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L.A.’s Homeless, The Waste Product of Density

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THE VIEW FROM HERE - Manufacturing always has waste product, i.e., useless material that is produced when making something else.  Unless the waste product has some beneficial purpose in another process, the cost of its disposal must be minimized in order to maximize the profit of the enterprise.  Often, industries pour toxic sludge into nearby rivers so that the monetary burden of the waste removal is limited to getting it off the property.  

Los Angeles’s homeless are a waste product of our urban densification mania, i.e. Manhattanization of Los Angeles.  When a city, which is already fully built out, wants to add more density in its core areas, it has to destroy existing homes in order to make room for the new fancier, more expensive projects.  If the new project would not make more money than the existing housing, monetization would tell the developer that buying that property would not be cost effective. Thus, developers look for the cheapest property available, which means destruction of Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) housing, i.e., rent controlled apartments. (In the near future, it will mean destroying detached homes, but that is a future article.) 

A basic principle in monetizing housing construction is the same for any other business, “buy low, sell high.”  The same principle applies to hiring workers, pay low wages, but sell the new units for as much as possible. The entire object of monetizing any business is to cut down costs to as low as possible and to sell for as high as possible. In 1938 when minimum wage began, it was 25 cents an hour which would be $5.30/hr in 2023 dollars.  Thus, from business’ standpoint, labor is doing very well with a federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. which is $11,024.00 annual income, but the average yearly salary of a Union carpenter in Los Angeles is $56,023.  That’s a whooping 5 times higher than if real wages had not been raised so high. Dagnabbit, those Unions! 

Cost cutting has to come from somewhere since the developer can do nothing without carpenters and other laborers.  While developers will use substandard materials and cut corners on safety, the surest way to reduce costs is to pay as little as possible for the land. In an urban area which already is built-out, that means buying rent controlled properties (RSO units) and throwing out the tenants.  They are almost always poor, unsophisticated, and possibly undocumented.  There are other low cost ways to expedite the tenants leaving.  Never repair anything is a common technique.  As the water and heat cease to function and the cockroaches and rats proliferate, the majority of tenants will voluntarily move. 

The other way to monetize costs downward is to be nice to the councilmember so that city inspectors do not come around and those who do come by, are as blind as Sgt Shultz.  Also, in Los Angeles, the existing codes evaporate when the developer is very nice to the councilmember. Every Angeleno should know the process by now.  For the cost of being nice to only the councilmember in whose district a developer wishes to build, all the various codes, zoning, etc. can be ignored. When the councilmember puts the project on the city council agenda, it will receive unanimous approval.  Without Los Angeles’ Vote Trading System, which is protected by the courts and the FBI, a developer would have to be nice to a majority of the councilmembers to have his project approved.  That would be problematic. How can the developer be sure he is being nice to the right combination of councilmembers? In monetizing a multi-unit apartment in Los Angeles, however, one need not fret over calculating the cost of being nice to so many avaricious councilmembers.  In LA the motto is “One and Done.” 

The Beauty of Mobile Waste Product 

The great thing of evicting tenants is that they are mobile.  There is no need to squish them into 10 gal barrels and haul them off to an illegal dump.  If they refuse to leave, there is always ICE or the Sheriff to help them move out. 

A river can carry some industrial sludge downstream, and after a while, the water can purify it.  As the volume of sludge increases, the pollution affects nearby land owners and then those who are far down stream.  Farmers and people who live nearby and downstream bear the harm.  The river water carries diseases and kills rather than nurtures. The factory monetizes these injuries to others at zero.  The same thing happens with densification when the pace of destruction of ROS units is so fast that the surrounding community cannot absorb the former tenants.   Everyone, except for the developer and the councilmembers, suffers the consequences of homelessness.  For businesses, sludge and homelessness are monetized at a zero cost in order to maximize profit.  

Densification is driven by such all consuming greed that the homeless soon overwhelm the normal social mechanisms to transition homeless people into new places to live. Thus, they accumulate on the streets, especially under freeway under passes, and clog the arteries the same way that toxic factory sludge clogs rivers.  The mentally ill and drug addicts become an increasing large percentage of the homeless because they are least able to get off the streets. Now, the criminally insane roam the streets as a normal part of life in Los Angeles. 

People cannot walk on the streets as they are filled with homeless encampments and trash.  Oh, the trash. Of course, former mayor Eric Garcetti in all his wisdom opposed providing large trash receptacles near the encampments as he did not want to encourage hopelessness!  As everyone knows, people give up their homes and become homeless as soon as they see that the city provides trash collection for the homeless.  Concomitantly, however, Garcetti was busy mafia-zing trash collection. August 10, 2017, City Watch, Is ‘Mafiazation’ of Trash Hauling Coming to LA?  As a result, DTLA businesses took to dumping their trash near the homeless rather than pay the high trash collection fees which Garcetti’s mafia-zation brought. 

Both industrial sludge and LA’s homeless cause fires miles from their points of origin.  Cuyahoga River, Cleveland Ohio, caught fire in 1952 and 1969.  By 2021 in Los Angeles, the LAFD responded to 24 homeless fires per day.  May 12, 2021 LA Times The most famous homeless fire was along the 405 Freeway, burning homes in Bel Air! 

Another similarity between industrial waste products and the homeless is that both are things of no value to be summarily discarded as they no longer figure into the monetization formula.  City Hall may grandstand about homelessness, but the destruction of RSO units continues. The new game plan has been to “Hide the Homeless.” It’s simple -- out of sight, out of mind. 

The Tiny Home Fraud 

A child’s doll house provides for more room for the dolls than L.A.’s tiny homes do for humans.  Do not mistake LA’s tiny homes for these expensive things you see on TV shows.  In L.A., two people share one tiny room with just a night stand’s space separating them with no appreciable room to own anything.  By making them unbelievably tiny, the city can force the homeless people to give up their few possessions.  As for bathroom facilities – go outside and walk down to a common washroom.  That’s great when you get sick and have to go at 2:00 a.m.  Shall the tiny homes have chamber pots for night time emergencies?  Just what one wants – to share an 8 x 10 shed with Mr. Diarrhea. 

When Homeless Misery Can Be Monetized, Then the Poverty Pimps Arrive 

When the homeless are re-labeled “mentally ill,” the public will spend billions of dollars on mental health. Because L.A. lacks the mental health facilities, the city and county will give developers millions of dollars to construct mental health facilities for the hordes of people whom they made homeless.  This is similar raising the city folks taxes to clean up the toxic river sludge which industrialists had dumped into the Cuyahoga River. 

Those Who Cause the Harm Should Pay 

In toxic tort litigation, the courts will gather up all the manufacturers of a dangerous product, e.g. asbestos, and then make each manufacturer financially liable for the harm in ratio to its percentage of the asbestos market.  Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 953, 984  The same legal principle should apply to Los Angeles developers who caused the homeless crisis. If city hall saw homeless people as human beings like those who have been harmed by toxic chemicals rather than as disposable objects, those developers who caused the harm would pay the cost.  Of course, the first step would be a moratorium on the destruction of RSO units, rather than to fudge the numbers in the 2023 homeless count so Mayor Bass can claim she’s solving the problem rather just temporarily hiding it.

(Richard Lee Abrams has been an attorney, a Realtor and community relations consultant as well as a CityWatch contributor.  You may email him at [email protected].  The opinions expressed by Mr. Abrams are not necessarily those of CityWatchLA.com.)