After years of waiting, Angelenos finally get approval to extend the Metro system to the airport.
Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times
After years of waiting, Angelenos finally get approval to extend the Metro system to the airport.
Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times
That's James Q. Wilson, the influential scholar and the "broken windows" theorist who died Friday in Massachusetts.
Jim and Roberta Wilson, married nearly 60 years when Jim died Friday, had returned to Los Angeles from Harvard in 1986 and were living in Pacific Palisades, not far from Jim's teaching positions at UCLA and at Pepperdine.
In time, they joined the book group that former Mayor Dick Riordan and I, along with attorney Bruce Merritt, began over 15 years ago.
Ours is a gabby bunch, many of us interrupting and talking over one another, but when Jim had something to say, everyone stopped to listen. He spoke vividly, precisely and concisely, and never with less than a fully reasoned and deeply insightful observation.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan had once assured President Nixon that James Q. Wilson was "the smartest man in the United States," so he was without doubt the smartest man at that dinner table.
I was always tickled whenever I wound up sitting next to Jim, for the pleasure of the droll sotto voce asides he'd sometimes make about the main conversation raging over the book we had all just read.
We disagreed on some books but found ourselves aligned on others. I was so pleased to have introduced him to a book that he later told me had become a favorite: Jay Winik's "April 1865: The Month That Saved America." And during the memorable and voluble evening when we all went hammer and tongs over one of the who-wrote-Shakespeare books, he and I were on the same side -- the Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare side -- against our British dinner companions who believed so ordinary-seeming a man could not have written such extraordinary plays.
The months when Jim and Roberta weren't at our book group, they had gone off on a lecture or book tour or on family visits, riding horses in the mountains or snorkeling -- or was it scuba diving? -- in some exotic waters.
They moved back to Massachusetts a few years ago to be closer to their family. We all missed his sage and sensible presence. With his death, I am reminded exactly how much.
Photo: James Q. Wilson is shown in Boston in this 1972 file photo. Credit: AP Photo, File
It is easy, and not altogether untrue, to think of James Q. Wilson as a conservative. He wrote extensively on morality, social order and duty. He was skeptical of gay marriage, supportive of the war in Iraq, and he was the most influential intellectual in the development of modern policing. But he was not foremost an ideological figure. As he told me in 2007, he wrote not to dictate answers but rather to explore problems. "I write," he said, "in order to figure out for myself what I think about the subject."
I knew Wilson for almost 20 years, our paths crossing rarely but, for me, always memorably. Never in our many conversations did I hear him answer a question by rote; he listened, thought hard, questioned his own assumptions as well as those of others. He would often give something to both sides of an argument. He was, unfailingly, too genuine to embrace slippery reasoning, even when it favored his side of an argument.
For many years, Wilson was a regular member of one of Los Angeles' most exclusive book clubs, which met at the home of then-Mayor Richard Riordan. It was Riordan who suggested I get to know Wilson, and I am profoundly glad that he did. Wilson, said Riordan, "is the most intellectually honest person I've ever known." Riordan could be wrong, but he was right in this case. Wilson leaves a great legacy of wisdom and curiosity, but his greatest contribution to his culture was his unswerving honesty.
A collection of Wilson's work for the Los Angeles Times over the years appears after the jump.
Photo: James Q. Wilson is seen near his office at UCLA in November 1996. Credit: Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's very big rock has started its very slow roll from a Riverside County quarry to the museum grounds in Los Angeles, where the 340-ton, two-story-high hunk of speckled granite will be set in place above a deep ramp dug into the Earth. Michael Heizer’s "Levitated Mass" has been more than 40 years in the making -- millions more if you count geology as the true creator. And, for almost as long as the work has been planned, a chorus of naysayers has denounced it.
The denunciations have picked up steam since the financial collapse of 2008. With the economy moving at an even slower pace than Heizer's rock (which will take 11 days to cover 105 miles), a lot of people consider "Levitated Mass" an outrage. How can LACMA justify spending some $10 million on it, they ask, when people are hungry, homeless and despairing?
This sort of lament runs in the background of arts funding even in the best of times, but it's gotten louder in recent years. After The Times' 2010 article on the expensive and extensive logistics of moving the rock, readers were up in arms. ("A new definition of insanity," harrumphed one.) LACMA's executive director Michael Govan told the New York Times: “I get these letters and telephone calls: ‘I can’t believe you. The economy is so bad, and you’re moving a rock?’ ”
Are the naysayers right?
