How LAUSD’s Teacher Problem is a Moment of Truth for Progressive Future of California

Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; PC: Namekian Blast
Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; P.C: Namekian Blast

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – MLK Jr.

I: Standing with Our Teachers

This week national attention will continue following the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) over the bevy of tensions with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) called out in their five-day work stoppage at over a thousand K-12 public schools in the union’s first strike after nearly thirty years.

Demonstrations led by the union throughout the past five days have enjoyed broad support from parents, fellow union workers, and much of the public at large, but their most lasting effect will be the framing of UTLA’s struggle with LAUSD as a matter of ‘the soul of education.’ I would like to consider with readers the essence of education in Los Angeles by posing the following questions:

How is it that the second largest city in the United States, which is renowned globally for its film culture, sports teams, university and star-power, is unable to successfully matriculate less than half a million kids in Los Angeles each year? By extension, how is it that the state of California, known as the fifth largest economy in the world for a gross domestic product of over $2.7 trillion as of 2018, spends just a pinch above $10,000 per student at LAUSD and similar school districts under its governance?

A stroll down the public memory lane of California’s politics can tell us quite about how we arrived to this juncture.

II: Prop 13’s Legacy on Public Education

The year was 1978, and according to state department info, California was just over half of its current size at an estimate of 22 million people within its jurisdiction.

California was also a far whiter place to be, with just over 70% of the state’s population identifying as Caucasian. Latinos in the state made up just over 18% of the population, while Black, Asian and Native Americans each made up less than ten percent of the pie.

Public data also show that in 1978, about 55% of California’s 22 million residents were homeowners. As of the fourth quarter of 2017, of the roughly 40 million people in California today, the percentage of homeownership is actually the same, with 55% of the state’s current residents being homeowners. The rate alone says much about the power dynamics held in the state over the last forty years, but we will look at it later.

For now, all we need to know is that it’s amid these circumstances in 1978 that along came a figure by the name of Howard Jarvis, a businessman and Republican who described himself as “mad as hell” at property tax rates in California. Across a barrage of television ads and interviews in support of the proposition, Jarvis rallied about “a revolution” in California tax laws.

Prop 13 was that revolution, drafted to reduce the amount of property taxes that the state would be allowed to collect from homeowners and ‘commercial property’ owners or corporations by almost 60%.

Proponents of Prop 13 argued that it was a tax relief meant to disentangle home and property owners from unfair tax burdens each year, while opponents countered that the initiative would cripple public goods such as schools, parks, libraries, public transportation and other tax-funded goods.

On June 6th, 1978, despite repeated warnings from then-governor Brown and other civic leaders regarding Prop 13’s effect on the public sector, California home and property owners overwhelmingly passed the bill with nearly 65% of the tally.

As a result, over $7 billion worth of public revenue was taken right out of the budget for the following fiscal year. Needless to say, summer school for 1978, among other programs, was immediately taken off the schedule following the bill’s passage.

If a similar tax reduction were passed in say, June 2020, it would be the equivalent of $27 billion out of the budget, or over a seventh of the $209 billion budget proposed by incoming Governor Newsom earlier this year, which allocates nearly $81 billion towards funding for public education in California.

$27 billion taken out of public education in the 2020-2021 year would wipe out funding for over a third of California’s schools, immediately leaving nearly 2.5 million students with no access to a basic education as mandated under U.S. law.

But the most noteworthy effect of Prop 13 is its hold on taxes in 2019. For example, today a Californian who bought their property in say, 1980, pays the same property tax for their home or commercial space that they paid in 1980.

They can then lease out that space to a Walgreen’s or Starbucks–and again–due to Prop 13, pay the same taxes on the property as they did when Jimmy Carter was president. While this has been good for that owner–saving them tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–what they avoid in taxes is money that never goes to support local schools, libraries, public transportation, and other public goods the surrounding population depends on.

Or, as Jennifer Bestor puts it in one interview regarding Prop 13’s tax rate for a certain commercial property in her neighborhood:

“We’ve got about 15,000 square feet of space. And it’s only paying $9,337 a year in property tax. I’m not an assessor but I would expect to pay about $75,000 or more a year in property taxes. Essentially, they’re getting a $65,000 free ride…that’s six and a half kids who could be educated for the amount of money that they’re escaping.”

