Wednesday, August 02, 2006

LA Times' Op-Ed Page Publishes Single Most Moronic Article In History Of Los Angeles Times!

In a stunning combination of massive factual errors, complete geographic ignorance, incorrect historic references and a seeming lack of any first (or second or third) hand knowledge of the subject matter he is writing about, English university lecturer Tom Slater managed to out embarrass even Mel Gibson with his bizarre statements in last Sunday's LA Times.

In his Op-Ed piece about the affects of gentrification on LA's Skid Row, Tom Slater starts by claiming that homeless people were recently literally 'swept and hosed' away on Skid Row by the local business improvement teams.

Unfortunately for him - and the LA Times - nothing like that ever happened.

It is a total fantasy.

And since the LA Time's news section did cover this story, perhaps someone over at the Op-Ed section might on occasion read the news section of the LA Times.

What really happened is that once sidewalks became such health hazards that they endangered any person walking on them, much less sleeping on them, with illnesses such as flesh-eating bacteria, they had to be cleaned to protect the health of the people using those sidewalks. Anyone who was camped out on them was then given a full day's notice to move both themselves and their possessions to safety prior to the sidewalks being cleaned.

They were also told there were lockers - paid for by the local business community - where anyone who is homeless can safely store their belongings free of charge at any time, and not just when the sidewalks are being cleaned.

To repeat, no one was ever literally or figuratively swept or hosed away - and no one ever needed to lose their belongings. In fact, rather than being swept away, the homeless were able to immediately return to the now (relatively) clean sidewalks once the sidewalks dried off, or even before.

In addition, the sidewalks are similarly cleaned in every other part of downtown - and not just on Skid Row or where the homeless sleep, a fact Slater appears to be ignorant of. He also ignores the fact that to NOT clean the sidewalks of Skid Row when the rest of the sidewalks of downtown are being cleaned would be inexcusable. And if that ever happened, then Mr. Slater would, of course, claim this was one of the servces not provided that 'underserved' community (as he calls it); an 'underserved' community that has far more free social servcies than any part of this city, making that claim of his a lie, also.

Slater then proceeds to fill up empty space with needless histories of the terms 'skid row' and 'gentrification' and even then, he can not get his facts straight. He baldly states that Seattle was the original Skid Row where logs were alleged slid down a street called Skid Road. He refuses to say, though, this is only one of several theories of where the name came from. He also ignores the fact that the term Skid Road was used in other Western lumber camps before it was used in Seattle and even far earlier in the Adirondacks, where the original skid roads existed.

He also ignores the fact that recent research makes it likely that the 1880's road of Seattle was NOT a place where logs were 'skid' down to the water, since that would defy the laws of gravity. He also ignores - or is unaware that there are other theories about the origination of the term, other than the logging terms, when he makes his broad statement that the term Skid Row being originated in Seattle.

But - hey - why let a few facts stand in the way of a bad story?

Still, it is odd that when he goes to such lengths to explain the term when he is writing a book about the subject - and then refuses to admit his explanation is only an (increasingly) challenged theory.

After that, Slater cites his extensive credentials for writing the authoratative article about Skid Row in Los Angeles.

He visited LA in both 1994 and in 2002.

One time in each century.

Now while almost every statement of his in this article can be challenged to one degree or another on factual grounds, I will merely examine the final few paragraphs where he hangs himself with the rope he has so carefully laid out for himself:

To begin with:

Gentrification is a serious issue when housing laws fail to protect tenants, when affordable housing is nonexistent and when no new public housing is being built because of widespread fears of re-creating the unacceptable conditions of L.A.'s existing housing projects, like Imperial Courts in Watts.

The truth is all of Downtown LA is covered by a strong rent contol ordinance and it covers all affordable housing units. And even the ability to raise rents by rehabbing units, has been curtailed. Second, Skid Row area has the largest concentration of affordable low income housing in the city - so how can affordable housing here be.... non-existent?. Plus more affordable units are re-habbed for long term use each year, and others are built from the ground up. And until recently, the majority of all housing built in downtown was affordable.

Even if people are not made homeless, the conversion of dilapidated hotels into swanky apartments means there that are fewer housing options for poorer citizens, and if this happens on a large scale, it puts massive pressure on already stretched voluntary organizations, charities and social assistance providers.

