Valley of Ghosts

The writing is on the wall, say the people who have left L.A., people now safely ensconced in the bluest dot available in a red state, the people to whom I listen on podcasts while walking the dogs in the early darkness that comes at 5pm now.

My Valley is haunted by the ghosts of those who have left but also those who have retreated indoors where a certain kind of life can be cultivated through the meticulous curation of deferred dreams and a supporting cast of delivery people.

But outside…the city we know and love is going away, piece by piece. First the reciprocal bonds of citizenship, then guardrails of safety, now tolerance and civility.

I step around people like this man multiple times a day, and no longer marvel at how much money swirls the drain, how many six figure salaries are paid out in Los Angeles to service ghosts.

Instead I wonder what ghosts dream of when they reach for the sidewalk.    What have they discarded in their crawl to perdition?

People used to arrive in the Valley with ambitions as basic as an affordable apartment or as grandiose as YouTube stardom. Now they come to colonize public spaces in a medicated permanent twilight.

This is not the worst urban malady, only the most visible one.  De-policing, vax mandate-related layoffs and the institutionalized hypocrisy of the elites will inflict greater long-term harm.

Who with influence over public policy practices the inclusivity he preaches? I shouldn’t use the categorical, but yeah, basically no one.

The Alexan, NoHo West

And yet…while all this is unfolding, construction continues apace. The pre-2020 fever dreams of an urbanized, vertical Valley remain in a state of forward momentum. For now.   Like a freighter coasting to port on a dead propeller.

As these urban villages go online, what happens if there are few takers for the new units?    I can think of two recently completed buildings in Van Nuys at around 25% capacity, going by all the unlit windows.  With hundreds more units completing in the next six months we’ll learn just how viable Los Angeles remains.

We’re poised between two fates. Boarded up storefronts and lifestyle emporiums on the same block.  We cling to the memory of 2019 in the expectation a course correction is due any day, because…because it has to, right? Things are not as bad as 1992, not yet, and we came back from that, right?

America of 1992 had very different demographics, a shared narrative, and wasn’t living in a state of permanent gaslighting.  It didn’t have depraved billionaires funding political street violence and installing prosecutors who refuse to enforce laws.

The recall of D.A. George Gascon, an easy sell ten years ago, failed twice to gather enough signatures.  Los Angeles 3.0 will have to find a way to transcend our historic political paradigm if its going to work.

For now I am obliged to place my faith (and hard won equity) in working-class Latinos, Armenian and Korean merchants to practice a California version of Irish Democracy.  I hope for a golden mean between the chaos unleashed by the Clerisy and the self-interest of honest people who don’t have Laptop Jobs and the luxury of partaking in the urban exodus, people who will fight, if not for the city as a whole, then at least for the block they live on.

That’s the ghost I cling to.  Sometimes I am, to paraphrase a dear friend, my own worst enemy.