Prop 13 has set the tone in California for more than forty years since passage. But the property taxes saved for home and business-owners are a major part of how the fifth largest economy in the world ranks 41st in the States on per pupil spending. Now, UTLA teachers beg the question of just how much Californians values a universal education. Although it’s not an outright contest of public education versus private property, Prop 13 makes the two issues inextricably tied.

III: Charter-School Growth

Currently, LAUSD is reported to hold over $2 billion in its surplus or reserves, which the superintendent and several LAUSD board representatives insist are meant to keep the district from bankruptcy over the next three years, particularly due to a growing pension deficit. Nevertheless, UTLA is demanding of the district a significant reduction in class sizes, more resources to schools such as full-time nurses, counselors and librarians, and last but certainly not least: a cap on the growth of charter-schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed schools that “compete with” LAUSD schools for funding.

It’s a significantly different set of demands than those of the last work stoppage by the union, when in the Spring of 1989 UTLA walked out on LAUSD under the leadership of organizer Wayne Johnson. In a recent interview conducted by the L.A. Times with the union’s old organizer, Johnson commented on the difference between his union’s strike and current struggle between UTLA and the district:

“‘UTLA keeps saying it’s not about the money. With us, it was almost 90% about the money.’”

What Johnson means is that most of the tensions between his union and the district centered on wages. But one can argue that it’s still about the money, although this time in terms of LAUSD’s expenditures over the course of the next ten to twenty years. Simply put:

Under the current trend of charter-school growth in Los Angeles, which tend to be non-unionized, contracted-out or ‘freelanced’ schools, LAUSD stands to see a significant reduction in costs for running schools over the long-term. This is because a school that offers no retirement benefits or health-care coverage is far cheaper to run than a school that’s consigned to exactly those benefits.

Supposed proponents of charter schools, like the Washington Post editorial board, argue that charter schools offer “options” to low-income students like those of Los Angeles. But this is an obfuscation of the facts. While it’s true that charter schools offer an alternative for parents to LAUSD’s often outdated and overly bureaucratized system, it’s also true that charter schools are sporadically based, stripped down versions of public schools that operate like different islands to each other.

That is, there is virtually no connection between one independently run charter school and another. This means that in the case a certain charter school fails to meet the needs of a certain student, parents are left with “options” for other charter schools that could function completely differently from their first choice, and which may be similarly under-equipped to meet the needs of their child, or even less so. For the Post to argue that this amounts to “options” then, is hollow and misleading. No wonder it’s owned by Amazon.

Moreover, the argument that charter schools merely “create options” ignores the fact that privately run schools funded by public tax dollars are fundamentally a challenge to the traditional model of public education as a profession for teachers and “a right” for students and their families. There is also thus far no convincing study proving that charter schools in Los Angeles are “on average” better than traditional public schools for matriculating students and their families.

Still, should charter schools bear the total brunt of the UTLA’s ire? One can see why the union would press for more regulation of charters for fear of job security, but are the schools in fact the existential crisis they’re often made out to be?

The fact is that LAUSD’s pro-charter board representatives have thus far refused to draw a line in the sand to relieve the teachers union of their concerns with respect to the growing privatization of the district’s finances through charter-school growth. Now, UTLA has pushed the issue by bringing a national spotlight to the discussion, and whatever extra leg of support Sacramento provides LAUSD as a result of extra public pressure will be by and large thanks to the union’s mobilization.

After all, if Jarvis’s “tax revolt” of 1978 showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing like a good ole push for ‘revolution’ to stir things up with the status quo, in this case LAUSD and Sacramento’s under-funding of the public good.

Of course, Prop 13’s legacy would ultimately prove to work merely for one sector of the electorate, with consequences for future home and property owners alike. And as Wayne Johnson himself would concede, the gains made by his teacher’s union were largely gains to the benefit of just the teacher’s union. A subsequent set of questions thus emerge:

Exactly what are negotiations between UTLA and LAUSD supposed to accomplish? That is, will the gains be solely for the union to claim as it’s been in previous struggles, or are students, parents and other members of the community in fact a part of the ‘soul of education’, and thus a part of the solution going forward?

