After I spent some time looking into the Central Avenue Historic BID in the context of potential political goals for the post-approval Venice Beach BID, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this newborn BID.1 The meetings are held at CD9’s district office at 4301 S. Central,2 so on a very pleasant evening last Thursday, I took the 210 out of Hollywood to MLK and Crenshaw, where I boarded the 705 to Central and Vernon from whence a couple blocks North on Central to watch the Board of Directors conduct their business.3 The meeting was scheduled to start at 5:30, but that evidently included some preliminaries, because when I got there at about 10 to 64 they hadn’t started yet.
Anyway, take a look at the agenda. You can see that they’re talking about the kind of things that one would expect BIDs to talk about from, e.g., reading the Wikipedia page on BIDs,5 like branding and marketing, cleaning the streets, having Halloween events, and so on. And watch this short clip of the meeting.6 That’s Sherri Franklin of the Urban Design Center, the BID consultant, who also seems to be functioning as executive director, talking about some kind of partnership the BID’s working on with Hollywood Community Housing Corporation involving affordable housing at the corner of Central and Jefferson.7 And then you can watch here as BID security director Allan Muhammad introduces his employees, and then they proceed to hand out sample Halloween bags to everyone in the room. They didn’t once discuss custodial arrests, handcuffs, social engineering, mass relocations, self-aggrandizing 5150 holds, or any of the other hard-edged tactics of which the City’s older and ever so much more dangerous BIDs are so enamored. And even though I only got 15 minutes on tape of the 90 minutes I was there8 they didn’t really have anything objectionable to say even during the parts of the meeting I didn’t record. They talked about parking, they talked about their phone bills, they talked about how it was hard for the BID to patronize local businesses because they mostly only accepted cash.9
Could this be what a BID looks like as BIDs were intended to look? Well, the very question is based on a false assumption. And there were foreshadowings of bad news to come. And on the way home, and for the last few days, it’s got me thinking about what BIDs were meant to be,10how BIDs11 evolve under selective pressure, and how it’s probably inevitable that this BID is going to end up like the worst of the Downtown BIDs, the worst of the Hollywood BIDs. The short version is that BIDs probably started out as helpful tools, but as a wise woman once said, “every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” So turn the page if you’re still interested…
First of all, there’s this megaplexical multiblock monstrosity planned for a lot on the South side of Washington Boulevard between Broadway and Hill streets. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s exceedingly controversial. Streetsblog has an excellent story laying out the issues, and you can get the developer’s point of view here. This is just about exactly one mile from the Central Avenue Historic BID, but no one’s taking chances. Take a look at the Board minutes for April 2016, where the developer is offering the BID $175,000, with $50,000 up front and $25,000 per year after that.12 The Board voiced some reasonable concerns about accepting the money, and two members voted against it, but the motion carried. They all seemed comforted by the fact that accepting the money didn’t obligate them to support the project.
Now, gentrification is an important issue, and I have no doubt that this project is a harbinger of gentrification in the area. It’s a harbinger, but it’s not a cause. Zillionaires don’t invest this kind of money in any random neighborhood just on the off-chance that a big-ass building full of yuppies is going to gentrify the place. Instead, they must have a plan for gentrification laid out, and only after they have the strategy in place and the key players (the City, the investors) all on board, do they even hire an architect, I’m thinking.13 Just look at what Carol Schatz and her short-fingered minions did to Downtown over the last thirty years. They got laws changed, they got policing strategies changed, they got transit projects built, they got freaking Eric Garcetti and his freaking predecessor whatshisname elected, and then they started moving poor people out and rich people in. None of this was caused by e.g. the ruinous transformation of the Grand Central Market into a hipster hellhole or Pershing Square into whatever the hell they’ve turned it into. The causation went the other way entirely.
And it’s the same with The Reef. They managed to get this particular section of Southeast LA to the tipping point, and now they’re tipping it. And it’s going to run straight South on Central over the next ten years, just watch it. It’s a string of cozy low-crime neighborhoods, with the kind of raw architectural stock that they can transform into their plastic version of urban charm at very low costs. There’s not effective, organized opposition like there is in e.g. Hollywood.14 The single family houses themselves are ripe for gentrifiers, who will feel safer knowing there are multi-use buildings and Metro Rail in the neighborhood. Surprisingly, safer than they’ll feel looking at the LA times crime map for Historic South Central L.A. to see that its crime rate is chronically lower than e.g. that of e.g. Hollywood.15
And what’s going to happen if for some reason the BID exercises the right that it comforted itself by reserving to oppose this project? Or other projects like it? Or anything else that Curren Price sets his little heart on despite articulate and well-organized local opposition? Or what’s going to happen if the BID opposes some subsidiary policy that supplements or supports the unstated yet clearly perceived needs of the zillionaires-in-charge? Like illegally cleaning out homeless encampments or arresting a bunch of street vendors when the LAPD can’t do it because of too much bleeding-heart scrutiny from the likes of the ACLU and the NLG?16
Well, despite the fact that they will deny, deny, deny that they have anything to do with it, the City of Los Angeles creates BIDs. And just like my mom17 they can therefore uncreate BIDs. Or if they’re having problems with BIDs they can dictate the composition of a BID’s board, like they recently did with the Arts District. In other words, if the Central Avenue Historic BID gets too independent about The Reef, or about anything that might threaten Curren Price’s ability to play the tunes called by those who pay the piper, he18 can shatter it to bits and remold it nearer to the heart’s desire. The contracts that BIDs sign with the City are no-bid contracts, for various reasons19 Essentially the City Council, proxied for by the Clerk, just picks who they want to administer a BID. And they can certainly unpick an uncooperative owners association. Owners associations are chosen by an entirely undemocratic process, and the (hitherto only potential) downside of that is that they can be eliminated the same way, at the whim of the City government.
