by Scott Zwartz
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
The book, Suburban Nation, has recently been introjected into the argument about Manhattanizing Los Angeles. The re-emergence of this book brings us to the issue of Modern Mythology, which we can recognize by the use of buzz words in lieu of facts and rational analysis. These myths befuddle our minds with terms like Smart Planning, walkability, Transit Oriented Districts [TODs], light rail transit. Essentially, these terms and Suburban Nation’s anti-sprawl message is a 100 year old battle of a few wealthy landowners to capture as much wealth for themselves by concentrating as much business and commerce as possible on their little plots of land and thereby depriving other Angelenos from receiving the benefits of a more natural distribution of business and commerce.
How Urban Areas Developed
It helps if we have some understanding of how our older cities grew and how fortunate Los Angeles was not to be tied to that ancient pattern.
The original form of our cities were based on our primary mode of transportation, i.e. walking. While we also had horses and carriages, walking was the main form of transportation for most people. As a result, homes and shops were built close together with no set backs from the streets, except for the wealthy who had the roses an carriages. That is why the super-wealthy of the 1800’s in New York lived in narrow Brownstones.
The Advent of Horse Drawn Trolleys
Then came trolleys which were horse drawn at first, but they did give average folk the a freedom of transportation which had belonged to only those who had privates carriages. The horse drawn trolley appeared in Los Angels around 1874 when our population was only 5,728 people. Los Angeles grew rapidly. By 1880, we had doubled to 11,183 people and in the next ten years we grew about four-fold to 50,395 people in 1890 and we more than doubled in the next decades so that by 1900, we have over 102,000 people.
All during this time, our street car systems were expanding and combining – all the while there was the stead conversion to electric away from horse drawn conveyances. By the early 1900’s, Los Angeles had become the Mecca for Americans who wanted a home of their own and the trolleys were crucial in this first phase of sprawl. Unlike older Eastern cities where homes were already crowded on top of each other, Los Angeles was just beginning to assembly itself form a polyglot of far flung towns such as Edendale, Hollywood, and Colegrove in the Cahuenga Valley.
The significant advance came when trolleys were motorized which meant they moved faster and with more speed. Now. the average person could live farther from the central business district. This advance in transportation gave Los Angeles its first big boost, but very soon after that the automobile arrived.
Automobiles Transform The City’s Structure
Henry Ford’s mass production of automobiles made certain that the ancient patterns of cities being constructed so that people lived on top of each other where only the very wealthy could afford to have air, light and room to stretch was not to become Los Angeles’ legacy (until LA was over run by Garcettism).
The great advance of autos was that they were flexible so that the average person was no longer tied to the trolley routes which the wealthy like Henry E. Huntington laid down. Homes in the Hollywood Hills and in Hollywooodland became more feasible when one could drive right up to their houses rather than take a trolley along Hollywood Boulevard and then walk up fifteen minutes into the Hills. Many people, however, still had to walk. Thus, the city constructed a number of staircases. There are the Berendo Stairs in Los Feliz, the Saint Andrews Stairs in Hollywood Grove HPOZ up to Tryon in The Oaks, and many others along the Hills.
These numerous public stairways were true examples of walkability. Without them, many residents could not reach their residents or their friends’ homes in the Hills. In fact, examples of these true walkability still exists. After Tom La Bonge originally tried to close and give away the Saint Andrews Stairs to a friend of his who owned property next to the stair in the early 2000’s, he saw the light and became a big promoter of the public stairs. With his help, the city finally installed the lighting which had been planned back in the early 1920’s. This collaboration between La Bonge and the residents of Hollywood Grove HPOZ and The Oaks was significant. It showed what a stable neighborhood can accomplish over the decades. It took about 80 years to finish the Saint Andrews Stairs with its city lighting, but it was done. Now, people can walk the stairs at night without fear of falling and cracking their skulls. But I digress.
Within a few years of the advent of cars, the city realized that trolleys and cars were incompatible in the same right of way [ROW]. While the trolleys had been a great extension of transportation a few decades years earlier, by 1915 the city recognized that they were a safety hazard and created terrible traffic congestion.
Trolleys used fixed rails and ran down the middle of the roadways forcing people to embark and disembark in the middle of the streets. That was a very dangerous place to be stepping on or off trolleys, and citizens were constantly being maimed and killed. In addition, trolleys took up three lanes as they needed tracks going in each direction. When one added in the width of trolleys compared to autos and the need to separate the tracks, at least three lanes were sacrificed for trolleys.
