L.A. Times Grossed Out by Poor People


Speaking of Riverside, I'm probably driving out this afternoon to hear Sheldon Richman speak at La Sierra U. Get in touch if you want to carpool.

They live in ugly, sprawling towns. They clog up the roads and foul the air. They force their foreign tongue on people who just want to speak American. 

They are the poor, and the Los Angeles Times editorial board hates them. 

One of the unsung blessings of late-breaking news is that it forces newspaper editorial boards (still bound by the Baumol inefficiencies of print) to roll out their odd-length evergreens that will take up the right number of lines in the editorial stack. The L.A. Times' on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that response to the death of Osama bin Laden had the good side effect of creating a hole in the stack just right to fit this elitist attack on the people of Southern California. The editorial shows signs of having sat for months in the purgatory of the CCI publishing system, and its existence can only be explained by the fact that it conveniently covers the necessary two-thirds of the stack. Fittingly, the piece is now Opinion L.A.'s most-viewed article. 

"Southern California's great migration" participates in the sterling journalistic tradition of taking a broadly positive trend and treating it as bad news. In this case it's the net migration of Southern California residents to the Inland Empire. As I noted briefly in Reason's April print issue, census results indicate that Golden Staters are increasingly choosing to leave the state's high-tax, tightly zoned "gateway cities" for remote suburbs in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, where they must endure such deprivations as bigger houses, better schools, safer neighborhoods and (unmentioned by the L.A. Times) lower local taxes. 

As the ed board notes, these intra-state migrants include "working class and immigrant families." That's not a mysterious move. The paper's own regular news reporters are making clearer every day that L.A. County is among the most expensive, corrupt and dysfunctional jurisdictions in the history of the republic – a place where only the wealthy can afford a comfortable existence. The real estate bust, which has been much larger in the inland counties, makes housing there even more affordable. No surprise, then, that the number of "nonwhite children" in L.A. County has declined. (So has the number of white children in L.A. County, but the ed board doesn't bother with that.) 

So what could possibly be the problem? It's really aesthetic: 

The quick rise and fall of the Inland Empire — which already shows the first signs of recovery — has thrown into sharp relief a longstanding truth about Southern California's growth pattern: Its dependence on cars, its sprawl and the general lack of regional planning create an unwieldy hodgepodge of housing and jobs that make its residents too vulnerable to shifts in the economy.

There's a lot to admire in this paragraph. The self-negating chiasmus in "quick rise and fall of the Inland Empire — which already shows the first signs of recovery." The amphiboly "has thrown into sharp relief" – a phrase that actually means nothing more than "reminds me of." The false induction whereby one concocted crisis (people high-tailing it out of L.A.) leads to the author's preferred diagnosis (absence of rail-accessible smart growth hubs, preferably with a Coffee Bean and a Waldenbooks B. Dalton Dutton's Borders Barnes & Noble). 

"With the housing market's sharp downturn and the flailing economy, things haven't worked out for many of us as we'd planned," the author coos. This statement is false in person and number: Members of the Times editorial board are (as was I during my too-brief tenure) paid at least twice what their jobs are worth. When they try to speak for anybody earning less than $60,000 a year, it comes out sounding like what it is: purse-lipped snobbery wrapped up in a disguise of liberal concern. 

A little slice of heaven right there in Riverside County. I may go househunting after Richman's speech.

So we learn that the "Latino families" who trekked out to Riverside and San Berdoo have been separated from the folkways that "catered to their needs." Strange then that the vast majority of recent arrivals are managing to stay put despite the foreclosure wave – though the editorial barely mentions this and refers to "the first signs of a reverse migration." The shoddy evidence for that reverse migration – a mini-scandal within this broadly scandalous piece of journalism – comes from an L.A. Times story published a year before the 2010 census, which the ed board says suggested "there were the first signs of reverse migration — growth of ethnic minority populations slowed [in the Inland Empire] and began rebounding in such gateway cities as Los Angeles." 

In any event the editorial later concedes that housing starts are "up slightly in the Inland Empire." So apparently people who can't hack the redeveloped swankitude of downtown L.A. are still managing to find homes in less tony districts. 

But is that all they need? And by the way, in 140 lines, this editorial can't find a single person with a Spanish-sounding name to play the role of Every[person], referring to "they" and "them" throughout, with resulting weird constructions like "their new job might be at any distance, in almost any direction." 

No, apparently the proletariat will remain alienated from the means of production until they (it?) have (has?) a "centralized employment hub for the region." Repeat: "With no centralized location where most jobs are found, it's hard to build a system that can take enough workers where they need to go." I would say there already is such a system and it's called the automobile. But what's the point? Cars are of course the problem, a scandalously low percentage of Inland Empire residents take mass transit, and we're back to what I find so offensive about this editorial. 

Of course, there's the sneering disdain for people the ed board considers too dumb and desperate even to take care of themselves, let alone act in any pattern approaching civic-mindedness. But worse, the condescension doesn't even come from an honest, Judge Elihu Smails-style aristocratic impulse. It's just a secondhand fantasy from a smug cocoon of right-thinking people who have ready access to on-site parking, Rick Caruso-style fauxmericana villages, and environmentally safe disposable coffee cups. People, in other words, who can't imagine a fate worse than moving to Riverside, that El Dorado on the Santa Ana.