Common sense tells us that with unemployment up and the safety net unraveling, the poorest should be at the front of the line. Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, wrote a January opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on this very subject. He was livid about the "misplaced giving priorities of the nation's billionaires." In particular he called out David Rubenstein, a private equity titan who had donated $7.5 million to restore the Washington Monument and $4.5 million to help the National Zoo's pandas. As Eisenberg pointed out, on the heels of the news that the marble-faced obelisk would be saved, came word that Hull House in Chicago, which has served the poor of that city for 120 years, would be closing its doors.
But just as surely as common sense champions the poor in hard times, it also champions the principle that donors should be left alone to give as they see fit. Most of the online commenters on Eisenberg's essay made that point: "What part of 'It's THEIR money' does he not understand?" "How dare Mr. Eisenberg tell anyone how much they should give, or where they should give it?"
Tucked into those arguments is yet another one: Whoever has enough moolah to move a rock for LACMA or save a panda is likely to be adding something to the bottom line of other charities, maybe even the kind Rubenstein would approve. The data, like so much else in this debate, work both ways.
According to an analysis in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2011's biggest donor was Margaret A. Cargill, whose $6-billion bequest set up two foundations and earmarked causes including disaster relief and arts education. So yes, Cargill is a prime example of how the 1% can give millions to move a rock and millions more to, say, Homeboy Industries, and never blink an eye. But the analysis also shows that America's biggest donors mostly give to its biggest institutions, like universities, and not directly to their local food banks. (BTW: Just 7% of their largesse goes to museums.)
LACMA, meanwhile, likes to point out that the millions donated toward realizing Heizer's vision have had effects far beyond the art world. Quarry workers, a logistics company, construction workers and city permit departments have all gotten a share. As Govan puts it, the sculpture is "putting more people to work here in L.A. than Obama. I mean, all the money is going to have an economic impact in California.”
In the end, of course, L.A.'s cost/benefit analysis for "Levitated Mass" may well come down to what we think of Heizer's art. It will be a month, at least, before the rock is in place and ready to be viewed. But here's a good bet: The only thing more likely to cause a ruckus than the cost of "Levitated Mass" is deciding whether or not it's art.
-- Susan Brenneman
Photo: Miriam and Jose Ramos stop by to look at the 340-ton boulder Feb. 29 on its first stop in Glen Avon on its way to LACMA. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times
In his Sunday column, Steve Lopez names names, pointing to specific public officials and departments that earned L.A. this dubious ranking. Lopez writes:
[I] think a better explanation for our current rot is that if you're a scheming public official in Los Angeles, stealing everything that isn't nailed to the wall is a breeze. Too many people aren't paying attention and can't be bothered to vote, which allows sleazy opportunists to easily build fiefdoms. And journalists can't bag every skunk, no matter how much we'd like to.
Above is cartoonist Ted Rall's take. And below are a few pieces by The Times' editorial board highlighting our city's most recent offenses.
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times
For sale: Beverly Hills mansion, $25 million, driveway and garage not included.
For sale: Vintage Ferrari, $5 million, tires and wheels not included.
For sale: Gulfstream V, $25 million, wings not included.
For sale: L.A. Dodgers, $1 billion-plus, parking lots not included.
So you answered "none of the above" too, right?
Then why are there still nine groups bidding for the right to pay beleaguered Dodgers owner Frank McCourt beaucoup Benjamins for a team -- and a stadium -- that needs upgrading, and they won't get the parking lots?
Really, this is starting to feel like the time your parents told you that of course you could go to the Springstreen concert -- as long as you took your 14-year-old brother. Or when you were in college, and there was that annoying frat brother -- but he was the only one who had a car.
Want to know what it's like to have Frank as your partner? Ask Jamie McCourt.
Honestly, buying the Dodgers under these circumstances would be like having Dick Cheney as your vice president.
Of course, not everyone is delusional. Of the 11 groups that made the cut in the bidding process, the Rick Caruso/Joe Torre bunch dropped out Thursday, citing the parking lot issue. That followed the reported withdrawal earlier in the week of a group that included former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley.
