By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The top, like the bottom, was booming. The percentage of Angelenos in households making between $100,000 and $500,000 a year increased by a hefty 29.7 percent, to constitute 7.3 percent of the county populace. And those in households making over $500,000 annually increased by a tidy 40.2 percent, albeit to constitute just one-half of 1 percent of county residents. (The wealthiest Angelenos of all, those in households making over $25 million each year, saw the market work true wonders: Their raw numbers increased from 65 to 143, a lovely 120 percent jump.)
The ghastly numbers of the Knox report help explain the ghastly numbers of another new report, that of the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which looks at the national shortage of affordable rental housing and concludes that it's worse in L.A. than anywhere else. The number of low-income local renters, the Center concludes, exceeds the number of low-cost local rental units by a 4-to-1 margin.
It's figures like these that have produced over the last couple of months a notable reversal in the economic prognosis of two of L.A.'s leading economic commentators. Writing in the Washington Post and in a number of L.A.-based publications, Joel Kotkin and David Friedman have concluded, as some of their left-wing adversaries have been writing for years, that the boom may be lifting a number of boats but that a greater number seem to be sinking or at least bailing water. "Over the past two decades," Kotkin wrote in a recent L.A. Business Journal, "the trend toward growing inequality in Los Angeles and nationwide has once again become pronounced." For an economist who has previously argued, for instance, that local Mexican-Americans were experiencing long-term, if uneven, upward mobility, this marks a clear about-face.
Kotkin is probably best known locally for his vehement opposition to the living-wage ordinance and his criticism of the founding sponsor of LAANE, Local 11 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees. While his analysis of the economy may be converging at least partly with theirs, he has shown no inclination at all to embrace their prescriptions. Nonetheless, it is chiefly LAANE and Local 11 - perhaps more accurately, only LAANE and Local 11 - that are remedying the plight of L.A.'s low-wage workers. The two groups are responsible for the only signal advances local service-sector workers have known in years: last year's living-wage ordinance and this year's Local 11 hotel contract, which boosted housekeeper base pay by 36 percent in many of the city's leading hotels.
Steering this emerging growth-with-equity coalition are three remarkable leaders. Hollywood-area City Council Member Jackie Goldberg moved the living-wage ordinance through the council last year, and it was she who insisted that Trizec-Hahn find a way to ensure that its retailers will pay a living wage as a condition for her approval of its project. Local 11 president Maria Elena Durazo took over a quiescent and corrupt union in 1989, cleaned it up, and built it into a militant and effective local whose new contract sets the standard for decent-paying service-sector work in Los Angeles.
The third leader, LAANE executive director Madeline Janis-Aparicio, is not nearly as well-known as Goldberg or Durazo, but it is increasingly she who provides the ideas and strategies that shape this growing movement. Holding up Universal's land-use permit to extract living wages, and building a broad-based coalition to that end; converting Trizec-Hahn's economic-development set-aside into a health-benefit plan for its retail tenants' employees; using the living-wage organizing at LAX to lay the groundwork for unionizing a hitherto unorganized sector of the work force - Janis-Aparicio has emerged as one of the most innovative and important strategists of the American liberal-left. The 38-year-old L.A. native is a UCLA law graduate who was the director of CARECEN, the immigrant-advocate group, from 1990 to 1993, when she became founding director of the Tourism Industry Development Council (which changed its name to LAANE a few months ago). Just before and after she worked at CARECEN, however, she was an attorney at the venerable firm of Latham and Watkins, where she worked under the legendary George Mihlstein, the number-one municipal lobbyist for business and real estate interests. At various moments when they've clashed in council chambers, she says, "I've told George he taught me everything I know."
Janis-Aparicio, Goldberg and Durazo are not the only actors in L.A.'s emerging growth-with-equity alliance. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas has secured living-wage commitments from Magic Johnson's development company for its newly approved Crenshaw-area shopping center. AGENDA, the South-Central community organization headed by Anthony Thigpenn, has been trying to get the long-embattled DreamWorks project to guarantee the training and hiring of workers from L.A.'s low-wage precincts for some of its high-wage positions.
Beyond question, the most powerful figure working with the coalition is Miguel Contreras - the onetime HERE official (he's also Durazo's husband) who since 1996 has headed the L.A. County Federation of Labor. Under his leadership, the Federation has quickly become a political powerhouse - registering and bringing to the polls thousands of new immigrants as well as labor voters, pulling off a series of upset victories in legislative and ballot-measure contests, besting the mayor's slate to control the city charter-reform process.
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