TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--While any reasonable person will acknowledge the need for transportation/infrastructure (T/I) funding, too many of us are acting blind, deaf and dumb (especially the "dumb" part) about our hideous state/federal funding reality: by treating T/I funding as an afterthought, we've forced and ignored the reality of high gas prices as a necessary means of funding something that should be part of the general fund.
PUBLISHING POLITICS--The infamous Playboy Mansion came up for sale earlier this month asking $200 million, and with the provision that Hugh Hefner be allowed to continue living there until his death.
It's one of the craziest real estate stories of all time in a city known for its crazy real estate stories, and thank god and Larry Flynt, it just got a million times crazier: Flynt, the founder of Hustler and the Rabelaisian pornographer of the people to Hef's aspirational smut peddler, supposedly wants to buy the Playboy Mansion, kick Hef out, and turn the place into the Hustler Mansion. STONE COLD.
Is it a stunt? Who cares? It's a GREAT stunt. Of course, Flynt told TMZ last week that he wasn't interested: "I like my own toys and I don't want his dirty sheets," but Harry Mohney, the head of the company that runs the Hustler Stores, claims that was before the two talked and decided that the Mansion "is an excellent place for The Hustler Club and Hustler Mansion," reports the New York Daily News.
Mohney claims that Hustler wants to "move their own staff into the 29-room estate and host 'at least' three parties per week for VIP guests. He also says those gatherings would out-Hef the parties Hefner has been throwing there for 45 years."
And, to add insult to injury, Mohney says "We are not going to offer half" of the $200-million asking price. That might be a problem, since one of the real estate agents involved says the land alone (five acres on one of Los Angeles's most coveted blocks, plus a rare private zoo permit) is worth $100 million.
But the biggest problem is that Mohney says "Hefner could not live in the mansion" (and, incidentally that "Hef's old pal - accused serial rapist Bill Cosby - will never step foot on the estate again if Hustler moves in," as the NYDN puts it). Playboy is firm on that matter, though: "a condition of any potential sale is that Mr. Hefner have the right to continue living at the Playboy Mansion." Maybe he'll really enjoy those Hustler parties.
(Adrian Glick Kudler is the Editor of Curbed LA … where this piece was first posted.) Photo by Jim Bartsch
POLITICS--Attorney Patricia K. Oliver alleges that SoCalGas is “deliberately advancing a deceptive AQMD order that would immunize the gas company from liability for its massive negligence at Aliso Canyon, which is sickening thousands of Porter Ranch residents” in a letter she sent to the South Coast Air Quality Management District last week.
BILLBOARD WATCH-What a difference a dozen years makes. Back in 2002, LA City Councilmember Hal Bernson called for the removal of an unpermitted billboard in his San Fernando Valley district and the prosecution of its owner. But in 2014, Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who now represents that district, called for granting “amnesty” to that billboard and almost 1,000 others the city has identified as either lacking permits or having been altered in violation of their permits.
At the same time, Bernson urged a legal challenge to a state law that puts the burden on the city to prove that unpermitted and altered billboards like the one in his district were erected unlawfully if they hadn’t been cited within five years. He told an LA Times reporter that the law was “horse manure” and said, “We have to test it. Otherwise we have no enforcement authority.”
The city never challenged the 1983 statute, widely regarded as a billboard industry privilege that no other kind of business in the state enjoys. Englander cited the law as a reason to grant billboard amnesty, predicting that the city would be drawn into ruinous litigation if it pursued action against unpermitted and altered billboards.
Bernson’s call for legal action came after he asked city officials to check a random sample of billboards in his district, which includes the communities of Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Northridge, and Reseda, among others. The partial survey found three unpermitted billboards and six that didn’t match the specifications of their permits.
Two of the unpermitted billboards are still standing and displaying ad copy and the third is currently shown as permitted by the city’s Department of Building and Safety. Five of the six altered billboards are also standing. One has an unpermitted second face, while several are higher or larger than specified in their permits.A citywide billboard inventory and inspection showed that Englander’s district has a total of 149 billboards, which is by far the lowest of any of the city’s 15 council districts. Of those, 15 lack permits and 11 have unpermitted alterations, according to inventory data made public nine months prior to Englander’s amnesty proposal.
