Amanda Berman, Marlon Boarnet and me for LA APA’s Wednesdays at the Mercado

APA LA is proud to introduce our latest series, Wednesdays at the Mercado, a monthly series that will feature various panelists who will speak on current topics in planning in Los Angeles. These events will provide CM credits and provide refreshments and appetizers from restaurants in the Mercado.

This month’s topic, “Infrastructure and Mobility” will focus on the past, present, and future transportation landscape in Los Angeles. The panel will feature Dr. Marlon G. Boarnet, Director of Graduate Programs in Urban Planning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, Dr. Lisa Schweitzer, Associate Professor, Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, and Amanda Berman, a Los Angeles based cultural planner and one of the original strategist behind the nation’s largest car-free event, CicLAvia.

Amanda Berman is a Los Angeles based cultural planner, whose credits include the development of such temporary interventions as CicLAvia, Chinatown Summer Nights, and Little Tokyo Design Week: Future City. As the Director of Community Development and Planning at Community Arts Resources (CARS), a Los Angeles cultural planning and event production company, Amanda works to create strategies for the temporary and permanent implementation of arts and culture throughout the built environment.

Dr. Marlon Boarnet is co-editor of the Journal of Regional Science and an associate editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association. He has published extensively on questions of land use – transportation planning, urban growth patterns, and urban economics, and has conducted funding research on transportation topics for various state and national agencies.

Dr. Lisa Schweitzer is Associate Professor at the Price School of Public and specializes in urban studies, and, in particular, analyses of social justice, environment and transport. Her work has appeared in multiple popular and scholarly outlets, and her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

We will be serving refreshments and appetizers provided by the Mercado.

When: Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 7-8:30 pm
Where: Mercado La Paloma (Dove Marketplace)
3655 South Grande Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Tickets are free for APA Members
$15 for Non-APA members.


Mercado La Paloma is located in Los Angeles, at 3655 South Grand Avenue (Grand and 37th Street), right off the 110 Freeway, just blocks from the University of Southern California, and minutes from downtown.

Directions: From the 110 North, take the Exposition Blvd. exit. Turn right on 37th and take the first left onto Grand Avenue. From the 110 South, take the Exposition Blvd. exit. Stay in the left-hand lane and head south on Flower. Take a left on 37th and merge right to go straight past Hope Street. Take the next left onto Grand Avenue.
Public Transportation Accessible from the following: Metro Local 40, 42 or 446, Metro Rapid 740 or 745, Commuter Express 438 and the Metro Silver Line to the USC Station.
Parking: There is a small onsite parking lot and street parking available, please read the posted signs for parking restrictions.

Two demographers, Dowell Myers and Joel Kotkin, on the future of California: it ain’t looking good

So some of my students have sent me this WSJ piece citing Joel Kotkin about the future of California. According to him, California’s future looks terrible, due to its welfare and regulatory state. The piece is written by Allysia Finley, and here’s the bit of information that should scare us a bit:

Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.

The pithy quote:

“The new regime”—his name for progressive apparatchiks who run California’s government—”wants to destroy the essential reason why people move to California in order to protect their own lifestyles.

Kotkin’s point, a bit overstated perhaps, is that Californians are making it so miserable to
to try to start up a new business or buy a house that they are cutting their own legs out from under themselves–and they are doing it not because they really wish to protect the environment, but because they want to maintain the exclusivity of their neighborhoods and schools.

Leaving aside Kotkin, who comes off as abrasive in this piece, it’s hard to justify the regulatory and approvals process in California when you read stories like this one about Julie Pries working for two years in a recession to start up an ice cream shop in San Francisco.

Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.

The mayor’s response: a $1.5 million fund to help small businesses, which is chump change in a place where commercial rents are very high. How about just cutting approvals time in half, for starters, instead?

And that’s Kotkin’s point, once you cut through the WSJ’s “let’s all hate on California” nonsense: California is not doing itself any favors with this stuff, given how the state’s economy is not bouncing back. And Kotkin’s point about the state being divided into a playground for the rich and a haven for the poor simply echoes a point made by Californian’s superstar historian Kevin Starr several years ago. Like it or not, those of us with financial security in the state seem to feel little urgency to change the regulatory and approvals process to help out those who need a job at an ice cream shop.

As to his bashing on welfare: that doesn’t make any sense to me. With the recent budget cuts, the state has fallen from being first in services for the poor waaaaaaaay down to banana republic/deep south social safety net levels. So you can’t blame the state holding onto social support for impoverished people. It’s not doing so. So you’ve had your austerity/neoliberal fix there, WSJ/Rupert Murdoch. Where is all our economic growth that supposedly falls out of the sky with unicorns and rainbows once you grind the faces of the poor into the dirt and make them all work?

