DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — A long-awaited report on the state of the city was issued today, and it is hard and unsparing in its assessment of local government, regional infrastructure and Los Angeles’ fiscal situation.
“Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward,” it says at the top of page one in the report from the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a 13-member panel convened last year by City Council President Herb Wesson. It continues, “We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline.”
The report chastises area leaders for refusing to make hard financial decisions, comparing local behavior to that of a “hapless” character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Like Dickens’ Mr. Micawber, the report said, those in power keep waiting and hoping for something good to happen.
Dubbed “A Time for Truth,” the report was prepared by a panel co-chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and Austin Beutner, the prominent businessman and former First Deputy Mayor under Antonio Villaraigosa. Other members include labor leaders Brian D’Arcy and Tyler Izen, businessman David Fleming, California Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng and former Cal. Gov. Gray Davis.
“The first step in solving a problem is to admit it exists,” Beutner said this afternoon in an interview. Referring to the members of the panel, he added, “It was a big reveal for everybody to realize the breadth and depth of some of the challenges.”
The 20-page report (with another 23 pages of footnotes, bios and other material) cites a litany of challenges and shortfalls the city faces, some sparked by political inaction, and others propelled by wider trends. The report, which in its critique does not mention specific individuals, states that Los Angeles’ 10% unemployment rate is the highest of any major American city; the rates in San Francisco, Dallas and Houston are below 7%, according to the report.
It also says that Los Angeles’ poverty rate is higher than in any other American city, and that adding the unemployed and those who earn poverty pay means “almost 40% of our community lives in what only can be called misery.”
Other problems are widespread, according to the report. It points to a public school system that is “failing our children” and a city that only has four Fortune 500 companies, down from 12 a decade ago, and barely 10% of New York City’s 43.
Beutner said the study took its information from many existing public sources and studies and used those to assess the state of the region. It did not involve new or original research.
“A Time for Truth” also takes aim at traffic, stating that even if all of the proposed mega-improvements from Measure R are built, they won’t impact congestion, but rather “will simply keep things from getting worse.”
Another oft-cited challenge mentioned in the report is payments for municipal retirees. “Wishful thinking and avoidance of hard choices have endangered the secure retirements promised our public employees,” the report states. “Today’s workers are paying into a system whose benefits they’re increasingly unlikely to see.”
Despite the harsh outlook and statistics, the report also cites some of the region’s assets, saying the city has “all the ingredients of a great 21st century city.”
It touts the diversity of the region, with a workforce that speaks 224 languages other than English, and connections to Asia and Latin America. It mentions the resources available in universities such as USC, UCLA, Caltech and more, as well as a strong network of community colleges.
Another strength, according to the report, is that the city owns its own airport, seaport and utility.
“We all want to see it work,” Beutner said. “We have reasons and tools with which to be a winner, but we have to start playing the game to win.”
Though the report is heavy on criticism and assessment, it does not include solutions or immediate next steps. A second report from the 2020 Commission is slated to offer ideas on how to address the problems. Beutner said he expects it to be released within the next few months.