He'll take Manhattan


Conor Friedersdorf lives in Venice. He writes for The Atlantic website and edits an online anthology, The Best of Journalism.

Friedersdorf doesn't think much of Los Angeles County's jurisdictional incoherence, based on his girlfriend's pet being excluded from a Santa Monica dog park and an anecdote about a screenwriter who had to convince Santa Monica inspectors that his hillside house was actually in Los Angeles.

Although Friedersdorf's distemper seems to be mostly over Santa Monica's irritating local government, he wants to make a larger point about governing Los Angeles. On the evidence in news stories about Lynwood, Maywood, Bell, and Vernon, Friedersdorf proposes that many of the 88 cities in the county are corrupt.

How many are many? Friedersdorf doesn't say, offering a pundit's generalization in place of "the best of journalism."

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But Friedersdorf doesn't really mean that many of the 88 cities of the county are corrupt. He really means the cities in a place he calls South L.A. are corrupt. Friedersdorf doesn't tell us which cities or where South L.A. is. Presumably, South L.A. is everywhere that Venice, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, and Hollywood isn't.

(According to current usage - and the city of Los Angeles itself - South L.A. is almost entirely within the boundaries of Los Angeles. Some unincorporated areas - governed by the County Board of Supervisors - are generally included. Only two other cities are commonly appended to South L.A. - Compton and Inglewood.)

Friedersdorf says that he rides his bike through Marina Del Rey, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach. These aren't South L.A. either, but their irritating boundaries lead him to offer a better system for governing Los Angeles County, where Venice dogs would be allowed to use Santa Monica parks and no elected official would be corrupt.

Friedersdorf's discontents would be eased, he thinks, if the county could be more like New York.

A pause while Angeleños guffaw at this ancient cliché to note that Los Angeles County is governed the way it is precisely because - for good reasons and some bad ones - the voters of the county, from 1888 on, chose not to be like New York at all. And when Los Angeles turned hegemonic from 1890 through 1927, annexing cities to expand, other voters in the county hastily fended off Los Angeles by incorporating newer cities.

I'm not sure that Friedersdorf realizes that Venice was one of the towns that failed to survive by this tactic, having been incorporated in 1904 and disincorporated into Los Angeles in 1925. Venice - like the former cities of San Pedro. Hollywood, Wilmington, Sawtelle, Watts, Eagle Rock, Hyde Park, Tujunga, and Barnes City - was swallowed up when Los Angeles, like New York, became a municipal colossus.

Friedersdorf's longs for paint-by-numbers citizenship, and his notion of good governance revolves around a conviction that Mayor Bloomberg and the 51 members of the New York City Council deliver it. He apparently isn't much of a citizen of Los Angeles, which requires too much effort. He knows that Venice has a Neighborhood Council (a product the 1999 reform charter), but he doesn't know what it does or how to become engaged in its work.

(He also says he's too confused to use public transit - the Big Blue Bus and Metro are beyond him, apparently - although he's careful to note his bike riding, which has become this age's proof of moral superiority.)

Friedersdorf reconstructs an overheard conversation in a Santa Monica backyard in which his complaints about the inconvenience of living here - and the lurking threat from South L.A. - end up (naturally) as irony:

Santa Monica backyard person: "We should just make Bell and Maywood and all those corrupt little cities part of L.A."

Other person: "What about West Hollywood and Beverly Hills?"

SMBP: "Those cities work."

OP: "You realize you're basically saying only rich people should be allowed to have their own cities."

SMBP: "Whoa. I mean, that's not what I'm saying. But I hadn't thought of it that way. So make everything part of L.A."

But making L.A. more like New York is an impossible dream. Out of sheer stubbornness, L.A. will remain L.A., Friedersdorf decides. The boho places where he finds solace will thrive. The kind of place where I live - out on the working-class flats - will sink beneath a sea of corruption.

If only L.A. were New York, all our inconvenient problems would be solved.

[An earlier version of this post misidentified the two backyard speakers. Neither was Mr. Friedersdorf.]

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Marcel Felbor. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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