Back in 2008 I profiled developer Rick Caruso--then, like now, a possible LA mayoral candidate--in a cover story for the LA Weekly. At the time, Caruso had been teasing his impending mayoral candidacy off and on for nearly five years, yet he had done little to formally promote a holistic vision for the city. "Aside from the occasional call for hiring more cops," I wrote, "Caruso has thus far declined to hop on a soapbox and use the bully pulpit to advocate any radical change in city government."
Caruso's lack of openness regarding his ideas for how to govern the city lead to what I called "the underlying assumption...one the developer himself hasn't publicly disputed, that Caruso aspires to turn all of Los Angeles into one giant Sinatra-filled retail project -- and that becoming mayor is but a steppingstone in this pursuit."
I dismissed this notion as hyperbolic, and spent the rest of the piece trying to figure out what Caruso was REALLY all about. Because, REALLY, building Grove's in every quadrant of Los Angeles might be his business plan, but it couldn't REALLY be the civic blueprint for his proposed mayoral tenure...
Some of his ideas made sense. Caruso told me was against subways in LA because they were prohibitively expense. "What about elevated?" he suggested.
Indeed, what about elevated? It's cheaper than tunneling, offers nice views and isn't subject to at-grade interferences like traffic, stop-lights, trash and crazy people. It can be an eyesore, but if a developer like Caruso commits himself to building elevated rails, odds are it would actually get done. We're still waiting for tunneling to start for that subway.
On this point alone he almost had me ready to vote for him.
Four years later, Caruso has put his name out there again to run for mayor. And this time around he's being more vocal about his plans for the city. And I have to admit, where once I would have considered voting for him, I'm now officially terrified.
Speaking to a forum in the Valley last week, Caruso seems to have abandoned his previous consideration of a Chicago-style elevated train, in favor of...a city-scaled version of his trolley-to-nowhere at The Grove and The Americana.
"If you build an engaging, interesting transportation system in Los Angeles, at the street level, where people can get off and walk Ventura Boulevard, shop, get back on, go grab a bite, get back on, connect to their car and then get home, or vice versa, all of a sudden, you're serving that customer and you're serving those businesses to move the customer around and start spending dollars along boulevards."
Um, we have a system like that. It's called the bus. And it's among the slowest forms of public transit in America.
Putting that aside, the primary purpose of public transportation is not so people with money can window shop. It's to get people to work and school and to the doctor if they're lucky enough to have health insurance. Maybe a few tourists will hop on a trolley in the middle of the street and hop out to hit up the Hard Rock Cafe, but anyone who owns a car will not. Because it will take for friggin' ever to get anywhere.
I say this having lived in New Orleans, where there are trolleys in the middle of the street. As romantic and pleasant as that is (and as fun as it is to catch a trolley, drunk off your butt at 5 in the morning in the French Quarter) when I had to get to work I either drove, biked or rode the bus. The trolley was literally my last option. It's slow. It makes too many stops. It's subject to lights and at-grade crossings and homeless people taking a nap and dogs and joggers...you get the picture.
The Grove and The Americana are fine retail destinations. If I want to catch a movie or buy an aspirational blazer, I'll swing by. But they are not the master plan for a more functional Los Angeles. People don't need "engaging" transit that takes them from retail hub to retail hub. They need reliable, quick, cost-efficient transit to get where they need to go. So that, if they're lucky in this economy, they'll maybe have a few bucks left over to fork over to The Grove at the end of the month.
The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the California Endowment.