Steven P. Erie, Globalizing L.A.: Trade, Infrastructure, and Regional Development, 2004

As one fictional teacher once proclaimed to his students, “Atlas Shrugged is about what would happen if people could create a utopia away from the dystopia of society… That and trains.” (CK, Downtown Owl) UCSD Political Scientist Steven P. Erie pushes back against the assertion that telecommunications and lifestyles serve as the key to revitalizing urban regions. Instead, Erie embraces his inner anti- John Galt suggesting the key to long term economic growth remains transportation infrastructure and the proprietary city agencies that control them. Offending Objectivists everywhere, Erie credits independent public servants helming proprietary departments along with the larger players such as L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley for attending to infrastructure expansion, developing its ports, harbors, and airports to the extent that they served as “global gateways.” Pacific Rim and Latin American trade intersect in metropolitan Los Angeles creating jobs regionally and nationally.

Erie asserts that the advantages of transportation infrastructure faded from theory as intellectual properties and the internet exploded in the 1990s. However, Los Angeles serves as Erie’s primary example of the importance in the more prosaic aspects of urban history/policy. Once derided by Chicago School types (think Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, the critic in the Fountainhead) as atypical of municipal development, a black sheep, it now “serves as a harbinger of a new urban spatial forms and social relations” an interracial city of “multiple urban cores” (205 or 204). The key to such developments lay in Los Angeles’ unique municipal structure. Water, Power, harbors, and airports operate under the authority of the city but as “proprietary departments” meaning, their heads served independent of politics and its revenues could not be diverted (this was achieved through numerous charter changes, and bond referendums – and like votes on planning issues- which also involved the citizenry at levels that Erie argues gave them a voice in regional development – Ayn Rand does not approve! – despite Ms. Rand’s protestations it does seem a bit contradictory by Erie to claim on one hand the origins of the proprietary departments rest in large part to the voting public then in several instances illustrate how such charter changes/referendum often were called as special elections in which the government knew turnout would be awful then ramp up city workers who represented a large portion of the electorate to vote thus securing development victories … worthy of machine politics greatest heights – would Amy Bridges argue this as an example of reform governments ie. Pro development, business oriented, and resorting to thinly veiled machine tactics). Of course, business interests only resorted to using public authorities as a pro development cudgel because Southern Pacific – Good God! Hank Reardon save us! – treated local commercial interests among others, shabbily. The key to the proprietary departments lay in their ability to accumulate profits which then can be directed into infrastructure expansion, outpacing other regional players most notably San Diego. Moreover, as independent entities, departments felt less political pressure to cave to short term interests, pursing long term goals more frequently.

As Taggart Transcontinental head Dany Taggart can tell you, not all transportation infrastructure proves equal. Erie agrees noting that “mega transportation projects” in highway, railway, and port infrastructure, to varying degrees, all unfolded more smoothly and expansively than airport development. Besieged by financial concerns (revenue diversion), “draconian” environmental regulations (CEQA/NEPA), and NIMBYism (other times community opposition arose as in the case of the highway/railway Alameda Corridor where corridor communities wanted more jobs/urban development whereas developers viewed the project as more a straightforward transportation infrastructure deal …. Note railways did better b/c they had fewer environmental issues, aroused less community opposition, and had the Joint Powers Authority – which greatly enhanced community outreach and organization (note as with Rossi and the The Politics of Urban Renewal through Schwartz’s The New York Approach, this outreach or public relations is key for numerous reasons). Erie argues that airbourne exports bring more to the local economy than its waterbourne equivalent but he sadly concludes Globalizing LA wondering if Southern California’s lack of air development won’t undo all the work earlier infrastructural investments accomplished. (note- Erie makes the point that at least in terms of airport development, minority groups pose far less a threat than wealthy white anglos, often Republicans, who want to prevent obscured skylines, pollution, increased traffic congestion and property value decline that sometimes accompanies airport expansion)

Politicians receive plaudits and criticisms. (note – Term limits BAD! Force politicians into short term thinking. No guts no long term vision, even worse they try to raid proprietary coffers to fund police expansion etc) Erie congratulates Bradley for sustaining long term transportation development interests with a international vision, melding the Pacific Rim and Mexico. However, Erie chides him for expanding mayoral influence over proprietary departments. For Hahn and Riordan, few compliments. Riordan failed to exert the weight of his office behind airport development. Still, Riordan and Hahn mayoralities illustrate “the growing tension between political and bureaucratic leadership and priorities and between democratic accountability and market efficiency.” (5)

Erie takes great issue with assertions that Los Angeles “is a trade underachiever”. Far from it, its merchandise trade, heavy import activity, position as the “chief hub for U.S. waterbourne commerce”, and America’s “leading Pacific Rim Gateway” serve as LA’s Howard Roark (that doesn’t really apply but this is what it is). Still, Prop 13 did few favors for California’s long term development shifted what had been the emphasis of regional government’s from “home rule” to “fiscal rule”. Shrinking state revenues resulting from Prop 13 starvation, led to some revenue diversions from proprietary depts.

Globalizing L.A. concludes with Erie’s hopes for the urban future. Erie wishes for greater business involvement to bring some organization and coherence to development. He believes labor serves a role in supporting the job creation mega projects produce. To critics who suggest transportation development retards or destroys lower income and minority communities, Erie argues “minorities” and low income workers found new job opportunities as logistics specialists, office workers, warehouse workers, and truck drivers.” (214). He also takes the respective L.A. School and New Boosterism movements to task, “The LA School and the New Boosters ignore the creative role that local governments in Southern California have played in trade infrastructure, and economic development.” (210) More specifically, the New Boosters overvalue telecommunications sacrificing transportation infrastructure, while the LA school fails to acknowledge the role trade plays in restructuring.

[Summary of L.A. School – interdisciplinary –post modernist .. hypermobility of capital and labor… decaying older suburbs …. Edward Soja perhaps most famous adherent .. .six things about L.A. 1) periphilization/decentralization 2) Post Fordism 3) Multiculturalism 4) Repolarization 5) Depression 6) Manipulation
New Boosters – Joel Koetkin - Populists, promote immigrant/minority business entrepreuneuralism esp. those tied into world market .. .midlopolitan marketplaces and nerdistans … a little Richard Florida with the idea that businesses locate according to management and professionals lifestyle preferences]
[he also addresses Davis “Davis’s provocative marriage of history and theory, however, appears to purchase consistency at the price of conspiratorialism, ignores the regional benefits flowing from trade, entrpreneuralism, and innovation, and reduces the complex impacts of globalization to predatory speculation by the rich and the concomitant immiserization of the poor.” (209)

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