09
Sat, Dec

In Search of Better Boulevards in LA

LOS ANGELES

LA TRANSPO - One of my favorite songs by ‘System of A Down’ shouts out our famous boulevards.  

Hollywood … Sunset … Santa Monica… 

There is plenty to see there and throughout Los Angeles.

But cyclists and drivers know all too well that often the going ain’t easy.

I’ve gotten calls about dented rims and cracked axles after people ran over one of the city’s massive potholes. 

System needs to make another song about Los Angeles' infamous streets too.

Alameda … Figueroa … PCH. I know you have more to add to the list.

Pedestrians don’t have it any better. I’ve heard numerous stories of people tripping on a broken sidewalk and then breaking bones. 

What can we do about roads that look like they’ve been through aerial missile strikes? 

You can call 311 or the mayor to make repairs and improvements. We do take note of what you tell us are the worst areas. We have workers out there daily fixing what we can. The problem is the city has more than 6.5 thousand miles of roads and sidewalks to maintain. Our streets’ budget is in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year; but it's almost literally spread too thin across our big city. 

As a result, about half of major roads in Los Angeles are in poor condition. Only 10 percent are considered “good”. This isn’t just about aesthetics. Annually, the average driver will spend slightly more than $900 on extra fixes, thanks to bad roads.  

Alleys are another matter altogether. It might take years for the city to get to a particular street. But they’ll get to it. Alleys aren’t expected to be repaired unless there is a surprise surplus. I heard that if workers finish fixing a street with extra materials, they will do what they can for a nearby problem alley. Other than that, you’re better off repaving an alley yourself. 

The solution for better streets isn’t just throwing more money at the city or hiring more workers. Since Los Angeles is so big, an increased budget will have to get filtered through its massive bureaucracy and red tape. Some will get wasted on the way. 

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not talking about the ills of big government in the way Ronald Reagan used to. We don’t need to starve the beast. We need to trade the unwieldy beast in for some creatures that are more manageable. 

Those creatures are decentralization and more representation. The two can come in many forms but no matter what, the residents of Los Angeles will end up with something better than the status quo. 

We’ve tried secession before. Is it time to try again? That would give the people far more autonomy over their streets and sidewalks. However, an army of special interests will step in to stop that again. It's more profitable for them to deal with the city as one behemoth. They can get lost in the cracks. Exploit the loopholes. The special interests parasitize Los Angeles just enough so that we tolerate them. 

That's one reason it's so hard to have better streets in the industrial areas. Port Director Gene Seroka likes to tout how many containers are moving around the harbor area. But does he ever ask the government to raise taxes on the successful businesses that are screwing up our streets? No, because the business heads and lobbyists don't want to equitably contribute to their communities. They buy raised high end vehicles with high end suspensions and laugh all the way to the bank. 

We can try splitting up the city’s council districts. They look ridiculously gerrymandered on a map anyway. But even 100 council members would still have a hard time accurately representing millions of Angelinos and giving us better streets. 

Still, the least we can do is double the size of the council. 

We can also take another crack at giving the neighborhood council system more authority. There were once talks of NC members directly shaping the budget and zoning. Why not allow the neighborhood councils to determine half the budget for city services? It's the people's money after all. I have talked to many NC members, and they can easily help identify the roughest roads, and wherever else our money should go. 

How about allowing some neighborhood council members to sit on city council committees with a vote? Right now, there are only fifteen committees. Yet there are more than 40 departments. The city council could expand the number of committees and tap into NC talent. 

The city should also appoint more NC members to city commissions. If I'm being generous, I'll say that some of the commissions are chocked full of the same insiders that would oppose secession or giving the neighborhood councils more authority. The commissions need reform now. 

The fact of the matter is more representation won’t matter for our streets or anything else without also dividing up the Los Angeles bureaucracy. It is extremely inefficient for each department to manage thousands of staff throughout 469 square miles.  

Instead, let’s cut up Los Angeles into 30 districts and give each an equal portion of the city’s budget. That’s about $366 million. Each district would have to run all of their services on that amount. Imagine no more huge hierarchy. Instead, each district would have workers and resources with as much autonomy as possible. City staff would become much more familiar with our roads.   

I’ll reassert that any reforms Angelinos do will make our city run better than it is now. And we need Los Angeles to run better so that we can stop tripping and breaking bones or skidding out and crashing cars. 

Here’s to the search for better boulevards. 

(Eramis Goodspiel <[email protected]> was born in 1985 and attended LAUSD schools as a minor; he graduated from the University of California system. He writes anonymously to not jeopardize his employment with the City of Los Angeles.)