Starting in 1915, the City recognized the necessity to separate incompatible forms of transportation which was a major reason the city undertook removal of the trolleys from the surface streets and replaced them with the more maneuverable buses. The demise of the Red Cars had nothing to do with any conspiracy of the oil companies and the oil industry. That is a myth which needs to be debunked by each generation. http://lat.ms/1Mev62g March 23, 2003, LA Times, Did Auto, Oil Conspiracy Put the Brakes on Trolleys?, by Cecilia Rasmussen
Also, starting in 1915, the civil engineers working for the City of Los Angeles foresaw significant problems if the city allowed land owners to try to densify offices and commercial establishments along certain routes or limited to certain areas rather than allow the businesses and commerce follow the population as it spread away from the old core. http://bit.ly/1fMI4S0 The 1915 and other L.A. Traffic Studies
Suburban Nation ignored the fact that people moving to the valleys after WW II did not cause any transportation problems. The potential problem was foreseen by the city’s civil engineers back in 1915, due in considerable part to the problems which had befallen early DTLA. As Angelenos were warned in 1915, the culprit would be a few landowners’ keeping business and commerce in The Basin.
Excessive Density In The Basin
and not Sprawl is the Culprit
Thus, the only real objection to “sprawl” had nothing to do with people moving away from the Basin, but due to a few landowners using their power to construct gigantic office complexes like Bunker Hill, 27 extra large city blocks solely for high rise offices, next to DTLA. This was accomplished by the alliance of big business and government, which one have thought would have been shunned by Americans at the start of the Cold War. In 1948, The City created its Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA/LA] which operated rather similar to the way sovietized building projects were taking place in East Germany. A few men used their power over the government to disregard the free market in order to make themselves very wealthy by constructing financially disastrous projects. The State of California abolished the CRA/LA effective February 1, 2012 due to widespread corruption and fraud. In the intervening 64 years, the CRA had done extensive harm to Los Angeles.
The Disaster of Bunker Hill
One of the CRA/LA’s first and most ambitious projects was the leveling of Bunker Hill next to DTLA.
Not only did Bunker Hill and later Century City attract thousands of people each morning from the Valley into the Basin, it deprived the Valley of the tax base it deserved. Had the City heeded the wisdom of its civil engineers from 1915, we never would have constructed large offices complexes in the Basin.
The disruption and harm which Bunker Hill will continue to cause Los Angeles is virtually eternal. While the best solution is to demolish the skyscrapers, we know that will never happen.
Beverly Hills Saves Itself
The Miracle Mile along Wilshire proved to be no miracle. Beverly Hills seems to have learned its lesson easily enough to stop the mega-zation of Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills did what it could to protect itself from Century City by denying the Beverly Hills Freeway any on or off ramps within the city limits and demanding that the subways be cut and covered for the entire length of the city. That double whammy of high cost and no ramps for Century City killed the Beverly Hills Freeway and protected Beverly Hills somewhat from the nightmare that Century City causes for the entire Westside.
Beverly Hills still has the small town feel which Suburban Nation believes sprawl has destroyed. Sprawl has killed nothing. Rather, the high rises and the Transit Oriented Districts [TODs] have killed the much of the small town nature of Los Angeles. The idea that Los Angeles was “72 suburbs in search for a downtown” may have been incorrectly attributed to Dorothy Parker, but it was characteristic of the type error Easterners make about Los Angeles. Decentralization was not a feature to be criticized, but rather it was one of the keys to our success with our great weather being the other key.
In fact, Angelenos struggle to hold onto their proverbial 72 suburbs like Hollywood, Silver Lake, Venice and Valley Village, but City Hall is murdering them, one unique little haven at a time. Soon all the older homes will be razed in favor of dense Infills of Dreck Architecture making each part of LA that much more unlivable.
Because Los Angeles came of age in the early 1900’s after the auto was affordable to the average family, Los Angeles could grow from a small town, into a larger town, into a plethora of medium villages and finally into a mega-sprawling area where the average person could find their own American dream. From East LA to Westchester, from Windsor Square to Granada Hills, each part of LA has its unique quality filled with nice homes on individual lots. Left to their own devices, the businesses and commercial areas would have followed the population as it spread out. There would have been no dense cores attracting tens of thousands of people each morning.
The Tragedy of LA
The tragedy of Los Angeles was the corruption of the downtown developers whose sole objective was to aggrandize their own wealth by keeping as much business located in the Basin as possible and to keep the Valley economic and politically deprived. They are still at it today and they have been largely successful. They have become billionaires while Los Angeles has the worst traffic congestion in America and Europe!
We have the highest unemployment in the nation and we have a City Hall which habitually lies about our demographic data. When unemployment falls a few points, the City does not point out that unemployment dropped because so many people who could not find job moved away. Reducing unemployment by driving away the population is not a wise economic move. The unemployment rate in a ghost town is zero.
How Garcettism Uses Tax Dollars
to Destroy Los Angeles
Nonetheless, City Hall is obsessed with funneling as many tax dollars as possible to the campaign contributors of the Mayor and City Council. One scam which was recently uncovered was the City’s tearing down rent controlled apartments in order to manufacture a false shortage in affordable housing so that the Mayor Garcetti’s and Council President Wesson’s buddies can get hundreds of millions of tax dollars in order to construct affordable housing. http://bit.ly/1MPaZrA April 4, 2016, CityWatch, How City Hall Cheated the Disabled to Make Money for Developers, by Richard Lee Abrams
Naturally, Garcetti supports mega density in order to maximize the value of his buddies’ small plots of land. It does not matter than CalTrans has said that these projects in Hollywood will make the Hollywood Freeway virtually grid locked during rush how and clog the surface streets of Hollywood due to the lines at the on and off ramps of the freeway.
