Rick Caruso’s Missed Opportunity to Save Los Angeles

Karen Bass’s victory over billionaire Rick Caruso epitomizes what Californians are up against if they are to have any hope of rescuing their state. Bass, with her political origins as a communist activist and community organizer, and more recently as a Democratic Congresswoman, is now the incoming mayor of the City of Los Angeles. God help us all.

Rick Caruso, long-time Democrat who recently became a Republican, has proven yet again how money and consultant curated, moderate rhetoric do not win elections. In terms of spending per voter, Caruso’s $105 million campaign, financed with over $80 million of his own money, easily exceeds Meg Whitman’s $170 million outlay, squandered in her failed 2010 bid to become California’s next governor.

Like Whitman, Caruso tried to position himself as a centrist, hoping that moderate voters would join the small fraction of conservative voters to get him to a majority. But nothing Caruso had to say was explicit enough to excite conservatives, or differentiate him from Bass in the eyes of moderates.

Nonetheless, with Karen Bass. Angelenos are just going to get more of the same, whereas Caruso would have shaken things up at least a little bit. To illustrate how bad things have gotten, consider the “permanent supportive housing” proposal that relentlessly approaches groundbreaking in LA’s Venice Beach neighborhood. Everything about this project screams authoritarian corruption masquerading as compassion.

Dubbed by outraged Venice residents as “the monster on the median,” the proposed structure will look more like a prison than an apartment building. Sporting an architecture that might charitably be described as neo-brutalist, this concrete blockhouse will occupy the entirety of what is now a three acre public parking lot, two blocks from the beach. For years this city owned property has served as a farmers market, as well as a parking lot where families can leave their cars when having a day at the beach.

The tone-deaf unintentional irony of this architecture would be amusing if it weren’t so out of place and so abominable. Instead of ample windows that might offer ocean views, in order to be “energy efficient,” the windows are small horizontal slits. On one corner, a 70 foot watchtower is planned that will cantilever outwards as it rises to hover above the street, but since it’s dubbed a “campanile,” we are expected to perceive it as aesthetically titillating instead of simply sinister.

This monstrosity will cost over $100 million to construct, on land that’s worth at least another $50 million, in order to offer 140 units of subsidized housing. That’s over a million dollars per unit.

Rick Caruso would have cancelled this project. With Karen Bass at the helm, it will proceed. And therein can be seen everything wrong with homeless policy in Los Angeles. If all you do is construct subsidized housing in expensive neighborhoods, you will never build enough units to house the homeless. Moreover, even a homeless person, even if their mind is half-gone from substance addiction, can correctly interpret what they’re being herded into – a supervised (at additional tremendous expense), lock-down capable, minimum security prison. So what if it’s two blocks from the beach.

During his campaign, Caruso told voters that he intended build more free housing for less money per unit. This is hardly an inspiring thing to say to voters, most of whom are working hard to pay rent or stay current on their home mortgages. Caruso should have reminded voters that 70,000 people, the equivalent of more than four full strength infantry divisions, nearly all of them either drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, psychotics, or all of the above, have occupied their city and have terrorized them, and Karen Bass is going to make things even worse. He should have explained that Karen Bass isn’t about to defy the homeless industrial complex, that coalition of politically connected developers, powerful nonprofit service organizations, and public bureaucrats, who have fleeced taxpayers for billions of dollars while making the homeless problem worse instead of better.

A candidate who wants to win in Los Angeles against such entrenched power cannot just say he can save a few bucks building free housing for an army of homeless that have destroyed the quality of life in Los Angeles. He needs to say he intends to clear them out in weeks instead of decades, for millions instead of billions. How would this work?

Caruso could have said he would comply with the 9th Circuit ruling that prevents enforcement of vagrancy laws, but he would be more creative and less corrupt in how he interprets that law. The Jones vs City of Los Angeles ruling compels law enforcement to allow “camping in public places” unless the local government can provide the homeless free “supportive housing.” Caruso could comply with this ruling by directing homeless housing funds to be used to swiftly construct safe tent encampments in inexpensive parts of Los Angeles County, possibly on publicly owned rural land. For assistance he could hire a few experts from humanitarian United Nations missions who have built low-cost per occupant refugee camps, overnight, all over the world. Once these camps were built, Caruso could sweep the homeless up and offer them a choice – go stay with friends or family, or come with us. If that were done, it would probably surprise everyone how so many would melt away, returning to domiciles they’d previously spurned. The rest, separated by their various afflictions, would be in the new camps, off the streets, and getting the help they need. That is compassion. For everyone, including the homeless.

Doing something like this is not, unfortunately, part of Caruso’s public persona, even if he personally knows that it’s the only thing that’s going to work. Caruso has spent too many years of his life talking nice with public officials and appeasing “stakeholders” in order to build luxury shopping malls. He was not able to shift gears enough to beat the machine, because he’s spent too many years inside of it.

Critics of socialism are slowly coming around to the realization that in the 21st century, the leftist socialists and the supposedly right-wing corporations are promoting agendas that are more in alignment than in opposition. When socialists on the LA City Council impose a moratorium on evictions, it doesn’t harm the big corporate landlords who have the financial resiliency to ride it out. But it pushes the small families that might own an income property into a distressed sale. Regulations always help big corporations squelch the competition and raise prices to captive markets. Socialists love regulations.

When socialists on the LA City Council fund public housing projects, claiming such actions protect citizens from corporate real estate speculators, financial special interests simply invest in the private sector development corporations that build these projects, the private sector vendors that sell engineering plans and building materials, and reap huge tax deductions by donating to (and hence controlling) the nonprofit organizations that administer the projects. These private investors also increase their profits because the projects they’re investing in are partially subsidized by taxes and bonds issued to help the homeless.

Socialist rhetoric has become a tool of oligarchic capitalists. Explaining that novel new reality should be the task of every politician that seeks to break both the Democratic Socialist grip on the Los Angeles City Council and the homeless industrial complex’s grip on homeless policy. They are two sides of the same corruption. “Compassion” is the seductive emotional foundation for socialist rhetoric, but in practice, the socialist expression of compassion has the opposite result. It is not compassionate to allow drug addicts and psychotics to exist “free” by camping on sidewalks. Nor is it compassionate to force hard working responsible citizens to live in fear of being robbed or attacked by a homeless person desperate for money to feed their drug habit.

Instead of involuntarily moving the homeless into inexpensive, supervised compounds where they can get help, the corporate socialist remedy is to build a surveillance state and turn the entire city into a prison. Their solution is to build what are for all practical purposes minimum security prisons, at stupefying expense, in expensive neighborhoods, and try to induce homeless people to occupy them without coercion. Some will comply, enough to fill a few hundred beds at a cost of a few hundred million. Everyone in power in Los Angeles today is profiting from this hideous dysfunction. The subsidized builders, the public bureaucrats, the sanctimonious nonprofits. Only the homeless lose, along with every hardworking citizen of Los Angeles.

That’s the story Rick Caruso didn’t tell. And all the campaign money in the world couldn’t erase the fact that Angelenos wanted to hear tough common sense, instead of focus group calibrated, urbane and ingratiating tepidity.

This article originally appeared in Epoch Times.

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