IV: The future of Los Angeles and Other Major Cities

Information regarding the costs of the failure to adequately educate young people has long been publicly available. A study released in 2006 points out the financial losses that accrue for the state following the dropout of a single high school student. Similarly, J.T. has noted that as recently as 2008, the graduation rate at LAUSD was only 48%.

In 2019, while the district is closer to an 80% graduation rate, the fact is that the vast majority of its graduating classes are not college-ready and thus less likely to obtain four-year degrees in the six years following the receipt of their high school diplomas.

Simultaneously, today there exist endless studies documenting the disparity between how much California spends on the imprisonment of its population versus what it spends on educating that same population; by extension, the ‘school-to-prison-pipeline’ is a far better known phrase to the electorate than it was just ten years ago.

It’s therefore clear to enough of California’s electorate that there’s a problem with these and other disproportions in the state’s spending, except that since time immemorial there’s been an economy to pay attention to: rent, taxes, gas prices, Twitter and Facebook, and on.

This is not to look over the steps that voters in California have taken over the last decade to reinvest in the public interest, however:

In 2012, Californians passed Prop 30, which temporarily increased sales taxes and raised income taxes on the wealthiest to support “emergency funding” for the state’s school system.

In 2016 and 2017, Los Angeles voters passed Measure M and Measure H, respectively. Measure M increased sales taxes in the county to develop more public transportation in the city, while Measure H increased sales taxes to develop services for L.A.’s homeless population.

In 2018, California fended off Proposition 6, sold as a “gas tax repeal” that sought to reverse a voter-approved tax increase to repair roads and infrastructure throughout the state.

But problems remain looming. 2018 in California was also a year in which rent-control advocates were soundly defeated at the ballot box when nearly 60% of voters rejected Proposition 10, which sought merely to give cities authority to enact local rent-control ordinances in response to California’s growing housing crisis.

This is of concern because as it should be clear by now, the issues of housing and the right to property are fundamentally related to the issue of public education in California. In an analysis of another challenge facing the district over the next few years, that of diminishing enrollment, writer Christopher Weber points out:

“The downward trend in enrollment is due to skyrocketing housing costs that keep families with school-age kids out of the city and the growth of charters — privately operated public schools that compete for students and the funds they bring in.”

Consider one more facet of this political battleground in the Golden State. At nearly 40% of the state’s demographics, today Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in California. Whites, meanwhile, at 37% of the state population continue to shrink in numbers. What’s also true, however, is that the vast majority of Latinos in California are not home or commercial property owners. Many of them utilize public transportation, play soccer at public parks, and check out books and movies at the state’s public libraries. It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that nearly 75% of the students at LAUSD today are Latinos.

Thus, in 2019, demographically speaking, it’s no longer Jarvis’s California. But structurally, the system he and his contemporaries left behind still holds, creating our present dilemmas with regards to the public sector. Except that if there was any doubt as to whether we’re ready to confront this past for the future of the state, the past week should make it clear: the conversation on justice through education is not going away any time soon; it’s here to stay.

Or, as one Mr. Razo, of Telfair Elementary in Pacoima, recently noted to the L.A. Times:

“We have so many entertainment companies and professional sports teams,” Razo said. “I went to a Rams-Packers game and the ticket was $350. What if just 10 cents from every sports ticket sold went to public education?

J.T.

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Education in Los Angeles: A Look at the Numbers

LAUSD chart graduates_

In 2008 the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was reported to have graduated only 48% of its class for the 2007-2008 school year. In 2017, a study tracking the college enrollment rate of that same 2008 class found that within twelve months of their graduation, 58% of LAUSD’s high school graduates enrolled in a two-year community college or four-year university. The study goes on to show that by six years later, however, only 25% of those graduates would have their four-year college degree.

Public data also shows that in the 2007 – 2008 school year, the total number of students enrolled at LAUSD was estimated to be just over 694,288 students. Accounting for a graduation rate of 48% then, we can estimate that at the end of that school year, only 333,258 of those enrolled left the schools with their diplomas.

Applying the data from UCLA’s study showing the 25% college success rate for those students by six years later, we can also determine that of the 2008 high school class, of nearly 700,000 students, only 83,314.5, or 8.3% of them would successfully complete a college or a university education six years after their graduation from high school.