So who's still in? Well, the biggest local name is probably Magic Johnson, and then there are several East Coast types and assorted well-heeled folks -- all of whom apparently really love the Dodgers.
And what exactly is the parking lot scenario? From The Times' story:
McCourt divided the Dodgers and the parking lots into separate entities in 2005, with the approval of Major League Baseball. The Dodgers are in bankruptcy, but the McCourt entity that controls the parking lots is not.
The sale agreement between McCourt and MLB specifically permits him to retain the lots -- and build parking structures on them if he chooses.
The new owner of the Dodgers would inherit a lease for the parking lots -- at $14 million per year, with increases starting in 2015 -- and a separate loan that McCourt has said requires the team to play at Dodger Stadium until at least 2030.
Hmm, can you say "hamstrung"? Because all I hear are warning klaxons, starting with the fact that Frank managed to run the Dodgers into bankruptcy -- but not his parking lot company.
Which means that he apparently knows a lot more about running a parking lot than a baseball team.
So, worried about the high price of gas? Think parking in Chavez Ravine is expensive now? Wait until you attend a Dodgers game in 2015. Can you say "second mortgage"?
Not to mention what ticket prices will have to be if the new owners want to recoup their investment.
But the bidding goes on. You can talk all you want about a bad economy, but obviously the 1% folks are doing just fine, thank you very much, if they can pony up this kind of cash for part of a franchise -- and who knows, based on Frank's penny-pinching ways, the parking lots may turn out to be the best part of what's left.
Still, I've always been sure of one thing: Rich people didn't get rich by being stupid.
But in this case, you have to wonder if another old adage won't prove true: A fool and his money are soon parted.
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, left, and center fielder Matt Kemp. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images
Geographer Peirce Lewis once called the vernacular landscape our "unwitting autobiography." That got me thinking about one aspect of Southern California's vernacular landscape: the medical marijuana dispensaries that have proliferated in recent years.
Over the last several years, my students at Cal State Northridge and I have built a large photographic database of medical marijuana dispensaries. We documented the buildings and their signs and parking lots. Then, working from a list of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries compiled by The Times, we performed a content analysis of trends and patterns among dispensaries.
In the end, we identified four main dispensary types: ones that project the image of mainstream medical providers; ones that project a holistic "granola" vibe; ones that look like bunkers and appear to want to go unnoticed; and ones that make a clear appeal to "stoners," casting themselves as dispensing recreation rather than medicine.
You can see them for yourself in this collection of photos from our database taken between 2009 and now, with most of the photos snapped in spring 2010. They capture a moment in time when there was a proliferation of dispensaries.
--Steven M. Graves
Dr. Steven M. Graves is a professor at Cal State Northridge in the Department of Geography. He is also president of the California Geographical Society.
Photo: Various marijuana dispensaries. Credit: Steven M. Graves / For The Times
California Republicans and Latino voters have had a rough patch in their relationship for, oh, going on 20 years now –- ever since Proposition 187, the vast anti-illegal immigration ballot measure, parted the political waters and estranged many California Latinos from the Republican party for a generation.
This week, into this complicated history and this Latino-heavy part of California, came Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate, to raise money and raise some support for his campaign among Latinos.
There were a couple of points during Gingrich's whirlwind visit that surprised me -- surprised that perhaps Gingrich, a former history professor and now a student of Spanish, hadn't done all his homework.
The event at a South El Monte restaurant was billed as a "Hispanic Leadership Event." Maybe that’s the word they use in Eastern time zones -– Georgia, Gingrich’s home state, has a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce -– but in these parts, the term "Latino" is far and away more common and even preferred.
And then, also at the South El Monte event, Gingrich reiterated his pledge to kill the Environmental Protection Agency, as a job-killer "with no sense of responsibility."
South El Monte is at the heart of a major Superfund cleanup site, a place where the groundwater was contaminated over decades with industrial solvents. As recently as last year, several companies that owned or ran operations there have agreed to pay a total of $13 million toward the federal cleanup, with several more such claims pending.
-- Patt Morrison
Photo: GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich meets with Latino supporters during a campaign stop at a Mexican restaurant in South El Monte. Credit: Los Angeles Times / February 13, 2012
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
Oh, the irony. Is it the hammer of justice? The gavel of comeuppance? Or just another judicial election?