The City Council’s PLUM committee, of which Englander is a member, added the amnesty provision to a new citywide sign ordinance that has been in the works since 2009, but on October of last year the City Planning Commission emphatically rejected the idea and questioned why the city hadn’t been taking enforcement action against the billboards known to be in violation of the law.
The PLUM committee okayed the amnesty shortly after receiving a letter from City Attorney Mike Feuer saying that enforcement action could be successfully taken against many of the billboards despite the state law colorfully characterized by Bernson in the LA Times article. Feuer told committee members that his office was ready to help in any enforcement effort.
The City Council could reject the planning commission’s action and reinstate the amnesty provision, but that would take a supermajority of 10 votes. Four councilmembers -- Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, and David Ryu -- have publicly stated their opposition to billboard amnesty. A fifth, Mitch O’Farrell, has said that he was pleased by the commission’s action, which also included a rejection of another PLUM committee proposal -- to allow digital billboards outside special sign districts.
Bernson retired from the City Council in 2003 after 24 years in that office. He was succeeded by Greig Smith, who was succeeded by Englander in 2011. Englander is currently a candidate for the LA County Board of Supervisors in this year’s June primary election, and has received significant support from billboard companies and their employees as well as lobbyists representing major billboard companies.
Interestingly, Bernson’s unsuccessful attempt in 2002 to get the city to challenge the state law seen as protecting illegal billboards came on the heels on a City Attorney race that many believe was heavily influenced by free billboard advertising for the winner, Rocky Delgadillo. (photo)
So it’s not surprising that Delgadillo never gave his blessing to Bernson’s call for the removal of the unpermitted billboard, the prosecution of the owner, and the challenge to the state law. Is also not surprising that Mike Feuer’s office opposes Englander’s billboard amnesty, since he was the loser in that campaign that featured Delgadillo’s name on billboards around the city in the days leading up to the election.
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016
DEEGAN ON LA--Tearing up your tickets may be a pipe dream for some, but it became reality for over 200 people with homelessness and other issues a few days ago when the City Attorney hosted another in a series of Homeless Citation Clinics, administered through their innovative program called HEART (Homeless Engagement and Response Team).
LAPD INSIDER--On January 20 the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) held a news conference where the Unions president Craig Lally and members of the Board of Directors denounced Chief's Beck current deployment of police officers within all of the police divisions throughout the city of Los Angeles.
STREETS BLOG LA-Yesterday, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a national non-profit with state chapters throughout the country, released a report detailing the “12 biggest highway boondoggles” under study in the country. Not surprisingly, a California highway project made the list, the I-710 Tunnel Project in Los Angeles County.
PIRG explains the project:
San Gabriel Valley Route 710 tunnel, California, $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion – State officials are considering the most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for addressing the area’s transportation problems: a double bore tunnel.
The 710 Expansion Project has been studied for decades and has been one of the most contentious projects in the region. For nearly a decade, Streetsblog Los Angeles has covered the public meetings, public outcry and community opposition to the project even as it soldiers on through study after study. The project was debated for decades before Streetsblog LA even existed.
Heck, this isn’t even the first time a national environmental advocacy group has chimed in agreeing that plans to expand the 710 represented “one of the worst highway projects in the country.”
The maligned 710 freeway project, which Streetsblog LA readers voted to name the “Southern California Big Dig” would extend the existing freeway north so that it connects with the 210. The most recent iteration of the project is championed by councilmembers and representatives of cities that are dealing with congestion on freeways and local streets south of the I-210 that connect with the 710.
However, opponents of the expansion argue that a tunnel project is not the answer to congestion and port traffic. “I do not believe that the 710 freeway tunnel alternatives proposed by Caltrans and Metro make sense for our region or taxpayers,” writes Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents the portion of the San Gabriel Valley where the tunnel would be dug.
“For the same cost as the $5.6 billion tunnel, we could likely complete all of the alternatives — light rail, bus, surface street improvements, bike and pedestrian walkways, cargo movement, and other traffic flow solutions — combined, and use the remainder of the money to repair some of our aging infrastructure. These alternatives are not only more cost effective, but far less disruptive of the affected neighborhoods.”