Today in Los Angeles, the graduation rate for this same public school district is cited as being at 77% as recently as the 2015 – 2016 school year. But the improved rate is not indicative of the district’s struggle to improve educational and college readiness at the schools.

For example, UCLA’s report also shows that in the 2013 – 2014 school year, less than a third of the class of 2014 graduated from the district with an A or B grade point average, implying that over two thirds of the class left the district with C or D grade point averages.

UCLA’s study goes on to show that while the difference between a C and a D grade point average might not seem like much, students with only a D grade point average are five times LESS LIKELY to enroll in a two or four-year college.

In Los Angeles today then, for a new generation of high school students, a district with an underwhelming track record in qualitative education and college preparation is only one of their challenges. Lest we forget: these students are attending L.A.’s public schools at the same time that a real estate boom in Los Angeles continues unabated, driving up the cost of living, evicting working class families en masse, and leading many either to seek shelter somewhere along L.A.’s Skid Row district, or straight out of town.

In March 2017, the Sacramento Bee reported that similarly to the way Latin American countries ‘export’ their human labor to the U.S., the Golden State is also a human transporter, that is, of its working class, to states like Texas and Oklahoma.

According to the report, “California exports more than commodities such as movies, new technologies and produce. It also exports truck drivers, cooks and cashiers. Every year from 2000 through 2015, more people left California than moved in from other states.”

In Los Angeles, with a school district where less than 9% of students obtained a college degree six years after their high school education, the work options are limited. And with the cost of living rising, Los Angeles and California as places for such people to live are also limited.

In the same report, the Bee notes that out of the state’s 58 counties, it’s been in the wealthiest two where there’s been the greatest number of expulsions: “the state’s exodus of poor people is notable in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, which combined experienced a net loss of 250,000 such residents from 2005 through 2015.”

I wonder of those 250,000, just how many were students at LAUSD at some point.

This is Los Angeles. And it is ongoing. That is, until we place our foot on the dial.

J.T.

Education in Los Angeles is Still a Civil Rights Issue

Earlier this week Ref Rodriguez, the district 5 representative at the Los Angeles Unified School District, which represents schools throughout Silver Lake, Los Feliz, East Hollywood, South Gate, Vernon and more, resigned after pleading guilty to charges of money-laundering and conspiracy in his campaign for the district seat. Rodriguez originally took his place on L.A. Unified’s board after beating out Benett Kayzer for the appointment in 2015.

I still remember the mail-ads when Rodriguez challenged Kayzer in 2015. It was an often deceitful and indignant race that preyed on people’s fears, not so different from the national campaign waged for the country’s highest office a year later, though with a more local touch; Rodriguez’s campaign sent out ads accusing then-incumbent Kayzer of racist voting policies during his four-year tenure on the board, of leaving his district’s classrooms in ruins, of underpaying school employees, and more. These were distortions of the facts, however: photo-shopped images, votes that were misconstrued, and paid spokespersons. Nevertheless, the consistency with which these ads were delivered to the voters was relentless, and thus distortions of the facts eventually turned into some of the only sources of information for great portions of the electorate.

The race was also a matter of time, however, in that the ‘teachers’ union-backed’ Kayzer waged a lackluster defense of the seat. Although the LAUSD race was a much smaller one than the presidential race in 2016, the same principles needed to be applied to the ‘defense’ of the public interest: in order for voters to come out, they had to be inspired by a particular vision, and Kayzer didn’t much inspire las vecindades towards such a vision. Rodriguez, on the other hand, by virtue of his last name, was regarded as a potential representative for a predominantly Latino district that’s often felt underrepresented in policy-making at both the state and national levels despite accounting for major swaths of the demographics throughout.

I still remember at that time speaking with people throughout the community like the elderly residents of the neighborhood who were interested in a change at LAUSD, for which Rodriguez seemed like just the harbinger; when such individuals at our schools and throughout our communities, who put in major time and investments to both, feel forgotten or unaddressed, it’s a problem. But when the leaders of our community choose to address such people only until election time, that problem becomes a potentially serious liability.

At the same time, when people are fatigued by news cycles followed by election cycles that often do little to speak to the day-to-day concerns of their livelihoods, school board elections come off as only more ads on top of ads and concerns that offer little of substance to them.

