Marc Haefele has been writing and reporting about Los Angeles and California for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The New York Times, LA Weekly, LA Alternative, and The Jewish Journal. Before he came to LA, Haefele worked at Random House and Doubleday, where he edited authors Philip K.Dick and Isaac Asimov, and discovered Steven King. His book reviews have appeared in LA Weekly, LA Alternative, Boston Review, and The Morristown NJ Daily Record.
Haefele won the Greater LA Press Club award for Best Column in 1998, and was also morning drive host on KPFK-Radio. Since 2001, he's been "The Dean of City Hall Reporters" on KPCC's All Things Considered.
Haefele got his BA at NYU and his MA at CalState LA.
It’s not often I get to feel glad that I’m not a (reported) billionaire, but I’m glad I am not 49-year-old private equity investor and newly fledged Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner.
Beutner was last week appointed the mayor’s new deputy and chief executive for economic and business policy. The media title is “Job Czar.” He will also have, quoting the Times, “a new line of direct authority over the Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles and the economic and business policies at Los Angeles World Airports.”
Columnists at the Times and the Daily News acclaimed the appointment of Mr B, of whom almost no one had ever heard. Local unemployment stands at over 12 percent. It’s much higher in the neighborhoods where the major current career opportunities are with the Crips and Salvator Maratrucha. Clearly, jobs are a huge priority. Said the mayor, “Austin has a real vision for economic development and job creation.”
First and foremost, Beutner said he’d try to make LA (the Times said) “a friendlier place for the sort of businesses that create well-paying jobs.” Excuse me, but this is where I came in. For 30 years and four mayoral administrations, mayors and deputy mayors have promised exactly the same thing. As a result, tax structures have been gently shuffled, regulatory bureaucracies have received many a mild tweak and national campaigns have been launched to sell the world on LA’s commerce-friendly attractions.
No one has claimed these measures turned LA into a business paradise. But during this period, two utterly contradictory business developments did take place…
Bob Hope Patriotic Hall is one of those odd, old downtown buildings south of the 10 Freeway that seem to belong to an era that never quite happened. It ‘s one of a scattering of big structures, pioneers of some long ago developmental lunge preempted in the `50s by the I-10’s construction. Its ornate top story, with pitched roof and classical details, surmounts an overdecorated, underutilized 10-floor stub of 1926 masonry. It has a great arched lobby, like something our of a Venetian palace. Its grabber detail, though, is its north-facing outside mural of the “Spirit of 1776”– you know: the drummer, the fifer and the other Revolutionary War guy, all in a perpetual stalled march up Figueroa Street toward Staples Center.
A few weeks ago, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina announced a $45 million renovation of this memorial to the nearly-extinct doughboy veterans of WW I. (God bless them all–my own late father-in-law included.) I’d hoped her plans would include some suggestions for more and better use of this handsome but obsolete facility, but not so…. Continue reading Mysterious Origin of Funds for Bob Hope Patriotic Hall’s Restoration→
Five months to the day after the City of Los Angeles’ highly touted and justly reviled Prop B. for solar power lost at the polls, the Department of Water and Power’s top wonkdom showed up at City Hall last week to explain what they planned to do instead to turn LA’s copious sunshine into useful energy.
Problem was, no one there seemed to expect them. The City Council’s Energy and Efficiency Committee did convene, and there was a DWP item on the agenda. But it had been so long since the committee had asked DWP topkick David Nahai to come up with a substitute plan–you might as well call it a Plan B for Prop. B — that some committee members had given up on ever hearing one. The press ignored the show too (which was repeated that afternoon at a DWP commission meeting).
So there you were last Tuesday, with a huge bureaucratic sequoia falling silently in the political forest. The only echo of which was a full color billboard outside City Hall. It showed our mayor and said that LA was “successful” in ending the dirty burning of coal. Actually that isn’t close to having happened yet. And Antonio will have stopped being mayor seven years before it is supposed to happen in 2020. I couldn’t figure out who paid for the billboard.
The new Plan B was not, in fact, all new — although it little resembled Prop. B. But first, a quick refresher course on that defunct initiative… Continue reading Plan B for Prop. B→
A few months ago, I heard the arts editor of a prominent local weekly (no, not THAT one) say she didn’t like opera and didn’t know anyone who did. Just the other night a bunch of friends, sitting around my table, said the same…how dumb opera was, how long it took for anything to happen. Why bother?
All this made me wonder why, if opera is so unpopular locally, are its tickets so hard to come by? Is affection for grand opera another Love that Dares not State its Name? Did all these people in reality have season tickets, but were too frightened of being outed to admit it? Maybe even tickets to next year’s controversial Wagner Ring cycle? Which is costing LA Opera a reported $32 million to mount.
And which just drew a hostile motion from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. This was a motion which the rest of the LA County Board of Supervisors, confronted on the same day with the county’s worst budget crisis in 75 years, found time to flatten. Mike, as I get it, had just heard that Wagner was an anti-Semite. His reasoning seemed to be that the performances ought therefore to be diluted with material written by non-anti-Semites–maybe Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, or Rogers and Hammerstein.
Now, Mike Antonovich is probably the longest-serving elected local office holder in Southern California — certainly in LA County, where he’s been on the board for 29 years. I giggled to hear him assert, at a Monday press conference protesting the state’s homicidal new budget, that… Continue reading Wagner Wrangle→
Unexpected moments define a city. Over the past month, LA has defined itself down.
