope had been for things rather opposite to those.

But there are on occasion events that do help poetry along. For years and years, the only sufferable component of the insufferable sewer of commerce known as the LA Times Festival of Books was its poet's corner, where commerce was far less evident than everywhere else on the grounds. Local poetry indeed benefited from availing that rostrum and nexus one weekend a year. And that is where the best practice lay: because the realm is so uneven, as a region we should focus on promoting cultural events, not on conferring titles on particular people.

Triaging the Homeless to the Margins

In a rare political guest op-ed in the Downtown News, a LA City Councilman admits the overall City of LA strategy for dealing with homelessness: to push it out of downtown and into the City and County.

This is Councilman Jose Huizar's op-ed:

"We need to address the issue honestly and move forward with a service-first approach in Skid Row while we also work to offer services and permanent supportive housing in communities throughout the county....Let’s end the “containment” policy of years past where Skid Row was simply an area to say 'out sight, out of mind.'”

In other words, it's not OK for anyone to "dump" the homeless downtown, where there are dozens of social service organizations who may be ready to help them — and the City will sue you for damages if you try.  But it is OK for the City to "shuttle" the downtown homeless to "communities throughout the county" that are not yet equipped to deal with them the way that Downtown with its high concentration of homeless service agencies is equipped.

That's also why the City of Los Angeles has set up Homeless Working Groups that are not accountable to the public, relying on unscrupulous operatives to present their ancillary projects as a panacea for homelessness in their own local communities.

I too called for an end to Downtown's "bipolar" housing policy" eight years ago: "The next step toward redress will not be an ordinance or a bond, but mustering the political courage to admit that to bring about real "affordable housing" solutions for everyone involved, the overriding policy of containment must be brought to an end, once and for all," I wrote in the LA Times. But I certainly did not call for turning the homeless agencies Downtown into a triage desk for farming Skid Row's homeless out to other parts of the City and County, and empowering secretive groups that don't answer to the public to do it.

Start Over, Mr. Garcetti

In preparation for this Labor Day, I've been reading Marx. I knew the 33% minimum wage hike for LA proposal was coming, posited by people with LAANE and the local SEIU, neither of whom have economists on their boards. I also know that this is not Seattle or San Francisco's labor force: there is already a bare minimum of labor market "surplus value" here in LA, because it's already a place where businesses are leaving and small businesspeople have such trouble making a go.

The minimum wage hike, if it goes through, will impact two parts of our local economy that my wife  and I know well: bookstores, and fashion. Both are already declining.  Fashion obviously has a much larger economic footprint in LA than the book world does, but bookstores here, the ones that remain anyway, are vital to rounding out and enhancing lifelong learning, ordinarily a big professional precept.

While Garcetti relies on the advice of organizations without economists to raise standards for the poor, and City Councilmember Gil Cedillo even goes so far as to say it's all about getting the poorest into Starbucks, here's an important paper by economists Sabia, Burkhauser and Hansen from 2012 that demonstrated how big minimum wage hikes lead to less employment for the less skilled.
The paper concludes:
Using a difference-in-difference approach, we find robust evidence that raising the New York minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.75 per hour significantly reduced employment rates of less-skilled, less-educated New Yorkers.
In other words, while claims that overall employment does not decrease with a wage hike do have merit, what really happens is that in industries reliant on minimum wage labor, the labor market has to find a way to make the minimum wage earners worth their new wage, which means hiring a different strata of skilled worker.

While all cities who adapt higher minimum wage laws that are significantly higher than their states make the prospect of part time summer employment more difficult for students, the overall picture is less cruel to Seattle and San Francisco than it will be in Los Angeles, with its low-skilled, immigrant-saturated labor pool; it will basically drive low-skilled immigrants out of jobs, and replace these jobs with people with more skills.

The Mayor in capitulating to his wife and the SEIU in this matter is showing, in my estimation, complete economic cowardice. Raising the minimum wage in LA while developing nothing but luxury condos is actually going to put more poor people out of town: there will not only fewer places for them to live, but fewer places for them to work as well.  It's not only big corporations that can swallow "poison pills"—trade unions can too when fashioned by the government. I call on the Mayor to scrap to-day's ridiculous and short-sighted proposal, and to earmark LA's minimum wage to the State of California's: it should be no more than 10% higher than what the rest of the State's is. 

Interviews and Profiles

In addition to my interview and profile of newly-named LA Times publisher Austin Beutner, over the past decade I've sat down with and profiled quite a few people who have held or grown into large roles in LA's political and cultural scene.

It was in observing the fallout from this interview with Paul Krekorian that first put me in touch with the profound problems in the Northeast Valley and how it became a dumping ground for the rest of the City and parts of Supervisor Mike Antonovich's district as well.

This interview of Music Center CFO Stephen Rountree featured LA Opera at its lowest financial ebb.  But this one of Christopher Koelsch caught the company nearly fully rebounded.

There was an early and unusually saccharine proflling of State Assembly Mike Gatto when he was a candidate for that office.

Mitch Englander seemed (and still seems) destined to rule the northwest Valley for all twelve and then some.  That'll get him to 2023. And after that?

People inevitably move on, termed out or kicked upstairs, or....Richard Alarcon has ironically told me he thought housing was a civil rightEd Reyes and I spoke of planning, the LA River, and planning LA River development. And Hillary consultant Mike Trujillo has reminisced with me about the early days of the LA political blogosphere.