But school board positions, while appearing like minor affairs in comparison to national contests, do have major implications. They therefore attract interests from all sides of Los Angeles, including interest from the likes of individuals such as Richard Riordan, the former L.A. mayor and local millionaire on the West side of town. Riordan is a Pro-Trump supporter, and also one who’s known to support candidates on the side of privatizing more schools.

Donors or ‘Philanthropists’ like Riordan, who’ve fared well for themselves with various investments in banking, venture capital, and the sponsorship of these initiatives, have much to say about educating youth in Los Angeles, that is, in the millions of dollars range, but little to no experience in an actual classroom. They nonetheless enter these races, however, and therefore impact not only the outcome, but how people can discuss the issues in the race to begin with; the millions they throw in are matched by millions on the opposing side– or what comes closest to matching that amount–and in the throes of these expenditures, what substance there might be in a contest between two candidates is drowned out by ads, ads, and more ads like the ones Ref Rodriguez deployed against Kayzer.

Something similar to the race between Rodriguez in Kayzer in 2015 would take place two years later. In 2017’s two LAUSD races for Districts 4 and 6, Netflix Co-Founder Reed Hastings was reported to have donated over $7 million to an Association backing the candidates on the side of privatizing more of L.A.’s schools. Both of the candidates supported by these and other donations were successful in beating out the (teachers’) union-backed board representatives at that time, including Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla, respectively.

I’m not able to speak on Padilla’s behalf, but I can speak for my experience as a student at John Marshall High School when Steve Zimmer served as a counselor there; since as far back as my time as a ninth grader in 2004 during my first semester at that school, Zimmer was known among friends and I as a counselor we could count on for a safe space at a time when the consequence for missing class or showing up late could mean a suspension or even a court date. Faced with administrators and a disciplinary system that often suspected the ‘B track’ kids in the crowds were usually up to no good, it was a tense environment for students of color then; but with Steve, there was never a moment of doubt: he didn’t care where we came from, he’d show his support to us regardless.

This was forgotten or discarded somewhere in Steve’s reelection campaign when Reed Hastings’s millions poured into the race. But it is not altogether forgotten quite yet. The pueblo has to remember.

Today’s discussions regarding equity and equality at schools in Los Angeles distinguish two main camps: either pro-charter or pro-union reformers, or people for the privatization of these schools (with public funds), and people for the ‘traditional’ public option. These labels, like the ads, inundate the electorate and ultimately do not tell the whole story about either position. But they should not do so in any case.

Ultimately, at the start of a new school-year, neither charter school advocates nor teachers’ unions alone can produce the best results for the students of Los Angeles; it’s going to take the whole pueblo, the whole state, and the entirety of a collective nation before we can mark a true culmination from the civil rights movements which fought for and brought home the decision in Brown Versus the Board of Education.

In the meantime, however, it is important to note what has happened in these local histories. Those who do not know history are still doomed to repeat it.

J.T.

California Primary Elections: June 2018 Recap

According to the Washington Post, just over 6.9 million people in California cast a vote for the state’s June 2018 Primaries–the largest recorded in the state’s history for a primary election–out of a total of over 19 million registered voters, to make for a 36% ‘return’ rate.

However, when considering the total number of all potential voters in the State’s Registrar, listed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s records as being at 25 million eligible voters, the turnout rate becomes 27%, or just over a fourth of the possible turnout.

To make things more interesting, when considering the total population of California, the most recent census records show that the Golden State is comprised of over 39.5 million people. To be sure, the census also counts people who are imprisoned, undocumented immigrants, and other non-voting citizens such as youth under eighteen years old. Nevertheless, if the total population is considered, it makes the Primary’s ‘turnout’ rate even smaller, at 17% of all the citizenry in the state, or less than a fifth of the ‘democratic’ or participating possibilities.

In contest for June 2018’s primary elections was the state’s Governorship, a seat for one U.S. Senator’s position, various seats for the U.S. House of Representatives, local courtroom positions, measures or ordinances varying from county to county, and more, like the recall of Judge Aaron Persky in Santa Clara County, for one.

Now, a quick glance at which groups comprise the California population:

From the U.S. Census Bureau’s ‘Quick Facts’ online:

At 15.4 million, Latinos account for 39% of California’s population.

