By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Combine the coalition's strategies with Contreras' clout (or, if you prefer, with the power of the new labor movement), and a scenario for working-class upward mobility in Los Angeles becomes at least plausible. In a city that has lacked any such scenario for the past decade, that is no small thing.
But is Contreras unambiguously a creature of the new and improved growth coalition? Or is he just a repackaged business unionist, enlisting labor in the same old build-we-must alliance with corporations and developers that thrived during the last L.A. boom, when Tom Bradley presided over the reconstruction of downtown and the neglect of the neighborhoods?
In the late '80s, with high-rises springing up downtown and on the Westside, with worsening traffic and persistent pollution, middle-class liberals looked on the developer-union axis as the enemy, and Bradley as that enemy's most influential friend. It took some very deft backtracking on Bradley's part to forestall a challenge in the '89 mayoral race from Westsider Zev Yaroslavsky.
Now, the building boom is back again, and with it the potential for a new labor-liberal rift. At Contreras' prodding, labor backed the city subsidy for the Staples Arena. It is a major supporter of the expansion of LAX. It has joined with the two dozen CEOs of the Los Angeles Business Advisors to oppose elected neighborhood councils as an element of charter reform, for fear that they would block all major construction projects. Contreras himself co-authored an L.A. Times op-ed column last month with ARCO CEO Mike Bowlin that cautioned against such councils by railing about the imperfections and excesses of democracy - a strange-sounding argument from someone who's normally a critic of workplace autocracy.
Contreras was taken to task for this last position by the Greenest of greater L.A.'s major elected officials - state Senator Tom Hayden, whose mayoral candidacy last year the County Fed declined to support. Labor's new ties to the CEOs, Hayden wrote in a June 11 letter to Contreras, harked back to the bad old Bradley days, "when developers, downtown lobbyists and labor (especially the building trades) essentially ran things in the city . . . [resulting in] profitable overdevelopment in the Westside and Valley combined with deepening underdevelopment in the Eastside and South-Central."
Hayden's fears for the new labor movement may be justified - but only partly. At times, Contreras has indeed seemed the developer's best buddy, and by co-signing that attack on local democracy, has given aid and comfort to labor's traditional enemies while alarming some longtime allies. Labor may have well-grounded fears that neighborhood councils could lead to NIMBYism run wild, but Contreras should realize that labor also has the clout to ensure that some form of living-wage stipulations and limits on the councils' land-use powers be part of any charter-reform package submitted to the voters.
But despite Hayden's apprehensions, labor today is not simply the junior partner in the second coming of the growth coalition - nor is the misshapen character of L.A.'s growth the city's foremost problem today. Our most pressing and profound dilemma is the cancerous spread of low-wage work. And the traditional slow-growth opposition to development is no longer either adequate or germane to the city's single deepest need.
Until LAANE came along, development remained decoupled from justice, and liberals were spared the discomfort of having to balance the claims of the environment against those of income equity. But LAANE is here, and as its campaigns begin to change the character of local development and its beneficiaries, the middle class must rethink its time-honored aversion to growth. I am not suggesting that liberals abandon their traditional concern over pollution and congestion. I am suggesting that - at Universal, DreamWorks and even LAX - they also come up with a plausible alternative plan to create as many decent-paying service-sector jobs as the new growth coalition would create at that particular project. And that if they can't, they have a moral obligation to swallow hard and strike a deal with the dread forces of growth.
Indeed, the success of L.A.'s growth-with-equity coalition might ultimately prove as confounding for at least some slow-growth liberals - the ones who don't fully grasp what their city has become - as it would for right-wing business leaders. In a city whose middle has vanished, however, this is a problem devoutly to be wished.