Is Blade Runner Really Downtown's Future?


Local political gadfly Ron Kaye accuses the general pattern of downtown development, with huge subsidized projects failing or bringing few benefits to the people, as leading to a Blade Runner future for L.A.

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The details of his indictment:

the policies of the City of Los Angeles have gradually brought to life the dark, dystopian vision of LA as "Blade Runner City" -- a toxic town with giant digital billboards on towering skyscrapers flashing down on the squalor and poverty below...

In the three decades since, billions of dollars in tax revenue have subsidized luxury hotels and gleaming skyscrapers downtown and in Hollywood, many adorned with digital billboards and 20-story high supergraphics.

All the while, the poverty rate has soared, neighborhoods declined as the infrastructure aged and deteriorated and large corporations with good-paying jobs fled along with much of the middle class.

The Blade Runner vision even inspired the design for developer Hassan "Sonny" Astani's bankrupt 30-story loft and condo project "Concerto" near Staples Center and LA Live -- a project whose profitability was to be enhanced with two 14-story moving graphic LED-panels for advertising.

Astani is a go-to player for city politicians, contributing nearly $40,000 to their campaigns since Concerto started going through the planning process in 2004.

The L.A. Times on Astani's tortured history fighting the banks he borrowed from and owes millions to for control of the still unfinished project.

Kaye also takes aim at the city's subsidies to businesses such as Chinese electric car maker BYD, which add to the rich get richer, poor get poorer aspect of the dystopian future, as all taxpayers funnel money into corportate hands. As the L.A. Business Journal reports:

the 150 office and research-and-development jobs that the Chinese company promised by next year - a figure that has since been reduced to 102 and delayed until 2013 - are not coming cheap.

The incentive package extended to BYD will amount to some $5 million over five years, according to a Business Journal estimate, and could cost even more if the company experiences financial difficulties and the city is forced to assume BYD's lease obligations as it has pledged.

That means even if the company creates 102 jobs, each one will cost taxpayers more than $50,000 - at the same time city businesses grapple with some of the highest municipal taxes in the country. The city hopes that the company will eventually locate a manufacturing plant here, but there is no promise that will happen.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason magazine (where I work as a senior editor) takes aim at the general fecklessness of L.A. city redevelopment projects, focusing on the Slauson Central Retail Center. Government involvement in development, building, and subsidies often has results that run far afield from initial high expectations, including funneling money from the unconnected many to the connected few.

Image taken by Flickr user YoNoSoyTu. Used under user Creative Commons license.

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