It may be wrong to take satisfaction in the fact that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lynn Dianne Olson drew a rare challenge in the June 5 election (read last week's news story by Metropolitan News-Enterprise reporter Kenneth Ofgang). But if taking satisfaction is wrong, then at least for now I don't want to be right.
Perhaps you remember Olson. She was the operator of Manhattan Bread and Bagel in Manhattan Beach when, six years ago, she filed an election challenge against Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs. And won. Janavs, an experienced and well-regarded jurist, was forcibly retired to make way for Olson, who had not practiced law in years and was patently unqualified to take the bench (she drew a "not qualified" rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., and a thumbs-down from the Los Angeles Times editorial page; Janavs was rated "exceptionally well qualified").
Of all the 140 or so incumbent judges who were standing for reelection, why would Olson pick Janavs? Olson explained later that it was because Janavs was a Republican, but there were lots of Republicans to challenge. Janavs was beatable, probably because voters breezing over a ballot and candidate names they don't know are more likely to pick an easy name like "Lynn Olson" over a tough-to-pronounce, foreign-sounding one (it's Latvian) like "Dzintra Janavs."
In California, most trial judges are appointed by the governor, but every two years a few candidates are elected to fill vacancies -- or challenge sitting judges at the ballot box. Challenges are rare. Successful challenges are rarer. And unlike with other political offices, in which voters should have a free hand to oust incumbents for any reason or no reason at all, it's a bad practice to boot out competent sitting judges. Why? Because we want them to remain sufficiently independent in their rulings, and not feel that they have to make popular decisions or to hook up with a political party, fundraiser or special interest just to keep their jobs.
Most judges go unchallenged when they are up for reelection, and their names don't even appear on the ballot. They automatically win a new six-year term.
So Olson ousted Janavs (although then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost immediately reappointed her). And now, the first time Olson is up for reelection, she has been challenged. No automatic re-up for her.
The challenger? Perennial candidate Douglas Weitzman. Olson has the edge in campaign and fundraising know-how, but still -- instead of cruising to automatic victory, she will have to campaign and raise money to keep her job.
What's this called? Payback? Turnabout? The hunter becoming the hunted? Divine justice?
Or just a judicial election.
[For the record, 3:12 p.m. Feb. 14: The original version of this post misspelled the word comeuppance in the headline.]
Photo: No credit. From a 2006 election flier.
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich officially announced his candidacy for county district attorney Thursday. That took a good deal of chutzpah because during his 2008 campaign, he signed a pledge to seek a second term as city attorney and to forgo running for any other office, including district attorney. If he violated his promise, Trutanich said four years ago, he would donate $100,000 to an after-school program and take out full-page newspaper ads declaring "I am a liar." As far as we can tell, The Times has yet to receive an ad request from his campaign -- and Trutanich hasn't addressed his seeming hypocrisy. Below, editorial writers Jon Healey and Dan Turner debate the issue.
Healey: When running to succeed City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, Trutanich argued that Delgadillo's outsized political ambitions made him a distracted and ineffective leader of the city's law office. His target wasn't just Delgadillo; it was also then-City Councilman Jack Weiss, the front-runner in the race for city attorney who was also viewed as a political climber. Trutanich hammered home this point in late 2008 by publicly swearing to serve two full terms if he were elected and reelected. He also challenged the other candidates to join him in signing a pledge to "not seek any other elected position including Mayor, U.S. Congress, Attorney General or Los Angeles County District Attorney while serving as Los Angeles City Attorney."
By his own standards, Trutanich is a liar. And considering his willingness to lie to voters, I don't expect him to keep his pledge to the local print media or to the L.A.'s Best After School Program either.
Turner: There are certain words and phrases that, when emitted from politicians' mouths, have ceased to have much meaning. When I hear them being uttered, I tend to substitute them in my head with those muted horns used on the old "Charlie Brown" specials whenever an adult was talking. (In Charles Schulz's world, the words of adults were so superfluous that they could be reduced to background noise.) So, for example, when Mitt Romney pledges not to "go negative" against his fellow candidates, what I hear him saying is "Wah wohh, wah woh, wah wa wa wa." Another good phrase worthy of a mental horn section: "If elected, I will not use this position as a springboard to higher office."