Opponents have put together their own list of solutions to address mobility with a mix of transit, active transportation and highway and road projects. PIRG published recommendations for Caltrans and other California transportation departments to follow that would apply not just to the 710, but to every highway project designed to “reduce congestion.”
This massive widening project, currently under construction, was pitched as one that would improve air quality and the environment.
The study recommends that California and Caltrans:
1. Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;
2. Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;
3. Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;
4. Include future maintenance costs, a range of potential future housing and transportation trends, and the availability of new transportation options such as car-sharing, bike-sharing, ride-sharing, and transit in transportation project selection decisions;
5. Invest in research and data collection to better track, and more aptly react, to ongoing shifts in how people travel.
Caltrans has made progress in recent months, acknowledging that California’s mania for building more highways is actually counter-productive. But as any twelve-step program will tell you, admitting you have a problem is just the first step. Governor Jerry Brown’s recently proposed budget didn’t show any major changes on how the state funds transportation projects. Neither did last year’s.
But as for the 710, PIRG has a specific solution.
“Given that the proposed tunnel has extraordinarily high costs and would not serve to reduce congestion or improve air quality according to their EIR, Caltrans should immediately drop the 710 tunnel project,” writes Emily Rusch, the director of CALPIRG.
(Damien Newton, along with Joe Linton, heads up the excellent StreetsBlogLA … where this perspective originated.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016
BILLIONAIRES AT THE GATE-Over a decade ago, when there was a push to break off the vast San Fernando Valley from LAUSD, and for the Valley to form its own school district, I was not in agreement. However, with approximately 675,000 students in the 7 district areas that comprise LAUSD, I find I am now changing my mind, as have many of us who are education professionals and who follow and write about public education.
This huge LAUSD enterprise, with a yearly budget of over $7 billion, has been mired in confusion, corruption, and inefficiency for many decades, and seems not to be manageable. I now tend to agree with some Angelenos who are pushing to reconstruct LAUSD into multiple independent districts. However, the danger is that it would further segregate the inner city students.
Right now, the multitude of charter schools (LA has the most in the nation) pick and choose among students of color, leaving behind those who are hard to teach, English Language Learners, and/or those who are personally handicapped and have special needs. They have contributed to the almost total re-segregation of students of color despite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision by the US Supreme Court.
It would be very costly to have all these new districts with a multitude of administrators. One of the greatest economic problems at LAUSD is the nepotism which has, for so many years, caused the hiring of many unnecessary middle managers whose large salaries are now built into the budget. They do little to deserve this taxpayer largesse.
Many lifelong Los Angeles residents -- particularly those of us who are also professional educators -- are beleaguered by the lack of public input allowed by the district, as well as the lack of transparency shown by the district and the Board of Education in a system where highly financed candidates get elected to the BoE…people who either are not educators and/or also are not skilled in business management.
We do not need more ‘Voteria’-impacted (paying for votes through an illegal lottery), multi-millionaire charter school candidates and other toadies of Eli Broad using his directives to run LAUSD. It is “We the People” who pay all the freight and this is the only thing that is "public" about Broad's latest permutation. In his new takeover scheme for “charterizing” the district, Broad tries to hide his name by calling it Great Public Schools Now, a plan that is actually designed to convert public education into a business model, a vehicle for free market profiteering. But the taxpayers are still footing the bills, so this is not a 'robber baron' solution to funding and running public schools -- it is not geared to educate the entire student base but, rather, only carefully selected students.
The audacity of these billionaires boggles the mind. They have appointed a hardball charter school lobbyist to run their new 501c3 non-profit, rapidly tossed together after a major teacher and public protest at the Broad Gallery on the day of its opening. Broad's paid articles and editorials have been run in the LA Times, suggesting that their hired gun (hired to kill public schools in favor of free market profiteering) should give the new Superintendent of Schools “a seat at their table" and thus be able to participate in this destruction of public education. It is the greatest form of sophistry we have witnessed yet. It is off the charts in terms of any democratic structure...and public education has always been the crux of our democracy.
We do need more people willing to run for the BoE, people who have some training in business management plus a background in education. We got lucky that Scott Schmerelson, who, with his many decades of experience as a teacher and senior administrator, was willing to come out of retirement to run for and win a seat on the Board. He has become the major hope on the BoE to make reasoned decisions while also holding back the Broad deformers from taking over the district.
