December 4, 2017

JOEL KOTKIN: Eric Garcetti for president? Really?

Someone may be putting something in the Los Angeles water supply. In the past months, two unlikely L.A.-based presidential contenders — Mayor Eric Garcetti and Disney Chief Robert Iger — have been floated in the media, including in the New York Times.

But before we start worrying about how an L.A.-based president might affect traffic (after all this is the big issue in Southern California), we might want to confront political reality. In both cases, the case for our local heroes’ candidacies is weak at best, and delusional at worst.

The Iger case is, if anything easier to dismiss. Iger can sell himself, like Trump, as a business success story, and with probably far-fewer questionable business transactions. Yet Iger, trying to run as a progressive in an increasingly left-wing Democratic Party, will face numerous challenges that dwarfs those faced by Trump.

Iger, for example, will have to run against the sad record of his company’s self-serving interference in Anaheim. Disney is generally a low-wage employer, and, in Orange County, this can be seen as contributing to the enormous disparity between cost of living and low salaries. I don’t suggest that companies should be primarily social justice warriors, but when a corporate executive runs, he’s going to be subject to their scrutiny. . . .

If Iger suffers from Mouse made illusions, Garcetti gets his from urbanist circles, who increasingly maintain that mayors should run the world. This may seem strange given that core cities account for barely a quarter of our major metropolitan population. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, most of regional growth takes place well outside the urban core. The slow growing city, which was first claimed to have reached four million people in 2008, has still not achieved that number according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Unfortunately for Garcetti, L.A. makes a hard sell as an exemplar for the economic future. Some cities like New York and San Francisco, have enjoyed robust expansions of employment in the past decade, but not Los Angeles. Overall, notes a recent survey in Wallet Hub of 150 cities in the country in terms of job prospects, ranked Los Angeles 115th well below less hyped places as Irvine, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario and even Fontana.

Garcetti’s has tried to sell L.A.’s “silicon beach” as a hot tech location but, despite the success around the now faltering Snapchat, overall STEM growth over the past decade has been slightly negative. Remarkably for a one-time tech behemoth, the county now has less STEM employment per capita than the national average. At the same time, rankings of inequality and poverty, as measured by urban theorist Richard Florida, place the L.A. area, which includes the surrounding communities, dead last among the 20 largest metros. Overall the poverty rate in both the city proper and in the riot zone is higher now than before the 1992 riots.

Has Garcetti’s density agenda paid off elsewhere? One in four Angelinos, according to a recent UCLA study, spend half their income on rent, the highest again of any major metro.

There’s always that “rent is too damn high” guy.

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