Again, totally false. Not a single hotel has been turned into swanky apartments and only one old hotel has even had a portion of its units converted into work force priced lofts.

Exactly one.

And not one tennant was evicted in even that case. Less than 1% of all the individual new units in downtown built or being built were created from buildings that were hotels at the time the loft boom started. And the number of new permanent affordable units in the greater downtown area has dramatically increased during the same time period.

Plus there is a moratorium - which he also ignores - that prevents any existing SRO Hotel from being converted.

People living on the streets and in the single-room-occupancy hotels of downtown L.A. have enough to cope with already without being hosed out of the way for iPod-wearing, latte-drinking professionals strolling to work in Bunker Hill.

Obviously, he has never, ever walked the streets of Downtown if he thinks that people walking to work on Bunker Hill from their lofts are walking through Skid Row. No one from any lofts is walking to any offices through the streets of Skid Row. He also neglects to mention that the single largest subsidized housing project in downtown - by far - is located on... Bunker Hill.

Now that are just some of the highlights of his factual errors. Now I will address how he covers up and ignores the real problems of Skid Row.

If urgently needed change in downtown L.A. is to improve life at all for those who live there now, some provision must be made for adequate, affordable housing. Caps on loft conversions, greater rent protections for tenants and subsidies for people unable to afford rental housing would also help ensure that poverty is not simply moved elsewhere.

If the debate about skid row is to be productive, we need to reject the characterizations of its dwellers as unfortunate failures and instead evaluate the ways in which a booming housing market can do damage — economic, social and psychological — to those who live in poor, underserved neighborhoods.

It is frightening that the LA Times could have printed a piece about LA’s Skid Row by someone completely ignorant of the reasons behind the existence of Skid Row. To begin with, Skid Row in its present state happened long before anything resembling gentrification happened anywhere in the central city.

There is zero cause and affect between the new lofts in downtown and the Skid Row.

Even more bizarre is Slater’s assertion that the only way one can have a dialogue on Skid Row is to ignore the problems of those who live in those neighborhoods and instead concentrate on the ‘negative’ affects a booming housing market has on the low income people in those neighborhoods.

The problem with his thesis – is that it’s totally wrong.

Either he is unaware – or has chosen to conceal – that the vast majority of the homeless sleeping on the sidewalks of Skid Row are there because of their addition to drugs or alcohol – and that many of them also suffer from varying degrees of mental illness.

Of the over fifty people I had assisted in their getting off the streets – not one of them was forced out into the streets primarily by loss of housing due to economic problems; every one of them lost their housing – by their own admission - due to incarceration, drug or alcohol problems, mental illness or - usually - a combination of several of these problems, which then led them to be unable to afford housing.

That is not to say that people do not end up on the street due to a loss of housing, period. But those are rarely the people you find lying on the sidewalks of Skid Row. And those homeless for primarily economic reasons usually tend to be the very short term homeless.

Also, I have not once been unable to find housing for anyone who did – finally – want to get off the streets with days or at worst – weeks – of trying to get them off the streets. The problem of Skid Row is not gentrification; the problem is that the majority of the people sleeping on the streets of Skid Row refuse to accept any housing that does not allow them to use drugs or they are too mentally ill to accept the help they need.

And his idea on putting a cap on buildings being converted into lofts - and by law 100% of them are now office/industrial buildings as opposed to the previous 98% of the buildings - thus reducing the overall supply of housing will make housing overall more affordable is... bizarre.

But Slater claims that no discussion of Skid Row can even address those issues since he refuses to even acknowledge they exist; he states that only the allegedly deleterious affects of gentrification on existing inhabitants can be considered when one discusses Skid Row. And that is the final flaw in his bizarre article.

His unsupported claims about gentrification ignore the empirical research of those people who have actually studied the real world the affects of gentrification on existing low income tenants; academics such as Lance Freeman of Columbia and Jacob Vigdor of Duke. And they have each discovered – to their amazement - that in gentrifying neighborhoods low income tenants stay longer in neighborhoods which are booming – because of the benefits in living in safer, cleaner neighborhoods – which is the exact opposite of what Slater claims.