We had hoped that George McKenna and Richard Vladovic, each with similar credentials to Schmerelson, would also function positively to protect the public schools against the billionaires’ charter onslaught, but it seems that these two men have become stuck in their own personal issues.
Monica Ratliff, who is both a Columbia-trained attorney and an elementary school teacher, has been a staunch defender of public education as a member of the BoE, but she has been pushed into a background role by the testosterone overload on the Board. I still have faith that she will vociferously support Schmerelson’s position when he speaks loudly against the “Broad-billionaire clique” takeover. Once Steve Zimmer (photo above) completes his role as a BoE member and as the current President of the Board, there will be a far fairer changing of the guard.
For now, however, it is imperative for the public to raise a loud voice in support of our public schools. The outsider cash donated by Broad, the Waltons, Bloomberg, Murdoch, Anshutz, and others, to the now multi-million dollar LAUSD BoE elections that only a decade ago required a candidate to spend just $30,000, must be stopped.
The push by these few golden boys and girls to take over all of our American institutions, expecting the rest of us to conform to their form of rule, turns all of us into serfs for Eli Broad and his band of invaders. It would be more productive and fair if these privatizers would donate to programs that strengthen the public schools…programs that would hire back teachers, aides, nurses, counselors, janitors, and fund the arts and special education, as well as academics.
(Ellen Lubic, Director of Joining Forces for Education is a Public Policy educator/writer. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of CityWatch or its ownership.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016
ART POLITICS-While South LA does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.
This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price hosted a meeting recently as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area.
Sadly, South LA’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.
I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.
I didn’t make it very far into the yard. Since 1981, the pair had been scavenging enormous chunks of carved glass, transforming metal tubes and fans into tall turrets and telescopes, and planting propellers like flowers all over the yard. There was no room to move. And there was more scrap metal and glass behind the house, they told me. They were just trying to figure out what to turn it into and where to put it.
Tenth Wonder of the World or not, it was the kind of thing I imagined neighbors in a better-off community would condemn for bringing down their property values. But the Harrises’ neighbors seemed quite happy to have them there. The Harrises regularly sat outside and talked with their neighbors. Kids on the street saw their yard as a sort of Disneyland and liked to stop by and gawk at the ever-changing inventory of crazy objects. Hoping to inspire kids to see beauty and opportunity in the ordinary, the Harrises often had candy pieces to hand out to those that visited and were always kind, friendly, and welcoming.
But last year, Lew fell ill and was in and out of the hospital, according to a neighbor. Given the pair’s limited income, they quickly fell behind on bills and found themselves having to move out in the fall. A relative who agreed to take them in came down from Bakersfield to help them close up the place. The neighbor, who also helped them move, was a little shocked at the condition of the interior — it was like something out of an episode of Hoarders, he said, with stacks of magazines and newspapers blocking all but a few paths through the home.
Given the unhealthy condition the Harris’ home appeared to be in, the move may — in the long run — be a good thing for 76-year-old Lew.
Still, it was sad to see that the owner of the property wasted no time in gutting the place, removing any last remnants of the “art” collection that had been so carefully curated over the years, and building a generic dwelling in its place. The only thing that remained of the Harrises was a set of hand-painted signs tacked high onto a telephone pole reading, “What’s up, discipline? Try patience.”
(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog … where this piece was first posted.)
GELFAND’S WORLD--The Long Beach Opera is opening its new season with a hit -- Leonard Bernstein's Candide. It's kind of a Broadway musical and an operetta all wrapped up into one. It has a series of hummable Broadway-type melodies alongside music that is reminiscent of earlier European opera and light operetta. As stage director David Schweizer explained, Bernstein was doing homage to numerous styles and traditions. This approach is risky, because it can fail or succeed spectacularly. Candide is still perfo rmed because it manages to walk the line artfully, through everything from south American dance music to a Mozartean-sounding soprano aria.
What LBO does with the written text and the score is what makes it different as a company. In short, LBO is the opera company that dares to be and do differently.
