Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles

Glendale has streetlights
Glendale has streetlights. How did they manage to do that?

Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”

How wonderful.  Who could say no?  Sure I’ll sign…

Not so fast.  The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.

Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.

Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For.  That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets.  Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena,  even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship.  How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?

In Van Nuys, $450,000 buys  moonlight
In Van Nuys, $500,000 buys moonlight

Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story.  L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service.    A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.

All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.

5 thoughts on “Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles”

  1. Ooooo. This is such a juicy topic. Where to begin?

    First, the problem is wealth distribution. Just whispering the thought that society might benefit from taking a little tax money from richer areas and using it to pay for something as benign as street lighting in a slightly less prosperous part of town is considered Communism by many Americans. We can’t have that conversation. No way. The “correct” interpretation of the situation is to have all the lazy no good moochers in the poor part of town work harder and pull together enough money to move to a better neighborhood where the street lights are already in place.

    Second, in your “Paper Street” post a few days back you showed the “white favela” tent city of homeless people that sprung up along a drainage canal. When I asked around as to how the city should resolve the situation there was the suggestion by some that Van Nuys might resettle these folks to an exurban location where they would have more space and not be too close to regular folks. I’m familiar with the cities in the Antelope Valley who are in fact concerned that they may be a dumping ground for the things and people from “Down Below” that LA proper doesn’t want to deal with.

    It seems that while Van Nuys might be under the oppressive yoke of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Century City… Van Nuys is all too happy to export it’s flotsam and jetsam off to some other lesser distant region. I’m just sayin’.

    One more thing. Los Angeles doesn’t have anything like to a Swedish level of taxation. Not even close. If it did there might actually be enough cash on hand that people wouldn’t have to live in tents next to a canal. But that’s not how we do things here. People are in fact getting the level of government services that they’re really paying for. They just don’t want to pay very much. If you run the numbers you’ll find that the $4,000 a year that you’re paying on a piece of crap tract house in the Valley doesn’t even cover the cost of maintaining the pavement on your cul-de-sac, let alone putting your kids through public school or providing police and fire protection. That’s why local governments piss their pants whenever a Lucky’s or Applebee’s or Jiffy Lube decides to open up a new shop in town. The municipality is desperate for sales tax revenue to fill the gap.

    1. Johnny, this is a fascinating rebuttal. I’m not as persuaded as you are the tax revenue isn’t there. For one thing, the public sector lives large on the public’s dime. For another, there are enormous pools of money which are collected through a wide array of fees attached to everything from our utility bills to buying a can of paint at Home Depot, billions which are raked into accounts segregated from the day-to-day operational expenses of the city and state. Ergo, we are always ‘broke’ and in crisis and in need of tax increases, but somehow there is always pools of money for vanity projects for the political class. Why is it smaller, neighboring cities are able to have excellent infrastructure compared to LA?

      I plead guilty to voting the white favela to the Antelope Valley.

  2. It is an absolute fact that single family residential property taxes fall far short of the services and infrastructure they require from the city. This is true almost everywhere. That’s why towns are constantly trying to pull in a Costco or Target or Walmart to boost sales tax revenue to cover the gap. Of course the $3,000,000 highway interchange that the city built to lure in such new businesses in the short run becomes a massive maintenance liability in the long run. It’s also why every Podunk town in America now has a faux riverboat casino, premium outlet mall, aquarium, convention center, stadium, and megaplex cinema. It’s all about pulling in sales tax revenue and visitors’ dollars from people who live in other towns. And don’t forget that in California local government has to share that tax revenue with the county and state. Then the money is sent back to the locals with lots of strings attached. It’s a huge ugly mess of a system. Check this out.

    How tax revenue is spent is ultimately another matter. I have no doubt that much cash is squandered in many cities including vanity projects and boondoggles that line the pockets of generous campaign contributors, etc. This goes back to ancient times. What? You think the local marble contractors in Rome didn’t grease palms to get the Colosseum built in their district? You think the Eiffel Tower went up in a pristine political environment? No whores here. No ma’am.

    As for smaller towns having excellent infrastructure while Van Nuys goes begging for street lights… Do you want Van Nuys to do the things that those other towns do to achieve their goals? It isn’t simply a matter of clean government. Zoning and building codes enforce building types and land use regulations that intentionally exclude lower income people so there isn’t much of a burden on local services. The police are pretty effective at “discouraging” the “wrong element” from lingering. I’m not saying any of that is good or bad. I’m just pointing out the mechanisms involved. That creates a dumping effect on places that are more affordable. Places like Van Nuys in fact. And then Van Nuys decides it should dump its poor on the Antelope Valley. Perhaps what you’re saying is that you wish Van Nuys was more aggressive and effective at doing what Glendale and Pasadena have been doing for a century. “Irish and Negros need not apply.”

  3. $6.00 a month for light. well, considering our promotional rate for showtime just ran out and that bill is now up to $100.00 again, i think we’ll risk a dimly, moonly lit street.

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