An LA Story In Need Of A Rewrite

Thursday, January 27, 2022
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For all of the hoopla devoted to California’s outbound migration, here’s a plot twist: two women, both in their early 20s, choosing to relocate to the Golden State—Los Angeles, to be precise.

The two newcomers in question: Sasha and Malia Obama, the offspring of Barack and Michelle Obama.

What’re they doing on the West Coast?

Malia, the elder of the two Obama daughters (she graduated from Harvard last May), reportedly landed a position on the writing staff of a new Amazon projected headed by Donald Glover—a series called Hive, centered around a Beyoncé-like protagonist.

Sasha, almost three years her sister’s junior, reportedly transferred from the University of Michigan to a Los Angeles–based institution of higher learning (judging by this image with a man behind her wearing a “USC Hoops” T-shirt, it would seem that she enrolled at the University of Southern California).

Why this mention of two new Angelenos who, among things, will serve as paparazzi bait?

First, it underscores the Obama-California symbiosis.

In 2018, the former First Couple signed a multiyear deal with California-based Netflix and set up a production company of their own (called Higher Ground Productions, it will churn out all kinds of content ranging from kid and family entertainment to series and feature films). What to get a power couple that seemingly has it all? Try: a good tax attorney. Similar five-year Netflix arrangements have netted the “talent” anywhere from $150 million to $300 million (keep in mind: just months after leaving office, the Obamas also pocketed a $65 million advance for a pair of autobiographies).

Second, the arrival of the Obama daughters in Los Angeles coincides with a grim aspect of contemporary life in the City of Angels: it’s not a town that’s safe for women—even more so for women without the benefit of a Secret Service detail.

A few days before news broke of the younger Obamas’ arrival, Los Angeles was rocked by a much different story involving a twenty-something woman: Brianna Kupfer, a 24-year-old UCLA graduate student stabbed to death while working at her furniture-store day job.

What stood out about the homicide, other than its savagery: the fatal stabbing occurred in the 300 block of North La Brea Avenue, on the outskirts of the city’s Hancock Park neighborhood. That places the scene of the crime about two and a half miles from Getty House, the official residence of Los Angeles’s mayor, and on the edge of a neighborhood where homes (many of them dating back to the 1920s) fetch seven- and eight-figure prices.

However, the Kupfer homicide isn’t Los Angeles’s lone example of shocking violence against a woman.

A few hours before Kupfer’s murder, Sandra Shells, a 70-year-old nurse at Los Angeles County–USC Medical Center, was randomly assaulted while sitting at a bus stop. Three days later, she died as a result of a fractured skull.

While the two crimes aren’t related, there is a common thread: the two alleged assailants, both now in police custody, are homeless transients. Sadly, it’s a familiar story in Los Angeles. Just ask the grandmother who, while on a Venice boardwalk stroll with her nine-month-old granddaughter less than a week after the aforementioned assaults, had to fend off a homeless woman who hoped to snatch the infant (thus angered, the homeless woman tossed hot coffee on the infant).

So what’s Los Angeles to do? The answer is simple: turn to political leadership for a solution to crime and homelessness. Here, aspiring screenwriter Malia Obama could help. For the current script is sorely in need of a rewrite.

Let’s start with LA’s City Hall and a lame-duck mayor, Eric Garcetti, who’s awaiting full Senate approval of his ambassadorship to India.

These days, Garcetti’s office is more notable for intrigue than for innovation (one such example: leaked emails in which the mayor’s former chief of staff disparages the Black Lives Matter movement).

A suffering Los Angeles could look to the government in Sacramento for inspiration. In fact, governor Gavin Newsom was in town last week, publicly lamenting the rash of thefts from freight containers that stop in downtown Los Angeles at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

The bad news: Newsom’s performance wasn’t all that assuring (expressing dismay at rampant crime in Los Angeles is not unlike Inspector Renault being shocked to learn there’s gambling at Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca).

Even worse, Newsom’s solution was all too predictable: leave it to a  multiagency task force to figure a way to crack down on rail theft—just as California’s governor left it to task forces to deal with the economy, slavery reparations, forest management, coronavirus testing, administering vaccines, Alzheimer’s prevention and preparedness, police reform, equity in postsecondary institutions, and (I kid you not) oxygen.

Maybe worst of all: Newsom let political correctness get the better of him. “This is not a one-off. This is gangs organized theft. These are organized gangs of people that are coming out,” Newsom said at a press conference near the Union Pacific tracks.

He then backpedaled: “Forgive me for saying ‘gangs,’ that’s not a pejorative. They’re organized groups of folks that move from site to site."

Sure, whatever . . .

The record shows that finding lasting homelessness solutions isn’t a Newsom forte. As mayor of San Francisco, he overpromised and failed to deliver. As governor, he presides over a homelessness approach that California’s state auditor has deemed “disjointed.” Per this auditor’s report released nearly a year ago: “At least nine state agencies administer and oversee 41 different programs that provide funding for purposes related to homelessness.”

Given a chance to rewrite this script, perhaps the former First Daughter would choose a very Obama-esque word: “hope”—as in, the hope that the next Los Angeles mayor comes up with an effective homelessness strategy. For now, that seems unlikely. Karen Bass, a congresswoman and leading mayoral hopeful, wants to house 15,000 people in her first year in office. But her housing plan rests on a shaky foundation, as there’s no clarity as to the blend of permanent and interim housing.

Meanwhile, the question of how Los Angeles will effectively battle crime lingers on. That includes the uncertain future of LA’s embattled district attorney, George Gascon. The drumbeat to remove Gascon from office (a recall election being the mechanism) grew a bit louder last week after he deemed that a transgender woman, now in her mid-20s, would face little if any jail time after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl when she was a teenager (Gascon’s policy is to not try juveniles as adults).

Could a wave of public discontentment cost Gascon his job? Time will tell. Should a recall campaign occur, Gascon likely will fall back on his record—among other things, ending cash bail for nonviolent felony offenses and diverting misdemeanors tied to poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse out of the criminal justice system.

And his opponents’ argument for his removal? The Obama daughters may recognize the phrase: “the change we need.”