Surrounded by Politicians and Academics


Surrounded by Politicians and Academics

I wasn’t going to comment on this but I just can’t stop myself. I attended a very fancy dinner the other night at one of the most expensive hotels in Beverly Hills. The “do” was put on by “The Rosenfield Forums.” It appears that this group supports, with apparently a lot of money, forums of public interest across the country. Fair Enough. This one started with the dinner on Thursday night and then held forth on the next day with presentation by four academics, a public sector administrator, and a think tank founder. Also – Mayor Villaraigosa from the city of LA spoke at the forum and State Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal addressed the dinner. Former Governor Mike Dukakis was in evidence. He is a professor with the UCLA department of Urban Affairs, which was co-sponsor of the event.

From my point of view, everything was as expected. During cocktails I was able to chat informally with Assemblyman Lowenthal and his wife and they were nice people. Probably wouldn’t have minded to have had a drink or two with them afterwards. Here, is my however…The assemblyman spoke at dinner for about 20 minutes and frankly I was amazed. I know his politics, now, but that didn’t make any difference. He spoke in vague generalities, defended the legislature of the state of California which has a reputation only slightly better than the US Congress, and spoke mostly about getting projects that cost money through the legislature. HUH?

The State of California is bankrupt. We have no money. There is nothing to spend. Job one in Sacramento is finding places to save money. (BTW his wife, who sits on boards and commissions as well as being an MD, just returned from DC where she lobbied and, according to her, got funding for some project or another. That funding is going to be attached to the health care bill this weekend.

Doesn’t anyone understand that there IS NO MONEY. We are in a recession. We need to do things to get business back on track. These folks are simply oblivious to it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Assemblyman Lowenthal was alone in his comments or position. He got a rousing round of applause from the professors. grad students, and local government bureaucrats that filled the room and dined on lobster, prime rib, and fine wines all paid for by a philanthropic organization that made its money in the private sector.

There was one bright spot. One of Don Shoup’s protégés sat next to me and told me about a study he was doing on disabled placard abuse. He and his staff go to areas of downtown LA and track every car that parks on the street. EVERY CAR. He says that the only way to get good information is to actually go there and do the work. “All good information comes from the field, not from estimates or computer models” he told me. They are finding a high incidence of improper use of the disabled placard, with abuse found in more than 30% of the cases. The other issue is that disabled and those with disabled hangtags park on the street (where it is free) rather than in nearby parking structures, where the owners are required to have handicapped spots reserved, but may charge for them. This causes the streets to be jammed with parked cars, and the structures with empty spaces.

My dinner partners (The Shoup protégé on one side and a Vietnam Era DC consultant/revolving door academic on the other side) agreed that the only solution was to take the incentive to cheat away and charge the disabled for parking.

Free Market right on. Shoupistas rule, but not too loudly in that room.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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