Below are some paragraphs from an article at the POLIS website:

For as long as gentrification has been a divisive topic, the underlying assumption has been the same: As wealthier people move into downtrodden neighborhoods, low-income people are pushed out. But does gentrification actually cause increased displacement? Lance Freeman, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, thinks the answer is no. One of the leading academics to step on the gentrification land mine, Mr. Freeman (who happens to live in a Columbia-owned apartment just around the corner from Tiemann Place) has found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to explode the myth itself. "It’s a controversial issue," he told The Observer recently, "The research results were unanticipated. But the data says what it says."

What his data says is this: Low-income people in gentrifying neighborhoods are, in fact, more likely to stay in their apartments longer than low-income people in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Not only does gentrification not cause displacement any more than the myriad other factors that result in poor people losing or leaving their homes, says Mr. Freeman, it actually provides an incentive to stay. Think about it: Would you be inclined to leave your apartment if the neighborhood was improving?

Mr. Freeman referred to the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey in reaching his conclusion. He found that poor households living in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City, including Harlem, were 24 percent less likely to have moved between 1991 and 1999 than poor people living in non-gentrifying communities. Even when controlling for various factors, like age, race and overcrowding, poor households were still 20 percent less likely to move from gentrifying areas than poor households living in non-gentrifying communities in New York City.

."Because the results seem somewhat counterintuitive and raise a lot of questions, they want to make sure it’s right," said Mr. Freeman. "You don’t usually see that in the social sciences. Who knows—maybe they’re going to trash my research."

Mr. Freeman’s research, however, does not stand completely alone. Conclusions similar to his were reached two years ago by Jacob Vigdor, an assistant professor at Duke University, who analyzed Boston neighborhoods.

"There’s no evidence that gentrification increases residential turnover," Mr. Vigdor concurred. "The typical image people have in their minds is that people are being thrown out of their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. But there is usually some degree of vacancy and rehabbing of buildings that weren’t previously inhabitable.

So how many of the lies and wrong information and concealed data in this article will the Times address when they have to do their inevitable mea culpa on this piece?

About half is my guess ... if we're lucky.


Rico A said...

I was also truly shocked by the inaccuracy of this piece. I couldn't believe that someone with so little knowledge of Los Angeles's history or current situation would make such obviously false statements!

Excellent reply, sir.

tony said...

i agree, great reply.

dgarzila said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dgarzila said...

Brady ,

Well done response to this idiot who knows nothing about Skid row and the effects of gentrification on the sro's.

I wanted to post a response on my blog , but I was so incensed, I didn't know what to write.

You my friend hit it squarely on the head. The problem with Mr. Slater is that he knows absolutely nothing about the history of skid row and tries to compare it to other neighbohroods and communities that were naturally created , as averese to our skid row which was deliberatly and purposely created to be a containment zone.

Also the response about being hosed off of the streets whether figuratively or literally was the best. I couldn't have mustered better. His saying so, was an egregious exageration that bordered on pure libel and slander.

I personally have witnessed this cleaning , although I haven't witnessed the hosing, well actually I have, on the Main Street and Los Angeles street side of the neighborhood . I am going to repost some of what you said On my blog. Great work.

Scott said...


Have you written a letter on this to the L.A. Times or to Mr. Slater directly?

I assume Mr. Slater would not be happy with your metaphorical spanking, but he should have a chance to read it.

Funny how a foreigner who has visited (!) Los Angeles two times (!)(!) feels qualified to comment in the way he did, only to have a multi-generation Angeleno show him the truth. said...

Thanks Brady. I put my open letter to the good professor on my blog here:

Anna830 said...

"the fact that recent research makes it likely that the 1880's road of Seattle was NOT a place where logs were 'skid' down to the water, since that would defy the laws of gravity."

Why would this be defying the law of gravity? I'm thinking that since the current average east/west hill grade is 11 percent with some hills greater than 25 degrees. Now, considering the intellect of time this is far better than the amazing near 40 percent grades in the late 1800's .. this is far from defying gravity.
Perhaps, you can enlighten me on your consensus on the error of this persons skid row origin.

Brady Westwater said...

I can't recall exactly why right now, but I THINK it was that there has been some regrading since then, but I could be wrong. I will try and find the source I used.