I've interviewed one-time mayoral candidate and now Public Works Commission president Kevin James many times, mostly on background but also as an appointee.

I seem to sit down with Jose Huizar once every five or six years. The first time Monica Garcia grew nervous about what I might write so I didn't write anything but stowed the memory. The second time, I did write it. For what it's worth, I've not seen anyone lay out the facts of the Huizar-Godoy promotion tango the way I have.

In addition to these, I have two books full of essays on LA's recent history.

The first, Days Change at Night; LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013, marking the time from the grand gala opening of the Disney Hall (which I attended and reviewed for the old LA Alternative Press) to the eve of Garcetti's election as Mayor, features representative chroniclings from every year through that span.

The more recent book, LA at Intermission: A City Mingling Towards Identity is mostly about Mayor Eric Garcetti and his administration, including where I first met LA's mayor, how telling it was when I did, the flavors of his political life, and the many problems that beset the first nine months of his mayoralty — problems you couldn't and still can't read about anywhere else.

In support of these interviews, there have been literally a couple hundred others. For a while, when the great exodus began, I was in the habit of debriefing writers and editors who were leaving the LA Times and LA Daily News. I interviewed every challenger candidate for mayor in 2009 especially because other media would not. Deputy mayors, chiefs of staff, commissioners great and small, &c. A lot of DWP chieftans, and there have been a lot. Political consultants and city lobbyists. There have been plenty of academics in the mix; I've not necessarily admired all their work, but the ones I have admired include Char Miller and Kathleen Bawn.

As contempt has routinely come my way for things I have written, I have returned fire accordingly and not held much back. Sometimes an exchange you might have with an editor or public figure over what is right and what is wrong with an approach produces information that may be gleaned in no other way.

Things being what they are in LA, I can recall literally hundreds of angry exchanges over various elements of the foregoing work. I have also found people to be very reticent about telling me that any of this has ever been useful to them — and yet I keep seeing it appear elsewhere, which tells me not only that it has but also that it is the kind of material that people not only like to keep to themselves but sometimes pass off as their own. That's fine with me, as I am the kind of writer who values people who value being informed, and not the kind of writer anyway who wants to see himself honored or recognized or certificated or worst of all nominated for a press club award — though I do note with concern over-healthy unacknowledged borrowings.

But if you find something useful, being so very different from those base-born others, you need not be fearful to show your appreciation or acknowledgement.

The Beutner Profile

Here's my interview/profile from three years ago to the newly-named Publisher and CEO of the LA Times, Austin Beutner. Here also is a piece I did on Beutner's DWP when he was acting GM there. Mayor Garcetti's top political problem now is that his office won't be able to spam LA with anti-DWP agitprop through the LA Times anymore because now the paper's publisher knows more about how the agency really works than the Mayor does, and reporters and editorialists will certainly have to answer to that. And after that — what does the Mayor have to make us feel good about him?

Sanctimonious Nonsense

The protagonists in the lawsuit between Amazon and Hachette want their authors to take sides, and some publicity-seeking scribes are dutifully lining up. This is amusing to me because as I see it, since the time of Homer and Hesiod, the real presences among the authors we know have always been on their own side, and have only hoped that anyone who is enough of a candy-ass to make a living off of publishing another human's work, be it early Platonists, pharisees, or Penguin Classics, not dick them around very much while they are actually still among the living.

The Morning After

On August 8, 1974, I visited the Statue of Liberty, for the first and only time of my life. I knew nothing about NYC and had to go back to JFK that night to get my bags, to go back to Manhattan. [The remarkable thing about NYC back then was, you could actually go from JFK to Manhattan, back to JFK, and then back to Manhattan all on the same day, all in reasonable time, and for under $50, and we had no all-controlling devices to tell us how to do it].

LA Citizens

It's very hard to be a true citizen of Los Angeles. To be one necessarily means you have to be in touch with the situations that the people with whom you are dealing on a daily basis left behind, which means to be in touch with the current affairs of literally dozens of nations. There should be a Guardian in LA, but instead we have a kind of PR-newswire media establishment.

We also have a completely vacuous political structure, one that celebrates and celebrates our diversity perpetually, without finding fault with a single crime of state or fault of appeasement; one that denounces little other than the obvious, but is far quicker to denounce any local providing more intelligence than the expressed interests of their immediate donors and their own staffers.

Almost all of these staffers are too young and too untested to know LA as anything other than a "melting pot."  At least London (which is nearly as shockingly diverse as Los Angeles) appreciates its own role in the stakes of world affairs, and tries to cover real bases, especially through The Guardian, with correspondents around the globe and which many groups grudgingly support.  LA LA does not even try to cover real bases to inform its own day-to-day operations.

Walking among the Whackamoled

After Kashkari homeless week, California's Democrats soon came with knives out, indicating very much about deeply into the Democratic nerve center the Republican multimillionaire struck. He's just scratching the surface: in the various Democratic-sanctioned homeless housing boondoggles around LA, the developers at the agencies make between $175-$200K a year, the contractors far far more, the units are built at the same cost per square foot as luxury condos, the Police are told by politicians to enforce laws differently even within the same jurisdictions, the charitable donors find their way into political folds too...and ultimately the homeless are not only still homeless, but also used as a way for unscrupulous agencies to make money, and they are used as a redevelopment tool as well. If it was a stunt, it was a good one, a start of a much-needed political conversation, and one where California Democrats are very vulnerable, as now too many people in the know are aware of how homeless whackamole works.