I’m talking about the city political furor surrounding the costs of the Michael Jackson funeral.
By now, we all know the story. The reigning, if sequestered, king of pop dies at 50. (Not an atypical age of death for drug abusing geniuses–classical pianist Glen Gould and sci fi genius Phil Dick were both druggies who died early in their sixth decades.) And the world shut off and the hype machine turned on, a machine that is only now sputtering down.
Meanwhile, the city bureaucracy, headless, since the mayor was in Africa on a mission of inconceivable importance, functioned well, if a bit over-conservatively. It put far more police on the street than the occasion, which brought out on the whole about as many people as did the average Lakers game, warranted. This seemed like good planning to me. Far better to over prepare than under prepare. Michael Jackson having not died before, it was hard to know just how many people would stand outside and mourn.
It was an orderly and respectful bunch who attended, in and out. There was a lot less public disorder than you’d have had at the above sports event. The only disorder was at City Hall, where, you would have thought to hear the attention grabbing noise, the runoff elections were going to happen next month instead of the last. Newly sworn City Attorney Carmen Trutanich vowed to investigate the purported $1.4 million policing costs, as though he suspected that most of the cops ordered out for the event had in fact ditched their uniforms and gone to the beach. Controller Wendy Greuel, of whom I frankly expected better things, vowed to investigate the out-of-county provision of sandwiches to the troops, at what seemed to me to be the fair market price of $7 a piece, plus power bars and gum (Do cops get to chew gum on the job these days? What would LAPD Chief Bill Parker think?). She scooted back into her City Hall den, however… Continue reading Far From the City of Class→
The Times’ veteran Bob Poll had the story a day late. I was surprised, having watched the regular City Hall reporters walk away from the Tuesday event. Maybe they were knocking off early to prepare for the big Inaugural the following day. OK, it was their call.
It goes without saying that the meeting was quite important. What was at issue was a fairly technical matter of granting the Gene Autry Museum the right to double the size of and rebuild its Griffith Park exhibit hall. In fact, the outcome appeared to resolve a long- unresolvable city cultural affairs conflict dating back some 25 years. Which had to do with saving that wonderful 95-year-old Mount Washington resource known as the Southwest Museum. Founded by LA’s great eccentric historian-pioneer Charles Lummis, by the early 1980s, the institution was hanging on for dear life. A trusted and beloved executive had been caught selling off artifacts. The collection, most of it stuffed into the landmark tower that juts over Arroyo Parkway, was succumbing to water and vermin damage. The attendance was down, the antique elevator wasn’t working a lot of the time. If you weren’t a school kid on a compulsory class trip, there was almost no chance you’d ever visit it.
And yet this museum, on its 12-acre landmark site, contains the greatest assortment of Native American art and artifacts in all of North America, maybe the world. Of course, that too was part of the problem… Continue reading Saving the Southwest Museum→
A few days in another town: Boston, the least happy place on the planet when the Lakers win the championship. It’s also the US city that began a new era in mass transit nearly 50 years ago, when, in the same year that Los Angeles was scrapping its last Red Cars, it created America’s first new major trolley line since way before WW II. Making it the first US city to realize that the urban transportation future didn’t just belong to the automobile.
That 1960 Riverside line is now connected to the vast MBTA Green Line light rail network, whose original 1897 downtown segment was the first US subway line. After 1900, the old Boston MTA, of the famous folk song, also built several different heavy rail subway-elevated systems, each with incompatible equipment—a possible tribute to long-ago City Hall corruption. It also has portions that are dauntingly weird. Take the Silver Line, a hybrid bus system that runs partly underground and looks like it want to be on rails… Continue reading The Meaning of Beantown→
As a guy who’s been covering LA for around 25 years now,I want City Hall to be a happy place.It’s the `60s guy in me I suppose: “Hey everybody take hands with your brother and all get together and love one another right now.” Rarely, it seemed, you did get that mood in City Hall, and when you did, usually something good happened. Like the trainload of relief aid the city sent to Mexico after the `85 quake. Or the anti-apartheid resolutions that spread from Tom Bradley’s office to the statehouse and all over the nation—helping to end South Africa’s undemocracy.
But the times aren’t right for that mood just now. These, in fact, are the toughest times since at least the early 80s— when lastthere were last real layoffs, as opposed to simply the elimination of unfilled jobs. The insider mood nowis fear.Increasingly, the city’s 30,000 or so employees are looking at one another with the suspicion that some of them, at least, won’t ever get to have a retirement party. Does this mean that they’re going to be working harder to help us civilians when we show up at service counters, so that they’ll get better performance evaluations? Maybe so. The offset, however, will be longer waits in line and shorter counter hours. While libraries go back to the two-day-per-week schedule or even close. And after-school youth programs that have painstakingly, over the past decade, liberated some city parks from gangs disappear, and the gangs return.
This is probably why you haven’t seen a happy face for quite a while on the city’s own officialvisage,Antonio Villaraigosa.I noticed this for the first time early this year, when AV rolled out his State of the City speech in a corner of the city so obscure that it was actually south of Torrance… Continue reading City: Mayor dates; LA Waits→