Now They Want Another $120 Billion!!!
The City Hall propaganda machine is operating in overdrive to convince us that subways are necessary to reduce the traffic congestion, and thus, Angelenos should cough up an additional $120 Billion to give to Garcetti’s buddies.
The sole purpose of a light rail system or a subway is to give specific developers a competitive advantage over everyone else by attaching the mass transit to specific high rises. That is the basis of the fight over the route of the Subway to the Sea in Century City. One developer wants the subway station in the basement of his building in order to make himself mega-times more wealthy. Buses are much more effective and cheaper than subways, but buses could just as easily service his competitors’ buildings.
The Benefits of Urban Sprawl
Urban sprawl is nothing more than millions of Angelenos choosing to actually live the American dream of a home of their own with a yard, a couple fruit trees and room for the family dog and children to play. Thus, books like Suburban Nation and more recently the Smart Planing advocates want Angelenos to give up the dream and instead to live in crammed pigeon holes in one of Garcetti’s high rises. The demographic data shows the response to the Garcettization of Los Angeles – more people are moving away than are coming here. The problem is not sprawl; the problem is densification. In fact, one could say that Angelenos who moved away opted for sprawl – they are sprawling to Texas, the Carolinas, and throughout the southeast. http://bit.ly/1RSrzps March 29, 2016, NewGeography, The Sun Belt Is Rising Again, New Census Numbers Show, by Joel Kotkin
The Age of Awakening
A new Age of Awakening may be upon Los Angeles. After Judge Goodman betrayed Angelenoss with his judgment in the Hollywood Community Plan litigation, Angelenos were shut out of the planning. Thanks to Judge Goodman’s sabotage of his own opinion which claimed that Angelenos had a right to participate in planning, the city stopped updating its community plans. The City has not been required to provide a new update to the Hollywood Community Plan. http://bit.ly/1QteQKO January 24, 2016, Zwartz Talk, How Judge Allan Goodman’s Bait ‘N Switch on the Hollywood Community Plan Forced Citizens to Bring the Moratorium Ballot Initiative, by Scott Zwartz
As a result, Garcettism is running amuck in Hollywood with mega-high rise project after mega-high rise complex being unanimously approved at City Council. Despite the fact that the City’s own HCIDLA Committee’s admitting in November 2015 that there is a 12% vacancy in apartments constructed in the last decade, Garcetti is approving thousands more units into his old council district CD 13.
Garcettism Brings Disaster
None of the projects is sanctioned by the zoning codes, yet Garcetti makes certain that each one is unanimously approved. Back in 2006, Gail Goldberg who was then in-coming Director of Planning warned that Garcetti’s habit of allowing developers set the zoning codes they wished to follow was leading to disaster. http://bit.ly/cRH37r February 27, 2008, LA Weekly, How Density Hawks Changing LA, Steven Leigh Morris
By 2010, Garcettism had driven out so many Hollywoodians, that his CD 13 ceased to qualify as a legal council district. Literal destruction of an entire council district is a good definition of “disaster,” but no one thanked Direct Goldberg for her foresight. In fact, Director Goldberg was echoing what the City’s civil engineers had warned back in 1915, i.e. allowing a few wealthy land owners concentrate business and commerce on their few parcels of land would make then wealthy while harming everyone else.
“Such a policy would be nothing less than a deliberate exploitation of civic resources for the benefit of the limited number of property owners enjoying abnormal incomes from rental privileges” 1915 Study of Street Traffic Conditions in the City of Los Angeles, p38
Although the public policies for which Suburban Nation advocated have been thoroughly discredited for urban areas like Los Angeles, the developers are using its 10th anniversary to mislead a new generation of Angelenos. This time the stakes are particularly high as they want Angelenos to give them an additional $120 Billion.
The more likely result of the accelerated densification of Los Angeles will be the further decay and marginalization of Los Angeles as a world class city. No city can function without a functioning infrastructure and these current polices have already destroyed Los Angeles infrastructure. Continuing down this path will leave Los Angeles financially unable to repair its decayed infrastructure, and that in return will deter new business from relocating to Los Angeles. http://bit.ly/1cPdZCR March 25, 2015, Zwartz Talk, Power Corrupts; Corruption Destroys – Power and Corruption at Los Angeles City Hall, by Scott Zwartz
Rather than attract new people to Los Angeles, the densification zeal of Garcettism will continue to drive productive people out of the Los Angeles, leaving us with an increasingly untrained, uneducated population in an urban area dominated by one of the worst educational systems in the industrialized world. The billionaires do not care. As long as they make more money, the rest of the L.A. can go to hell.