Robin Buck and Suzan Hanson continue their careers as company stalwarts. Todd Strange plays the title character Candide, bringing a most engaging voice. His love interest Cunegonde is played by Jamie Chamberlin, who manages her role ably. Additional cast members include Roberto Perlas Gomez, Danielle Marcelle Bond, Arnold Livingston Geis, and Zeffin Quin Hollis. They get to play numerous roles and perform in ensemble numbers. Bond is fetching as she plays the character Paquette, the whore with a heart of bronze, if not quite of gold.
LBO stages the first half of Candide as if it were a rehearsal. Robin Buck is both the director and one of the main characters. As the show begins, he chooses who will play what (to the obvious distress of the losers) and then appoints the remainder to other roles. Bringing the stage director into a show as a role is nothing new of course, as Our Town and later plays demonstrate. And interpreting an opera a little off kilter from the text is nothing new to the modern audience. There is a whole tradition of this in modern European productions.
But you've got to get it right. There are lots of ways to get it wrong, and some of those other productions have shown this to their own embarrassment. So it's always a joy to see an artistic group twist things just enough to make them different, to do a little mind bending, and in so doing to bring out new elements of the script.
This approach works well most of the time for Candide. For instance, in an early routine, the crew and idle cast members, in keeping with the presentation as a working rehearsal, watch from the back as two performers do a love song. This creates a certain emotional distance, since we are reminded that at some level, this is not quite reality. But it is at least an honest attempt to create one.
This distancing is gradually removed. It is replaced by full company numbers, and this allows the powerful emotions of the later numbers to come out more strongly.
The final number, Make Our Garden Grow, is lyrical and triumphant. An immediately preceding number, What's The Use, is strongly rhythmic and comedic, while remaining, to use the modern term, an intentional downer.
That's my report, and you can stop here if you like. But if you are interested in the 18th century philosophical struggle that led to the book Candide upon which the opera is based, stay with me.
First, I'd like to introduce you to an author who writes a fascinating blog about medieval and Renaissance thought. Ada Palmer is now at the University of Chicago, and the blog post I'm linking here is about the development of skepticism as an intellectual movement. That's where Candide comes in, because Palmer writes about the philosopher and author Voltaire, and how his response to great suffering such as the Seven Years War and the Lisbon Earthquake brought him to write a poem in protest, and that poem was read all over Europe.
You have to go quite a ways down that blog post to get to Voltaire, but allow me to summarize the argument made by Leibniz that caused skeptics such as Montaigne and Voltaire to rebel. Borrowing from Palmer's blog, the Leibniz argument:
- God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnbenevolent. (Given.) “Grrrr,” quoth Socrates.
- Given that God is Omniscient, He knows what the best of all possible worlds is.
- Given that God is Omnipotent, He can create the best of all possible worlds.
- Given that God is Omnibenevolent, He wants to create the best of all possible worlds.
- Any world such a God would make must logically be the best of all possible worlds
This is the best of all possible worlds.
The experiences of life, including catastrophes such as the war and the earthquake, would naturally lead to skepticism (at least of some sort) in moderns, but it took a long journey through medieval theocracy to get there. Voltaire seems to have been the one who made the Leibniz formulation into more of a joke than a believable doctrine.
Voltaire wrote Candide and published it under a pseudonym in the mid-1700s. It is variously described as a semi-pornographic, satirical adventure story, or as a deep satire intended to demolish a once-popular theological argument set forth by the philosopher Leibniz.
A Broadway musical linked to a 1759 novella, itself based around a medieval philosophical argument? It seems strange, but Voltaire's story involves deeply human questions, the most central being, why is there such misery and suffering in what is supposed to be God's creation?
Leibniz's argument is sometimes described as optimism. The philosophical idea is only a little oversimplified by the phrase "All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Everything has a purpose, and even suffering and evil are really part of a perfect creation.
One precipitating factor for Voltaire's intense reaction to optimism was the event we refer to as the Lisbon earthquake. It was actually an offshore quake that killed tens of thousands and created a massive fire. In addition, the resulting tsunami did its own damage. It was The Big One we anticipate, but more so, and without modern technology to prevent massive loss of life.
In short, the Lisbon quake was the sort of event that provoked theological doubt in an era that was ready for it.