Well, of course you will. Politicians routinely lie about this for the same reason most job seekers lie about the same thing: If I'm applying for a lousy job at a banana stand because I need to beef up my resume so I can apply for a commissioned job selling used cars, I'm not going to admit that to my prospective employer -- and woe to the banana-stand owner who’s naive enough to believe me when I claim that it is my greatest ambition in life to spend my career selling chocolate-covered bananas. In 2003, a former Assemblyman named Antonio Villaraigosa claimed he was solely interested in serving on the City Council and wouldn't interrupt his term to run for mayor; two years later, I doubt he stopped to think twice about whether to jump into the mayor's race. When Jerry Brown was running for California attorney general, he told The Times' editorial board that he had no interest in higher office -- he was too old and tired to consider running for governor, he said. We all know how that ended.
Obviously, just because it's common doesn't make it right. And Trutanich's promises were so emphatic that he now finds himself in an unwinnable position: If he honors his promise he has to admit to being a liar, while if he fails to honor his promise he is implicitly a liar. But another problem with this kind of about-face is that neither Trutanich -- nor Brown, Villaraigosa or any other politician guilty of such a flip-flop -- was necessarily lying at the time they made the promise. Many of them might genuinely have thought they were telling the truth. But circumstances change; an office that seemed unattainable might suddenly open up because an unbeatable incumbent chooses not to run, for example. There's nothing wrong with adapting to changing circumstances. You just have to explain your reasons to voters, which is a case we have yet to see Trutanich make.
Healey: I'll concede that the job of city attorney is a political one, so it's not necessarily bad for voters if the person holding that office sets his or her eyes on higher office. After all, term limits force those who win the job to think prematurely about where they'll go next.
The problem with Trutanich is that the centerpiece of his sales pitch to voters was that he wouldn't do that. The office had been so neglected by Delgadillo, he argued, that its main client -- the City Council -- refused to rely on its advice. The lawyers there needed a committed manager who could turn them into the city's best law firm. So, three years into the job, Trutanich finds out that the office doesn't really need a full-time, hands-on manager?
I don't think that's what Dan means by "circumstances change." Trutanich didn't have a revelation about the city attorney not really needing to focus on, you know, his job. He had a revelation that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley wasn't going to run for a fourth term after all. Trutanich also evidently learned that he liked being an elected official and figured he'd enjoy it more in a more powerful seat.
Humble, deferential people do not win a lot of elections. Ambitious ones do. Yet there's a difference between pols facing term limits who cast about for the next place to land and those whose eyes have been on a different prize all along. Now that Trutanich has made it clear that the city attorney's job was just a stepping stone, he's put himself into the latter category. And that makes me wonder whether he's really interested in being district attorney, or is that just a rung on the ladder too?
Turner: Your point about Trutanich making his pledge a centerpiece of his campaign is a good one. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether they can forgive him for that. Trutanich surely knows that he's got some explaining to do, but I'm not sure that we should fault him for not yet coming to the plate -- he just announced his candidacy today, after all. He's got plenty of time to lay out his rationale for changing his mind.
Personally, I'm not sure why it matters whether or not Trutanich considers the district attorney job to be just another rung on the career ladder (Next stop: state attorney general?) If he is a successful DA, he might deserve to be elected attorney general; if he isn't, he won't win. Don't we want successful politicians to bring that success to higher offices? When managers succeed in the private sector, they get promoted, which is good for the company, and the same principle can and should apply to government. But I take your main point: The real question is whether Trutanich can be trusted. If he's lying about his future ambitions in order to get elected, what else is he lying about? I just think that in politics, there are forgivable lies and unforgivable ones. "I did not sleep with that woman" seems a forgivable lie because it's one that powerful married men conducting affairs can be expected to tell, and it doesn’t really impact a politician's job performance. "I am not a crook" -- when you've been caught eavesdropping on political opponents and performing an array of other dirty tricks -- seems like an unforgivable one.
On this scale, I tend to put "I promise not to seek higher office" on the forgivable side. But I'll be more or less convinced about that depending on Trutanich's skill in justifying his actions.
[For the record, 6:09 p.m. Feb. 9: Good grief! The original version of this post misspelled Charles Schulz's name. Rats.]
Photo: L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times