L.A. Times finally admits L.A. facing broad decline

Feb. 24, 2013

By Chris Reed

los-angeles-californiaAs someone who’s lived in Southern California since 1990, it’s been pretty obvious to me that Los Angeles and Los Angeles County have been in a broad decline that began when the end of the Cold War subtracted tens of thousands of well-paying defense-related jobs from the region’s economy.

The decline has been exacerbated by muscle-flexing by public employee unions in the city and county, which secured pay raises and huge retirement benefits, by the growing costs of dealing with the impact of illegal immigration, and by elected officials’ general indifference to helping the local economy beyond Hollywood, the port and the garment industry.

But over the past two decades, if one read the Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper by far in the western U.S., one rarely got a sense of that broad overall decline. Instead, the city’s and county’s problems were depicted as part of larger economic cycles, or looked at in niche fashion that didn’t include the grimmer overall picture.

Finally, a big-picture look at city’s stagnation

Finally, on Sunday, the LAT provided that grimmer overall picture in a piece about the city’s budget woes — and about their causes:

“Brad Smith used to consider himself a Los Angeles booster. But lately, the 48-year-old grows melancholy when he drives around the San Fernando Valley where he grew up.

“The parks look worn-out. The sidewalks are broken. Street trees go untended. And don’t even get him started on the sorry state of the Granada Hills pool.

“‘Every place I used to go as a kid, it’s tired, it’s old, it’s beaten up,’ said Smith, a project manager at an engineering firm who made a losing run for City Council two years ago out of frustration. ‘Other cities manage to maintain older facilities. I’m not really certain why Los Angeles can’t do a better job.’

“As Los Angeles voters head to the polls to pick a successor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Smith’s question, or some version of it, is being asked over and over again in neighborhoods across the city.

“Here’s the short answer: To stay afloat financially, the city cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of everyday services and ongoing maintenance.

“But the deeper causes are more complex, and include costly, ill-timed spending commitments at City Hall and a failure to adjust to the region’s weakening economic foundation.”

Admitting economic problems it long ignored

The Times has covered the city’s fiscal woes over the years. But the newspaper has rarely put the focus on the city’s economic straits — no surprise given that the LAT’s business section columnist is Michael Hiltzik, a liberal crusader who is hostile to the private sector, a reflexive fan of higher taxes and someone who likes to write about causes, not the local economy. On Sunday, the truth was finally printed.

“Since 1990, the nation’s total employment has grown 23%, while the number of local jobs has shrunk 7%, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast, which tracks economic trends.

“The situation appears to have worsened recently, UCLA economist William Yu said. The great recession hit Los Angeles especially hard and since then, its recovery has been weaker. ‘The economy is not healthy at all,’ Yu added.

“Over the past two decades, Los Angeles lost almost every sector that mattered to the middle class: automobiles, steel, shipbuilding and, of course, aerospace. In all, 56% of manufacturing jobs, or nearly half a million positions, have disappeared.

“The change is reflected in income statistics for that period. Nationally, personal income has increased by 2.4% per year, adjusted for inflation. Locally, it grew at half that rate.”

la-magazine-villaraigosa-failureThe Times notes that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argues the economy is fundamentally strong, but what else is a guy who thinks he’s presidential timbre going to say?

Then the paper goes on to discredit Villaraigosa’s claim:

“But with lower income growth, Angelenos are generating comparatively less tax revenue for the city, said Madeline Janis, national policy director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, an advocacy group that focuses on the city’s economy and environment.

“There were plenty of signals that leaner times were coming. In 1992, an aerospace task force warned that the region would experience an unprecedented economic blow … .

“Janis said city leaders did too little to address that long-term transformation. ‘We’ve had … an enormous loss of good-paying jobs. Without a substantive program to take us on another path, we’re going to continue on a spiral downward.'”

Who is to blame? Why the Times won’t say

Los Angeles’ decline is an indictment of contemporary urban liberalism, and of the statist politics of the faculty lounge. The Times has now finally admitted that the decline exists. When will it start assigning blame?

The answer is probably never. That’s because between the paper’s superficial local coverage, its blindered editorial pages and ideological columnists like Hiltzik, Patt Morrison and Tim Rutten, the Times is as responsible as any single force for L.A.’s decline.

Some may indulge in schadenfraude at this failure of liberalism, but for me it is too painful. I love Los Angeles and have had many wonderful experiences there over the years. It’s sad to watch this great city slowly fall apart. But it is what one would expect — at least if you didn’t only get your news from the L.A. Times.

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