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The L.A. 2020 Report Declaring "City in Decline" is a Complete Mess

L.A. City Hall

Corey Miller / LA Weekly Flickr poolL.A. City Hall

After many months of silence, the L.A. 2020 Commission has at last issued its report on the state of L.A.'s finances. The commission is made up of leaders from the city's business and labor communities. Its report, "A Time for Truth," is supposed to kick-start a conversation about City Hall's finances.

Unfortunately, the report reads like a Chamber of Commerce op-ed stretched out to 20 pages with a bunch of charts and filler quotes and a big font size. It recycles talking points that have been circulating in the business community for years, without bringing any fresh analysis to the city's problems.

Where to begin with this thing. How about with the fact that there's no executive summary. That's a tipoff that this report is not coherent enough to summarize. But here at least is the opening paragraph:

Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline.

Sounds bleak. And the report goes on to cite various measures by which the city is falling behind - fewer Fortune 500 companies, a high unemployment rate and so on. But then there's this:

We are strangled by traffic...

First off, we're starting to mix metaphors - the city is either drowning or being strangled, but not both. But second, this is actually the opposite problem from the one described up until now. If traffic is bad, that's a sign of economic health. If the economy improves even more, traffic will worsen. That's not to say it's not an issue. It's just a totally unrelated issue. For this report to be helpful at all, it has to focus - not throw together a bunch of unrelated issues and put it all under the heading of "decline." Which brings us to...

Our public school system is failing our children... 

Another unrelated issue. Lots of serious people spend all of their time thinking only about this. But why not radically oversimplify it and compress it into a bullet point in order to pad out this report.

It goes on in this meandering way, until we get to the big summary paragraph:

Los Angeles suffers from a crisis in leadership and direction. The old adage, "The same level of thought which created the problem, is not likely to solve it," can be applied to the City.

By this point, it's clear that this report is suffering from a crisis in leadership and direction, as it bogs down in the same old thinking. Whether this condition also applies to the city's leaders is impossible to know, as the report does not analyze, address or acknowledge anything that any particular city leader has done about any of these issues.

You would think that a report about the state of the city's finances might include the words "Villaraigosa" or "Garcetti." This one is too polite to do that.

Instead, it drifts from one unrelated gripe to the next, faulting the city's police overtime bank, its handling of the BNSF terminal project, fire department response times and low voter turnout - none of which constitutes new information. After 19 pages of this, it's time for the big finish:

Where do we go from here?

Is the author addressing the reader or himself? It's clear he's just flailing, like a candidate at Boys State who lost his speech notes.

It's going to take leadership willing and able to make change. Leadership willing to be transparent and held accountable. It's going to take thoughtful reforms and a rational approach to promote these values.

It's probably also going to take someone willing to stand up and tell the hard truths. Truths such as:

The same spirit of candor reflected in this report will also recognize that most of the issues raised in this report are not new. One only has to read the report of the Los Angeles 2000 Commission presented to Mayor Bradley in 1988.

So now we know why this report has nothing new to add. Basically the whole thing - right down to the name - was ripped off from a report that was written 26 years ago. Where did you find it? Freetermpapers.com?

The people behind this commission - Mickey Kantor, Austin Beutner and others - are thoughtful, substantive people, so it's disappointing that this is what they've come up with. Maybe it's the consultants' fault.

Anyway, back to the most pressing question facing us today:

How do we renew the job engine in Los Angeles?

How about more commissions?