At 14.6 million, Whites hold 38.8% of California’s population.

At 5.9 million, Asians maintain 15% of California’s population.

And at 2.5 million, Blacks constitute 6.5% of California’s population.

At 633,000, Native Americans compose 1.6% of California’s population. And at 198,000, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders form 0.5% of California’s population.

My favorite data for this election, however, is Political Data, Inc’s Absentee Vote Tracker (AVT), which tracked the early return of ballots on both the day before the Primary election as well as the day of, tracking up to 2.8 million returns of the 6.9 returns overall.

We’ll take a look at some of the numbers, particularly the following about which groups were mailed a ballot for the primaries, and which groups actually submitted those ballots.

According to the AVT, the day before and the day of the election, the percentage of ballots held by the states voter’s along ethnic lines were:

Latinos: 2.2 million (25% of the total)
Asians: 1.05 million (12% of the total)
Blacks: 312 thousand (4% of the total)
Whites: 5.2 million (59% of the total)

What the numbers suggest is reason for pause: similarly to L.A. County’s Special and Municipal Elections, voting at the State level is still the matter of a huge disparity between the White and Non-White populations who make up California.

Remember our Census data: at 15.4 million of the overall population in California, Latinos outnumber Whites, even if by only less than a percentage point. When it comes to ballots held between Latinos and Whites before election day, however, there are more than two White voters for every Latino voter, and nearly five times as many White voters for every Asian voter. This is what inequality in the democracy of the Golden State looks like.

On the day of the Primary election, the numbers are more startling.

Latino returns: 367,000 (13% of the total)
Asian returns: 295,000 (11% of the total)
Black returns: 75,000 (3% of the total)
White returns: 2.04 million (76% of the total)

Of course, one should also note that these numbers are from just the day before as well as the day of the vote, which obviously makes them incomplete. But in midterm elections like these, which are usually less popular and thus more predictable, the probability that early returns are indicators of a normal distribution is usually higher than not. In other words, after counting the total overall, the 76% rate of Whites who voted in this last election is probably off by only a few percentage points in one direction or the other.

The implications are that the current inequality between white voters rates and those of people of color when considering the larger voter eligibility pool of the latter group in Los Angeles and California is more than just unfortunate, it’s something of a public safety concern; if recent trends in U.S. politics show us anything, it’s that very few groups feel adequately represented by the country’s current institutional makeup. Just as relevant: although the state and its officials certainly like to claim they welcome immigration and the diversity of the land, when it comes to the distribution of power between its various groups, California’s white population is as much in control of the state as whites are in places like Tennessee or Arkansas, both states that overwhelmingly voted for the current administration.

It was in 2014 that the PEW Research center identified Latinos as the largest ethnic group in California, which is considered a preview for the overall direction of the U.S.’s ‘majority-minority‘ poised to arrive in the next twenty-five years or so. But if the current trends in California’s voting disparity between whites and non-whites here continues, one can only reasonably calculate for an even more radical inequality at the national level in terms of power and policy between the groups than what we’re seeing today.

J.T.

“Homelessness” in Los Angeles Today is the Result of Decades of American Discrimination

Winter in Los Angeles; Winter 2016
Winter in Los Angeles; Winter 2016

In Los Angeles lives the type of progress towards social issues much like what the rest of the country faces, where the wealth of executives at the city’s largest institutions sits unthreatened while masses of low wage workers beneath struggle to make it to the next paycheck. These economics are accepted as irrevocable facts, natural and indefinite as the geography of Los Angeles, rather than as circumstances of human decision-making which have been reinforced over the course of time.

The same principles apply to the treatment of those who’ve exited the workforce or who’ve declined or been prevented from entering it to begin with, such as the so-called “homeless” of L.A. This is a population made up of veterans, LGBTQ youth, formerly incarcerated, and swaths of others who’ve been historically neglected by Uncle Sam and generations of U.S. populations.

Recently, the L.A. Times has taken up a new series regarding the issue, and while it is a step in the right direction, editorials like these still need to work on their context.