Candide, both as eighteenth century novella and as modern musical theater, begins with a naive young man named Candide who is raised and educated in the philosophy of optimism described above. Voltaire creates a character named Dr Pangloss who teaches this philosophy to Candide and his fellow students. This is the best of all possible worlds, and anything you can think of that seems bad or wrong is actually to the good. The characters in Bernstein's Candide sing the line that all's for the best in the best of possible worlds, and Dr Pangloss illustrates the argument with examples both illogical and comedic.
At the beginning of the story, Candide, Pangloss, and various love interests live together in a castle in an edenic lifestyle of wealth and power. Maybe there's something to this philosophy after all. But things rapidly turn sour for the young Candide, as he is banished from the castle to live a life of wandering, privation, and sorrow. Over the years, he finds his lost love Cunegonde, loses her again, finds her again, and so on. He gains wealth, only to lose most of it. His childish belief that all's for the best is continually being challenged, but he lacks the intellectual tools, and even the words, to find an alternative line of thought.
Eventually Candide and his friends reject both optimism and its mirror opposite (you might call it pessimism) and agree to settle down to a simple life and "make our garden grow."
The LBO season starts with Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide, and goes on to Fallujah, a story of an American Marine recovering in a veterans' hospital. LBO then goes on to Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, the story of a woman trying to converse over the telephone with the lover who is marrying someone else the very next day. The company finishes the first half of 2016 with something called The News, which is described as a Video-Opera that parodies a society addicted to the 24 hour news cycle.
Candide will play again next weekend, Jan 30 at the Long Beach Opera.
(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
CONNECTING CALIFORNA--Last week, Michelle King was appointed superintendent of LA Unified, California’s largest school district. But can we really trust her to lead the Los Angeles schools? After all, she’s from Los Angeles.
Actually, that understates how suspiciously local King is. As a child, she attended LA Unified schools. Then she got degrees from UCLA and Pepperdine (and is even now working on a doctorate at USC). She has spent her 30-year career in the LA school system, as a science teacher, principal, and top deputy to the last two superintendents. Heck, she even sent three children to LA schools.
If she were any good, wouldn’t she have lived or worked someplace else?
Is that a ridiculous question? Yes, but it mirrors much of the reaction in Los Angeles to her appointment. While politicians and interest groups released official statements full of praise, everyone from education professors to newspaper editorialists whispered their disappointment that LA Unified had hired someone so achingly local and low profile. One mover-and-shaker lamented to me that while there is a Michelle King on Wikipedia, it’s the co-creator of the TV drama The Good Wife.
This is supposed to be the era when we celebrate the local—local produce, local bookstores, local governance. But in Southern California, we’re not so excited about locally grown leaders. It’s the dark side of being a globally connected and welcoming place. We have for so long been a city of stars from someplace else that we have little faith in those boring grinds who are actually from here, painstakingly pay their dues and then have the temerity to think they might run things.
And so King, who probably knows LA Unified better than any living being, was labeled a disappointing fallback choice. Los Angeles elites had been hoping for a star from the outside—a political figure like the Obama cabinet member Julian Castro or a member of Congress who could transition into schools; or some gilded creature from the billionaire-backed reform movement; or a high-profile superintendent from a city like Miami or St. Louis—both of which, it should be noted, have far fewer residents than LA Unified has students.
Of course, Los Angeles’ contempt for its own is not new. Los Angeles’ locally grown police chief Charlie Beck, for all his progress in crime-fighting and diversifying his force, labors under the sense that he’s not in the same class of out-of-town predecessors. Once an internal candidate, always an internal candidate.
And no matter who you are, making the New York Times has always been a far bigger deal than getting written up in the Los Angeles Times—even before our local paper was downsized by out-of-town owners. And Hollywood has organized itself as an exclusive club that keeps regular Angelenos at a remove; even in 2016, the entertainment industry remains so distant from the diversity around it that it has turned the Academy Awards, with another slate of all-white acting nominees, into a national joke. When our movie stars do philanthropy, it’s more likely to be directed to South Sudan than South LA.
Los Angeles also has a nasty habit of outsourcing thorny problems: When our big institutions get into trouble, we don’t knuckle down and fix them ourselves. We bring in outsiders to fix them. Over the past generation, our sheriff’s department, police department, the Dodgers, and elements of our transportation and school district have had to be taken over, or put under trustees. “Too much of the city has been taken into receivership,” the author D.J. Waldie has written of LA.
