The Challenge for LA Dems

  • 03/16/2017
  • James Preston Allen

Winning with a historically low turnout

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

Los Angeles is solidly Democratic and has voted so twice in the past five months to prove it. However, it is a sad commentary on both the democratic leadership and our city that an overwhelming majority of voters reelected the mayor and six city councilmen, as well as stopped Measure S in its tracks and they did so with one of the lowest voter turnouts in history.  It was a landslide, but from a very small hill.

So what can be taken away from this kind of municipal triumph? Clearly the Berniecrats who were inspired to vote for a social democrat last June were not similarly inspired to vote out the Democratic leadership in a sanctuary city opposing #45notmypresident.  This is a dilemma for party leadership here in the desert-city-by-the-sea, a city that likes to see its reflection as Hollywood and LA LA Land, but not Watts or Wilmington.

The challenge for Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Joe Buscaino, who seem to be connected at the hip, is how to play their roles on the national stage while remaining relevant to the multitude of neighborhoods they represent. After all, Los Angeles is a collection of towns looking to find a city.  Every mayor since Tom Bradley has tried creating a Los Angeles epicenter, but  this hasn’t made those on the periphery very happy.  Just look at the backlash to gentrification in Venice or East Los Angeles or the reactions to continued industrialization at the Port of Los Angeles and the expansion of LAX.  There are deep dissatisfaction in the hoods that are distant from city hall and that harbors an even deeper distrust of the “city family” — a distrust that this election has not resolved.

However, grassroots democracy is not dead in this city. It’s just waiting for a vacant seat in which to run without the weight of an incumbent blocking the path. Council District 7 is a prime example in which 22 candidates ran for office. All of them learned the hard way about the impediments the city places in the path to running for elected office — not the least of which are the 500 qualified signatures of registered voters needed to get on the ballot. It only takes 50 signatures to qualify for elected offices at the county or state level. But the Los Angeles city clerk’s office can’t even get the petition forms right!

With the city bureaucracy protecting the superstructure of incumbency and money-in-politics, those who vote with campaign donations often don’t actually reside in the city, but  lean heavily on those in power. This was the issue proponents of Measure S made in this past election over spot zoning. While losing 66.72 to 31.28 percent in this election, Garcetti had to realize that nearly 250,000 Angelinos were not happy and he immediately issued an executive order banning ex parte meetings with developers by commissioners. Does that also apply to city councilmembers?

I seriously doubt that we will ever really eradicate the influence of money in politics, but what we can do is vote for those who are highly resistant to legal bribery.  Give us candidates who actually work for the greater good of the city’s citizens, rather than those who aspire to higher office.  I sometimes wonder, if Jesus was elected mayor, just how long it would take for the Pharisees of this city to tempt him.  All we can hope for is that the people we elect prioritize  the greater good over pocketing the money that’s there before them.  It’s not inconceivable. It’s just improbable considering that Los Angeles’ current power structure perceives criticism as a threat.

Just one week after Measure S went down in defeat, Vincent Bertoni, Garcetti’s latest hero in the Department of City Planning came to San Pedro for an early morning chat with the local Chamber of Commerce. He has a great grasp on the challenges of city planning. He  even has some profoundly good ideas on how to fix them. Yet, he said something quite peculiar. He said, “LA is a place.”

Now, the only time that I, as a lifetime citizen of Los Angeles, have self-identified as an Angeleno is when I travel to some place abroad.  If you go to Paris, France or Mexico City and someone asks, “where are you from”?  It’s easier to say LA because everyone knows where that is. But it’s relatively meaningless because LA is not A PLACE—it’s a collection of places each with their own identities, cultural references, landmarks and history.  And that is the challenge to citywide planning: one size doesn’t fit all.

The problem in city planning is the same problem all the other departments have, which is how to have consistent rules and ordinances across the city when there are some reasons, possibly 35 (read community plans) or more, to have exceptions to these rules.  This is the raison d’etre for the 95 neighborhood councils; this is amongst the many reasons for the growing dissatisfaction with city hall—too much government and too little democracy.  And perhaps this is also the explanation for Donald Trump and the Democrat’s inability to effectively resolve his curious rise to power with their own inadequacies.

Los Angeles just may be the testing ground for a new form of democratic politics called version 20.18. Clearly, this will not happen if only 10 percent of the citizens continue to turn out to vote in city elections. For as is said, all politics are local. If you want city hall to pay attention to your part of this metropolis, you gotta turn up the heat at the ballot box!