Take for example the Times’s neglect to mention the legacy of homeowners’ and Neighborhood Councils’ historic anti-Blackness. This is not just a documented phenomenon in Los Angeles, but throughout major cities in the U.S. It is relevant because to discuss “homelessness” without its racial component and documented antecedents would be like discussing crime in America without discussing who is criminalized in America and why. Of course, L.A.’s city council just recently voted to criminalize people sleeping in their cars overnight. Do not wonder why or for whom that is directed towards.

Back to the matter at hand: anti-Blackness in American cities has been most recently documented by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s piece on Redlining districts in Chicago, for example, or Isabel Wilkerson’s coverage of race rioting through Harlem, New York in The Warmth of Other Suns. But Mike Davis has also discussed anti-Black fervor in Southern California in his landmark City of Quartz.

For the skimmers, just know that in the fifties white and white immigrant homeowners and landlords firebombed Black families when they moved into their neighborhoods in urban America, while in other cities they pelted them with rocks and beat them to a pulp largely without any legal repercussions. Once these actions no longer worked to keep the influx of Blacks fleeing Jim Crow in the U.S. South for the “free North”, whites either up and left further north or further into the U.S. inland to maintain the dividing lines.

White flight, as it’s called, didn’t have to be catastrophic in and of itself, but the phenomenon largely left Black families and neighborhoods in urban America to desolation since so many of the small businesses and government jobs that were once there left with whites, too.

Lo and behold, then, that over half a century later in our major cities so many descendants of yesterday’s dividing lines happen to be “homeless” and predominantly Black, the likes of whom today’s homeowners and Neighborhood Councils (as opposed to yesterday’s ‘Covenants’ and ‘Associations’), resent and resist. This is not a coincidence. But it is historic.

One might say it’s history repeating itself, albeit on upgraded terms. Blacks fleeing Jim Crow in the U.S. South for the “free North” during the 20th century is significantly different from Black veterans and formerly incarcerated Blacks or Black LGBTQ in the 21st century needing basic shelter and the means by which to support themselves. But these events are not disconnected.

If the L.A. Times is serious about garnering attention for “homelessness”, then, it will do well to make sure its reporting accounts for the circumstances across American history that have led to this issue’s proliferation, or at another glance, its modernization.

We can do this, Los Angeles

J.T.,

On Nights like this: Looking Fancy with the Korean Resource Center

 

The sky and the stars become one, turning the night into a fountain of youth for all of The City to drink from.

Enjoy your youth Los Angeles,

J.T.

Voting in Los Angeles: Municipal and Special Elections 2017

Less than 18% of registered voters in L.A. County cast ballots for the Municipal and Special Elections of Tuesday, March 07, 2017. But in the election postmortem, when L.A. County’s Voting Registrar and KPCC discuss the paltry turnout of voting in The City, the key point is how they talk about it: they neglect to mention the demographics of Los Angeles. Yet the turnout or lack thereof for voting has much to do with ‘identity politics.’

If we’re going to talk seriously about the turnout, that is, to make an impact on it going forward, discussing “the voters” in purely abstract terms is not helpful. We have information at our fingertips, and it’s meant to be used; below, for example, is a telling info-graphic on voters identified before the election on March 7th, 2017, either by registration or vote by mail submissions.

As a note, these graphs are incomplete. They do not account for people who identify as mixed, Native American, or Pacific Islander as the 2013 Census does. However, the graphics nonetheless offer valuable assessments for a comprehensive look at the patterns we’re dealing with when it comes to voting in Los Angeles.

Returns

Based on the data, we can see that elections start early through the registration of voters. In terms of eligible voters, whites outnumber their non-white counterparts by considerable margins at 47%, or nearly half of all registrations. However, the combined population of non-white registered voters is slightly larger at 52%.

Assuming that each of these voters hold a place on the vote-by-mail list –as is standard procedure– the potential for at least a reasonable turnout of the vote either by mail or on election day is there.

When it comes to ballots returned from those registered voters, the number of returned ballots from 18 – 24 year olds is exceptionally low at 3.4%, while the number of returned ballots from 25 – 34, 35 – 44, and 45 – 54 year olds is spread more or less similarly across the board at 10%, 10.4%, and 12.9%, respectively.

The highest number of returned ballots from registered voters, however, comes from 55 – 64 year olds and those 65 years and over, who make for 19.3% and 44% of returned ballots, respectively.