I’ve experienced LA self-contempt personally. When a source or friend is introducing me to some powerful LA figure, I’m struck at how little access my years of journalistic work in Southern California buy—and at how many doors suddenly swing open when it’s mentioned that I went to college at Harvard.
This is supposed to be the era when we celebrate the local—local produce, local bookstores, local governance. But in Southern California, we’re not so excited about locally grown leaders.
In this context, the reaction to King’s appointment, while frustrating, is hardly surprising. You could argue that she’s the best prepared LA Unified leader in a long time—having been a success as teacher, principal, and administrator, most recently as a top aide to the past two superintendents. Her expertise ranges from science education, to instructional reform, to student discipline. And she’s hardly following giants; the district has had eight superintendents in 20 years, many of them outsiders, including a Navy admiral who had little idea what he was doing.
And while elites don’t know her well—she was presumably too busy working to write lots of op-eds and give speeches—regular people in LA schools do. As the LA School Report site pointed out, King was far and away the most frequently mentioned person in the district’s online survey of what kind of new superintendent parents, staff, and teachers would want.
This community support, however, counted as a strike against her in editorials by the Los Angeles Times and LA Daily News after her appointment. Both papers damned her credentials with faint praise (the Times editorial called her “obviously capable” twice) and advised her to pick fights and make enemies—the kind of tactics that backfired on her predecessor and former boss, John Deasy. The only thing more condescending than the editorials was a column in which the Times’ Steve Lopez said the school board “decided on someone who has been a good, low-profile soldier rather than a strong, independent voice, and for now at least, I find that disappointing.”
And I find Lopez’s notion that a good local can’t be strong and independent to be maddening. And out of touch.
The reality is that, with all our diversity and strange ways of governance (from ballot initiatives to our hundreds of regulatory commissions), California’s institutions are getting more complicated—making it harder for outsiders to step in. And with all of LA Unified’s challenges, from its hundreds of thousands of poor students to its big projected deficits, there may be no California government more complicated and important.
In other school districts, local leaders or those elevated from the ranks have succeeded. There may be no better big-city school district in the state than Long Beach, run for the last 14 years by Chris Steinhauser, who was both student and teacher in the schools he leads. In San Francisco, Richard Carranza, who was the top deputy of his predecessor, has done so well that LA Unified sought to recruit him before choosing King.
At San Diego Unified, Cindy Marten, a local elementary school principal elevated to superintendent three years ago, has made some political mistakes but also has pleasantly surprised many with dramatic changes to culture, training, and personnel, including the replacement of more than 70 principals and vice principals.
Of course, LA Unified presents a bigger challenge. Which is precisely why a woman tough enough to negotiate the LA district as parent, teacher, and administrator for 30 years stands a better chance of succeeding than just about anyone else.
(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It [UC Press, 2010]. This column was posted first at Zocalo Public Square … connecting people and ideas.)
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016
LA TIMES ON EDUCATION-A member of a Facebook group discussing education asked journalism ethics expert Peter Sussman about the LA Times education coverage and posted this. (Shared with permission.) "I asked a journalist friend about the ethics of the LA Times taking money from Eli Broad while editorializing in favor of his project.”
Here is his response:
"Was I tagged because this is such a tough ethical issue to parse? It is not. With this kind of entanglement with the subject of its news stories, the Times has given up the right to expect any trust or credibility for its journalism on education. They are trapped in a massive conflict of interest, and no amount of pro forma disclosure will fix that. It's so sad to see what has happened to that once-great publication.
"You can add to the comment that trust and credibility are the life's blood of journalism, and without it, a ‘new’ organization is no different than any other partisan in public disputes, with the added problem that there is no major paper to hold it accountable, although in this case a blogger has apparently stepped into the breach. People have jeopardized and lost their jobs for defending their editorial independence and standing up to such conflicts of interest. I haven't read the background on the issue you've highlighted, but if all your information is accurate, the Times' problem extends beyond opinions to reporting, however well-intentioned their education reporters are."
Peter Sussman is a retired longtime San Francisco Chronicle editor who is also a past co-author of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 14 Issue 7
Pub: Jan 22, 2016