Dowell Myers, one of my brilliant colleagues, just released a major report showing that the state’s growth numbers are not good. Here’s the shorter news story.

The analysis also estimated that growth among California’s seniors, those 65 and older, will quadruple within the next 20 years, driven by the aging of the large baby boomer generation.

At the same time, growth among the main working-age population ages 25 to 64 is expected to slow, and virtually all the projected growth, or 98 percent, is comprised of native-born children of immigrants, or second-generation immigrants.

“In less than 20 years, the baby boom generation will all be senior citizens, and these projections show their replacements in the workforce will be the children of immigrants,” Pitkin said.

So basically, California turns into a great, big retirement village. Will those seniors stay or will they go? It’s hard to tell: if it’s difficult for people to start up the sort of businesses that help seniors cope with their new needs in the market, seniors just might leave for places that are more friendly to them where housing costs are lower. That means some of the concern about housing prices might alleviate.

All of this, however, is bad news for the bullet train, the other object of Kotkin’s scorn. The projected use for the train and justifying investment has hinged on population numbers that don’t fit the state’s new reality of economic stagnation. Myers is too optimistic and polite to say it, but that’s essentially what his report shows. If there aren’t any new opportunities, people can’t be pulled to the state.

All that just brings up the typical Keynesian arguments that if you spend state money on the train, the economy will grow, there will be jobs, etc etc and so what if we over-estimated the future population of the potential customer base? If you are not a Keynesian, spending billions on the train makes little sense in the light of these projections.

Is it unpatriotic to borrow from the Europeans?

By far, the most negative feedback I’ve received on last week’s LA Times Op-Ed concerns the notion that LA could borrow money from the European Investment Bank. The emails aren’t plentiful, but the ones I’ve gotten are plenty angry. The upshod:

America is the greatest country in the world, and thus, it’s wrong to seek money from foreign banks.

Well, ok. I’m not quite sure what to do with that argument. So I’ll try to break up different ways of thinking about it. Assumed is the idea that greatness is complete financial autonomy–that is, Americans finance their own government. This itself isn’t a terrible position to take, and given the loss of sovereignty experienced in Greece, Spain, and Italy, makes intuitive sense.

But Measure R is a bit different than sovereign debt. Well,it’s a lot different. Banks can know approximately how much to expect over the next decades from Measure R, even if there are some ups and downs, and they can limit what loans they are willing to make based on that information. It’s not as though LA’s mayor would head off to the world just looking for a loan based on general obligation bonds on taxes he has no authority or political hope of raising. Assuming that all debt is terrible and going to lead to a Greek-style meltdown is tantamount to assuming no bank should ever issue a mortgage again, even to people with steady jobs and sound credit, because a subset of homeowners got caught in the recent bubble. It’s tempting intuitively, but the analogy is off due to extraordinary conditions.

As to whether a city’s actions really reflect much on American strength, I can’t tell. All the mechanism I suggested–the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and private funds, like Meridiam–all are simply different doorways into the global bond market, anyway. So I’m not sure functionally that what door you walk through makes much difference.

Argue with me, somebody. Help me see the basis for the reaction.

Networking 101 and why you never badmouth your own PhD program

When I met with students at UC Berkeley and Harvard back in 1999 at various conferences I attended that year, I was looking at PhD programs. The message they sent to me was “are you good enough to be here? Are you as good as we are?” Snobby, of course, but it sent a strong message about how the students in that program thought of themselves. I didn’t go to those programs, but it wasn’t because I was worried about the quality of the people there. When the Berkeley students complained about the faculty, it was clear that the complaints were from young lions looking to shove the old farts off the pedestal. That’s ambition, and it’s hard to fault it when you, too, are young and ambitious and looking to knock some old farts off their old-farty pedestals.

I went to UCLA because their students’ message was “We’re just as good as Berkeley but we’re not as snobby about it.” And they were right. It was exactly the right program for me, and I’m very grateful for my time there.

Conversely, when students complain to outsiders about 1) the faculty; 2) the facilities or lack thereof; or 3) anything, really, they send the following message to the listener:

a) the person complaining is either a whiner or loser or
b) this is a bad PhD program.

If the listener concludes that (a) is true, then you have just given them the impression than in 3 or however many years, you won’t be worth hiring. If (b) is true, then (a) is true by inference. Who but a loser would stay at a bad PhD program?

When you complain to new students, you are complaining to people who, if they don’t come to your program, will take away the message “Person X is a loser” and “University X has a bad PhD program” back to wherever they go, which YOU DO NOT WANT because you are going to be applying to jobs there.

