What an absolute disaster the city of Los Angeles is

What an absolute disaster the city of Los Angeles is.

Over the past week three sitting council members — Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León, Nury Martinez — found themselves embroiled in a scandal that quickly went nationwide for spouting racist nonsense in a meeting with a union boss as they schemed how to bend the city’s redistricting process in their favor.

It’s both totally disgusting — but also not really that surprising. Los Angeles City Hall has been a cesspool for years and the current scandal is just the latest to bubble up from the otherwise insular world of City Hall insiders.

In 2020, Mitchell Englander, whose only real distinction was being the sole Republican on the council, was charged “with obstructing a federal investigation into cash, lavish meals, escort services and other gifts that officials say he accepted from a businessman,” as the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Joining him on what was described as a “debauched” trip to Las Vegas was his aide and now Councilman John Lee (who, for the record, insists he did nothing illegal and was never charged). Englander reported to prison last year and was later sent to a halfway house.

Meanwhile, former Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar is currently on trial on federal corruption charges. One of the great details of his case was the reportedly $130,000 or so in cash he had stashed away in his closet at home when the cops searched it.

On Wednesday, Huizar’s brother “admitted in a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court that he took cash from José Huizar on numerous occasions and immediately wrote checks back to him or arranged to pay his expenses, and then lied about his actions to federal investigators,” according to the Department of Justice.

This particular scandal also brought down former Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan. He is also awaiting trial.

Good stuff.

Then there’s Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was elected to the council in 2020 after a long stint on the county Board of Supervisors.

In October 2021, Ridley-Thomas, along with the former dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, were indicted for a “bribery scheme in which [Ridley-Thomas’ son] received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county contracts and lucrative contract amendments with the university while he served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors,” as the DOJ explained at the time. The former dean has already admitted her role in the scheme.

And this is just the stuff we know about.

In the midst of all of this, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went off the rails years ago. From backtracking on major campaign promises to delusionally exploring the possibility of a 2020 presidential campaign, Garcetti’s ambassadorship to India has been on ice for over a year because most senators are smart enough to see there’s only risk to a vote for Garcetti. This is especially so after his right-hand man, Rick Jacobs, was beset with misconduct allegations.

With these being the sort of people in charge, is it any wonder the city of Los Angeles is so dysfunctional and can’t get any problems solved?

Is it any wonder that tens of thousands of people have been living on the streets for decades?

Is it any wonder that the city blew a $1.2 billion homeless housing bond on developments that cost over $700,000 per unit to build?

Is it any wonder that only narrow special interests, from select developers to big unions, seem to benefit most from whatever it is the city does?

Is it any wonder that the city has long maintained an alarmingly high rate of poverty?

Is it any wonder that the city has continued its economic trajectory of wide inequality?

Is it any wonder that the city has wasted vast proportions of its budget on government pensions rather than city services?

No one should be surprised. City Hall has been a clown show.

It’s been that way for a long time; we’re just seeing the long-term consequences of fundamental problems.

It has been nine years since the Los Angeles 2020 Commission warned that “Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a city in decline,”

They noted the lack of public engagement with and transparency out of City Hall, of the problems of bloated bureaucracies, City Hall insiders and special interest influence.

Those are all the same problems that plague the city of Los Angeles today.

Of course, there’s only so much any commission or report can do. And so here we are — if council members aren’t heading to court or the exits under a dark cloud, many of the rest are so far to the left that people should just start taking and placing bets on how long it will be before Los Angeles completely implodes.

I say all of this, yes, as a cynic, but also someone who has lived in the city of Los Angeles most of my life.

A place with all of the potential Los Angeles has shouldn’t have the absolute trash heap of a government that it has had for years. But it does.

Most, if not all, of the aforementioned political creatures are products of dysfunctional political machines, who then have their own little fiefdoms once elected. That’s what Cedillo, de León and Martinez were so intent on protecting. They used the cover of “Latinos” and the Latino community, but they’re in it for themselves at the end of the day.

Most Los Angeles residents couldn’t name their council member and even fewer could say what exactly any of them have done on any matter of significance. That will need to change if Los Angeles is going to course-correct. City leaders need to be held accountable for what they actually do and which special interests they meet with and answer to.

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Whether it’s big business or big unions, the special-interest hold on Los Angeles needs to be shattered. The racist trio were meeting in a union building with a union boss. Think about that.

Outdated rules, regulations and bureaucracies that empower insiders and council members need to be scrapped so that council members focus less on helping their buddies (or themselves) and more time figuring out how to address the city’s broader problems.

However the city proceeds, the status quo cannot endure. It is broken, it is destructive and it is failing the people of Los Angeles.

Sal Rodriguez can be reached at

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