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I live near Los Angeles’s most infamous green space, the titular grounds of what may be the strangest hit in pop song history (the original hit № 2 on the charts in 1968 for Richard Harris — yes, the actor Richard Harris — while the more famous rendition by Donna Summer topped the charts a decade later). MacArthur Park has seen a lot of problems in the 15 years I’ve lived near it. In that time, it has gone from a No Man’s Land where gangs — notably the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), two infamous international criminal organizations with roots in the area — would sell drugs and dump bodies in the lake, to the vital heart of the mostly densely populated area of the country west of the Mississippi River. The area, known as Westlake (because the lake was on Los Angeles’s western periphery about a century ago), is home to Central American immigrants, many of them illegals, though also some Koreans priced-out of neighboring Koreatown.
Many groups have sought to rehabilitate MacArthur Park, making the area a safer, more livable place for some of Los Angeles’s poorest residents by encouraging families, especially mothers, to use the park en masse. The strategy worked: The presence of moms, kids, and even intact families in the park and on the adjacent streets has gone a long way toward reducing crime and changing the neighborhood for the better. But, in the last year or so, a new problem has shown up in MacArthur Park and the surrounding streets that has beaten back the families and made the streets more dangerous: the tents. In the past few years, homeless encampments and tent villages have proliferated across Los Angeles. The city has always has a massive homelessness problem, so much so that it even became the ultimate punchline of the 2007 South Park episode “Night of the Living Homeless.”
In most cities, “skid row” is a euphemism for a particularly destitute part of town. In Los Angeles, Skid Row is a specific place. Its boundaries stretch from Main Street on the west, to Alameda Street on the east, to Third Street on the north, to Seventh Street on the south. It borders trendy areas such as Little Tokyo, the Old Bank District, the Historic Core, the Fashion District, and the Arts District, all home to some of the city’s hottest restaurants, bars, and boutiques, as well as some very expensive real estate. Expensive, trendy brands such as Acne Studios, Aēsop, A.P.C., Mykita, and Shinola all have stores within spitting distance of the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people.
Starting in the 1970s, the city made a conscious effort to concentrate its homeless in one place rather than have them spread around the enormous metropolitan area. The idea was that this would make it easier to provide services to the homeless, but it also concentrated crime, drug use, diseases, and various other problems. Other cities around Los Angeles would drop off their homeless and (notoriously) mentally-ill in Skid Row, sometimes from as faw away as Nevada. This got liberal do-badders — most notably, that menace to society known as the ACLU — to spring into action and launch a series of lawsuits against the City of Los Angeles, the LAPD, etc.
Jones v. The City of Los Angeles (2007): The lawsuit that really started the ball rolling, the Ninth Circus [sic] Court of Appeals ruled that city ordinances banning sleeping on sidewalks essentially made homelessness illegal and ruled it unconstitutional, citing the Eighth Amendment. The city finally agreed to a settlement that allowed people to sleep on sidewalks from 9 PM to 6 AM, so long as they remained ten feet from the doors of building or entrances of driveways. Afterwards, charities began handing out tents to the homeless.
Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles (2014): The Ninth Circus [sic] Court of Appeals returns again, this time striking down a law making it illegal to sleep overnight in one’s automobile, on a public street, or in a parking lot on the grounds that it “opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor,” and that it “violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an unconstitutionally vague statute.” The 1983 statute had gotten renewed enforcement after the seaside neighborhood of Venice saw an influx of homeless rush onto its streets, where they would live in vans, recreational vehicles, or just cars, causing havoc for the people of this gentrified, largely residential area by dumping trash and excrement into streets, etc. (California Coastal Commission regulations about coast access limits the city’s ability to put street parking restrictions in much of that area.)
Lavan v. The City of Los Angeles (2012): Finally rejected for review by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, letting stand the ruling that city officials could not confiscate the belongings of homeless people as abandoned property. Therefore, the police and sanitation crews must leave the trains of (stolen) grocery carts full of miscellaneous junk laying about the city’s sidewalks alone, even if unattended. Since the homeless did not have to guard their trash wagons as intently as before, they were more free to move about the city, colonizing new areas; and because they could roam further from their hoards in search of stuff, their piles of junk have been steadily increasing.
Starting in 2013, LA’s homeless population began to grow. By 2015, the increase was noticeable: The homeless — who used to be just around Skid Row, Santa Monica, and a few other far Westside locations — were suddenly everywhere. And where one used to just see a single homeless person, one now encounters his or her encampment. They travel with piles of stuff with them, taking up several seats on the subway, or parked like a smelly little kiosk in the middle of the sidewalk. And while this is purely anecdotal, my experience and those of my friends agree: The homeless have become much more aggressive.
Just as Downtown LA hit its stride as the new center for civic life, the fetid decadence once neatly contained east of Main Street has exploded all over Downtown, accosting office ladies and conventioneers, and threatening to return Downtown’s scary’s reputation. Some places have chained-off huge sections of sidewalk to prevent encampments. “That’s what they do in South Africa,” an exasperated friend of mine told me. Even on the well-heeled Westside, I had a scary moment walking past an encampment under a freeway between Rancho Park and Sawtelle: a little pocket of a Mad Max movie right between two upper-middle-class enclaves.
When the Great Depression began, the shantytowns in the middle of cities were dubbed “Hoovervilles.” Why aren’t we calling the mass tent cities in the parks of America’s second largest city “Obamavilles”?
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This coming September, the International Olympic Committee will gather in Lima, Peru to decide which city will host the 2024 Summer Olympics. After Rome dropped out of the running in October, three cities are left: Paris, Budapest, and Los Angeles. If either Paris or Los Angeles win, it would be each city’s third time hosting; it would be the centenary of the last Paris games and the fortieth anniversary of the last Los Angeles games. Hungary is the only of the top ten medals-winning nations of all time never to have hosted an Olympics. The terrorism incidents that have struck France may be a concern, while there is a push in Hungary for a referendum on the Budapest bid. While some may argue that the IOC may dislike America’s choice of a president, France has its own controversial election coming up. Besides, when Barack Obama — golden calf of the international élite — stumped for Chicago’s 2016 bid, it was the first city to be eliminated.
But when the IOC members land in sunny LA and see homeless tents on every street corner… what will they think? When they see an encampment of schizophrenia sufferers with mangy dogs and piles of old clothes and housewares in front of the Memorial Coliseum that was the showpiece of the 1984 Olympics — and would surely play the same role in 2024 — what will they think? Especially when LA is competing against the ne plus ultra of tourist destinations, a city that knows how to charm and dazzle? Will Parisian hosts drive the IOC down streets full of tent cities? As the Paris 2024 Olympic Committee might say: Je crois que non.
And so the contradictory goals of the Leftists who control Los Angeles and California are on a collision course, with their bleeding hearts charging one way and their love of grandiose civic spectacle heading the other. And because they have been unable to say “No,” someone else is almost certainly going to tell them “No” instead.