When you complain to review committees, you are complaining in front of some of the most senior faculty in your field, giving them a reason to 1) not hire YOU because, while all of us know that graduate student complain (a corollary that all faculty complain; and all people complain), but some are smarter about it than others and 2) not hire any of your peers in case the program is, actually, bad.

The world of PhD employment is viciously, viciously competitive, and it will remain so. You want to be perceived as a top graduate from a top program. Students are as important as faculty are in reinforcing that image.

If you are not happy in your PhD program, I suggest you see a counselor. Really! And I don’t generally suggest this idea. A counselor can help you pinpoint what is baby versus what is bathwater about what is making you unhappy: some things may be your own lack of assertiveness, some things may be creative blocks that are driving you crazy**, and other things may be real problems in the match between you and your program or you and your advisor. Not everybody is a good fit everywhere.

Then you have a choice. You can work to fix what you think is broken, or you can find a program that suits you better. Both are perfectly reasonable options.

You have a choice about the message you send about yourself to the world. You can try “I’m really special and my advisor has it together so I’m wonderful, but the rest of these people are complete morons.” That’s a possibility. You can try “My university and my program suck, but I am still brilliant.” I’m no marketer, but I’m pretty sure those messages are less effective than “I’m hellz to the yeah the smartest and most innovative thinker in one of the world’s elite programs.”

Note that I am not saying that your concerns/complaints aren’t valid or not important. I am saying that there is a strategy for trying to fix what you see as broken without creating blowback for yourself. You don’t want people leaving a meeting with you saying “Thank God I’m not going to wind up that like that poor idiot.” You want them wringing their hands and fretting about whether they make the right decision by not coming to join you, just like you want everybody to regret not being able to hire you.

** This was a huge problem for me in my own PhD program. It’s STILL a problem. The work comes harder than I want it to (because I am impatient) and it HAS to be SOMEBODY’S fault. (Though not mine. Definitely not mine. Ahem.)

And November just got interesting again—Villargaigosa’s Measure R extension

So just when Santorum leaves and I’m faced with the possibility that reading about politics won’t be interesting enough to keep me away from doing real work (gasp! work!), LA’s mayor decides he’s going back to the ballot box to ask voters to make Measure R, a half-cent sales tax measure passed for 30 years back in 2008, permanent.

In Tony’s favor, it never hurts to ask, particularly when one is not running for re-election. For most US mayors who want to build more transit, the writing is on Belshazzar’s wall: we’re not likely to get a new transportation deal in DC at all before the November election. Unless something changes there–as in, we have a big, Goldwater-style doomsday for the GOP—if we get a deal after November it’s likely to be the Republicans’ deal. And they don’t want a federal infrastructure bank, and they don’t like sending money to California.

A couple journos called my Suburban Lair yesterday to talk about whether the Measure R extension has a chance of passing. I don’t think I gave them anything useful. Los Angeles County has had six or seven–I can’t remember–ballot box measures for sales taxes between 1975 and today, and three of them have passed: Prop A in 1980, Prop C in 1993, and Measure R in 2008. So based on the county’s history, it could go either way.

When Measure R was on the ballot, I spent time talking to both Democrats and Republicans about the measure, and among the Republicans, the fact that the measure would sunset seemed like a big deal to them. I can’t imagine they would be happy with the extension.

But if there is one thing that Mayor Tony’s crew knows how to do, it’s campaign. They are very good at it, and they got some key experience with Measure R, and they also have a pretty powerful network of businesses and nonprofits that threw their support behind the “Yes on Measure R” campaign–like most of the LA County museums. It seems likely that that coalition is still in place and readily activated for another initiative.

However, the continuation of the tax is a big deal, and the rationale–that they want to make sure they can borrow against the tax–has an assumption that will probably worry conservatives in the County: the fact that they aren’t comfortable borrowing against the tax that will sunset suggests that they know full well the tax as it is can’t support the existing project list without very, very low cost federal financing of the 30/10 plan. There are always cost over-runs, and it’s really really important that people not underestimate how expensive the subway to the sea is going to be. By releasing that sunset, the pressure to avoid cost over-runs goes away a bit. And that’s a problem for many conservative voters who see removing that constraint as a license to do what governments do: take on too much financial risk and manage projects poorly.

Photographing elderly animals

Beloved Fboo friend Kenneth O’Brien sent this story around, from the New York Times, on Isa Leshko’s photographs of elderly animals. Go see her lovely photographs here. Her artist commentary at the NYT is worth reading.

I regularly adopt older animals from shelters, and it’s always a roller coaster. You love them, then you lose them. But I don’t really fear dying much anymore. I have reached the age where, as Bill Clinton said, you realize that whatever happens to you doesn’t really matter much. Giving a few months of comfort and affection to an old dog or cat is worth a few tears of grief when they leave you for their next adventure.