When it comes to the racial makeup of ballots returned after election day, according to the data, white voters make up for more than half of all returned ballots at 64.7%; the non-white population on the other hand, makes up for 35.7% of returns.

There is a considerable dropoff, then. Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast, post-election day only 37% of ballots turned in belonged to non-white voters.

Is there a way to be more specific, however, or to see more about L.A. voters besides their age and racial category? Sure. The three categories for the large numbers below as set up by the samplers are ‘registered’, ‘has ballot’, and ‘returned’, respectively. This data more or less corroborates the aforementioned, but also tells us about voters’ living situations.

Screenshot 2017-03-13 at 3.25.25 PM - Edited.png

From here, since we already know that Senior white voters make up for more than half of all returned ballots of the share, we can also see from this second graphic that these folks are overwhelmingly a group of homeowners, outnumbering apartment renters by essentially 58%.

Finally, we can also see that a sizable portion of vote-by-mailers registered or re-registered for November’s general election, and that hardly any new voters entered the game in 2017.

Based on the information presented by these graphics, then, what’s clear about politics in Los Angeles is that while most of its constituents, or the 52% of eligible voters are stuck in traffic somewhere, a swath of mostly Senior white homeowners are electing the city’s officials and policy-making decisions.

What a fascinating dynamic. At a time when the 2011 Texas legislative session has just been indicted for drawing district lines discriminating against Black and Latino voters in favor of Republican Anglos, we might say that L.A. is a 2011 Texan Republican’s perfect empty vessel, a dreamland of political opportunity for white identity politics.

Isn’t that something?! But of course there’s more the story; again soon.

For POC Today,

J.T.

Los Angeles, the Disconnected Metropolis?

Madison Avenue Park: Feb 2017
Madison Avenue Park: Feb 2017

In Los Angeles this week we just capped off a round of Municipal and Special Elections, with turnout for the elections at 11.45%. 2017’s low voter turnout for the special elections actually ranks lower than previous low for an election in Los Angeles, when in 2013 the mayor’s seat was up for contention. In 2013, only 18% of eligible voters decided who would be mayor of the second largest metropolitan city in the world. In an interview discussing the low turnout rates for the city, Dean Logan, the L.A. County Registrar, admitted that the current setup for people to cast their ballots is “arguably outdated”. It’s high time–and even late–for Logan to finally acknowledge this.

What’s also true is that as a geopolitical landscape in the 21st century, L.A. is more decentralized than ever; looking at the city from the street or from above, one would be hard pressed to pinpoint a sense of community in the constant conveyor belt of automobiles stuck in traffic through its avenues and boulevards. Exactly where civic engagement is supposed to begin when a city is so disconnected from itself is almost anyone’s guess.

Even so, 11.45%? No way! But there is a larger point here.

In an effort to follow the elections as closely as possible for POC Today–and also because I just couldn’t keep myself from looking–over the last month I’ve uncovered a treasure cove of data regarding the political framework of Los Angeles. The result is a true backdrop of information that will serve as a place from which ideas and momentum will be born for POCT going forward. For example, check out the table below to get an idea of the look and feel of L.A. as a geopolitical entity.

Screenshot 2017-03-08 at 4.38.00 PM - Edited.png
Of course the table can only say so much. But keep in mind that L.A. is arguably the least visible metropolis in the West, which is to say that when visitors get here, the common question will almost always be: just where is Los Angeles, exactly? As in, where does it begin, and just where does it end? Unlike that other city out in the East coast, or the one north from us in the bay, Los Angeles is spread out like a waffle, with enclaves enclosing one community after the next, so that the city is definitely aware of itself but without ever actually seeing its other sides.

In this way, when stuck in between some part of the waffle, the citizens of Los Angeles can hardly connect with a greater sense than one’s self, and so there isn’t much of an “L.A.” except as seen on Dodger caps and commercials. The only things we can be certain about is that traffic and congestion are getting worse by the day, and also that it’s getting warmer out each year. Moreover, citizens just work and pay taxes here to fund their local government and schools. Aren’t the elected officials supposed to take care of things from there?

Which leads us naturally to: What vote? There is no vote! Too many votes with your vote for this here and your vote for that there!

But with more in no time,

J.T.