To be fair, crumbling infrastructure isn't entirely a negative story, and I was reminded of this while driving through my neighborhood last week.
There are sections of Silver Lake Boulevard, near the Hollywood Freeway, where driving is like slalom skiing. You've got to bank left, then pull hard to the right, to avoid obstacles that include gullies, potholes and elevated manhole covers. Heading west, the street turns into Beverly Boulevard, and you're still clunking along on what feels like a pile of rocks.
Is it mere coincidence that auto repair shops are everywhere in that area?
I stopped at Rivas Tires on Alvarado Street, where Jose Reyes sees lots of customers with damaged tires and bent rims.
"Most of them hit bumps or potholes," said Reyes. And they're not happy when they hear the real damage: between $250 and $300.
I asked Reyes what percentage of his business is caused by poorly maintained streets. He talked it over with a colleague and they made an educated guess.
"About 70%," said Reyes.
I think I'm going into the tire business.
"The condition of the streets affects all of us," said Hollywood Pep Boys manager Ignacio Lopez, whose shop does several alignments daily. Not long ago, Lopez told me, he hit a doozy of a pothole in downtown Los Angeles.
"It popped my rim," said Lopez, who had to shell out about $100.
Unless you're in the auto repair business, though, this kind of thing makes you crazy, which is why our poorly maintained streets and sidewalks were such a big topic in the mayoral campaign that ended last week. So now it'll be Eric Garcetti's turn to see what he can do about it, not that he hasn't had a chance in 12 years as a city councilman, and I was just wondering:
Are there advantages to having a neighbor who happens to be mayor?
I'm sure Garcetti will love having me and other neighbors use his mailbox as a complaint box, assuming he stays in Silver Lake rather than move to Getty House in Hancock Park. But, hey, he and Wendy Greuel claimed to have all the answers during the campaign, whether it was the big-vision stuff or the tricky matter of eliminating budget deficits while restoring basic services.
And by the way, despite the fact that 75% to 80% of registered voters sat this one out, and the interminable campaign was like Groundhog Day every day, there were a few encouraging notes in the end.
Those who did bother to vote seemed to be poking a stick in the eye of the local establishment, rejecting high-profile endorsements and trouncing candidates backed by City Hall's big-money special interests. Greuel's $5-million advantage in independent expenditures, much of it from public employee unions, was an albatross. Voters also rejected highly financed but inexperienced candidates for the City Council and school board.
Does it leave us any better off than we were before election day?
Remains to be seen. You wonder if Garcetti is reminded of Robert Redford's line at the end of the movie "The Candidate," when he realizes he's won and asks his campaign manager:
"What do we do now?"
Balancing the budget, reimagining what's possible and delivering what's deserved won't be easy. If Garcetti can deliver on his not-very-specific plan to attract tech and other industries to Los Angeles, that might refresh the cash box so we can trim the trees and fix the sidewalks. But it won't happen if he can't do something about personnel and retiree costs that keep chewing bigger chunks of the budget.
What's the point of having an Ivy League mayor, though, if he can't figure this stuff out?
Garcetti said during the campaign that nothing's more important than our public schools. Here's a way to think about improving them: How many neighborhoods in all of Los Angeles offer good choices for elementary, middle and high school?
The answer is an embarrassment, so let's see what the Rhodes Scholar can do about it.
As someone who shares his ZIP Code, I'd like to remind Garcetti that people live in their neighborhoods first and in the larger, mythical city second. They want to root for the Lakers or Dodgers and drive to the beach, but not if they end up at Rivas Tires with broken rims.
And they'd like a little attention to the shabby state of city facilities.
My daughter plays tennis at the Griffith Park Recreation Center, where a big, unmaintained eucalyptus tree blew over in a storm about a year and a half ago, crashing onto the roof of the tennis center and damaging a fence.
The roof has not been fixed, nor has the interior damage caused by a leak. Nearby, two more trees fell several years ago, and only within the last few weeks did the city fill those holes with dirt. More than a year ago, city crews punched a hole in the men's bathroom to fix a leaky pipe, but they never patched the wall.
And although this is a rec center, the water fountains are all damaged, and one has had two traffic cones and a sawhorse placed over it for more than a year. Stenciled on the horse are the words "Park Services."
Give us just a little, and we'll be happy.