But it needn’t come to drastic measures like these. Certainly enough people on the Board will see the impending threat to their existence, their finances. If enough don’t see it coming there will be a way to replace the malcontents. This kind of thing happens all the time in human organizations. There are enough people who see what the future requires to make sure that it comes to pass, if only so that the organization can survive.20 So as the neighborhood changes, and it will change, the BID will change to suit the needs of the financiers of and investors in the neighborhood of the future. This must be what happened in Hollywood and Downtown in the 1990s. At this point there’s so much money and so much social capital and power tied up in those neighborhoods that having BIDs just to wash the streets and trim the trees isn’t enough to serve the interests of the zillionaires, and the BIDs evolved along with the zillionaires’ evolving needs and interests into the weaponized tools of social engineering that they are today.
It’s not even necessary to assume that anyone had this planned, either. As comforting as it is to the powerless to assume that their zillionaire oppressors are omnipotent, they usually are not.21 What they are is the beneficiaries of a carefully constructed system that allows them to rule the world without knowing exactly how they’re doing it. And the system was carefully constructed, but not using an overarching plan. Rather, it more or less constructed itself in response to selection pressures just like the Central Avenue Historic BID will adaptively construct itself to suit the needs of the zillionaires when the time it right for that to happen. Continuous adjustments to minute changes in functionality lead through an evolutionary process to BIDs that are precisely adapted to the current needs of the powerful, just as they led through an evolutionary process to a political system that’s precisely adapted to the current needs of the powerful.22 And because the world is arranged to meet those needs while they’re inchoate, before they’re even fully visible, fully articulated,23 it can seem as if the BIDs are leading the charge. But they are in fact being led by their masters. As are we all.24
Pictures of Sherri Franklin and Allan Muhammad are ©2016 MichaelKohlhaas.org. Image of The Reef was shamelessly kiped from here but if they come after me I’m gonna cry “FAIR USE, FRIENDS!” Image of 822 E. Adams is ©2016 MichaelKohlhaas.org. Image of Arthur Radebaugh’s giant highway machines of the future is in the public domain and came to us via Smithsonian Magazine.
- It just commenced operations in January-ish 2016 (depending on how one defines “commenced.”)
- Just 18 blocks south of La Fogata Cemitas at the corner of Adams and Central, which is as good a reason as any in this world to visit Central Avenue.
- On the way home I took the 705 to Vermont, the 754 to SMB, and the 704 back to Hollywood. The 210 (Vine/Crenshaw) is very, very, very slow and unreliable for long hauls, especially in the evenings. I don’t generally like three bus journeys, but in this case it’s far better. It’s also possible to get there via the Red Line and the 53, but SMB to Vermont to Vernon is almost certainly more efficient than anything involving the 53.
- Which is all the fault of the 210 and the traffic on Crenshaw.
- The link is to the version of the Wikipedia page that’s current as I write. Who knows what it will say when you’re reading this!
- I’m sorry I didn’t bring my recording equipment, so I filmed this on my phone, hence not-so-good quality and only 15 minutes worth of the meeting.
- This is evidently to be called the Florence Mills Apartments, after famed performer Florence Mills, who was associated with a now-demolished theatre at the same location.
- I did have to leave at 7:30; it’s possible that they held off on the really creepy stuff till I was gone, but I really don’t think so.
- If you’ve spent much time on this part of Central Avenue you’ll know what they’re talking about.
- Short answer: Nothing, or it’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is how they’ve made themselves useful to those who have a use for them.
- And indeed, all human institutions, but that kind of wide-ranging nonsense is going to have to wait for another day, like the seventeenth of never.
- Even if the project isn’t approved, interestingly.
- I have no real evidence that this is the order things happen in, but it kind of has to be. Just think of how you invest your own money, if you have any, or how you make any other life-essential decisions. It’s not reasonable to make choices that everything depends on hoping that all the essential necessary conditions are going to fall into place just because you decided to make a given choice. That’s magical thinking of a kind in which people who have the kind of money necessary to implement projects on this scale can’t possibly afford to indulge. If they habitually indulged in magical thinking, they’d have lost all their money before they got to this level, just like you and I would have screwed ourselves over to the point where we wouldn’t have the spare time or attention to be reading footnotes on some random blog, but that’s just what we’re doing.
- Although this may change any day. The opposition to The Reef, while ultimately unsuccessful, may well evolve into a more powerful movement. Also note that the Hollywood opposition, while pretty effective, is essentially fighting one kind of gentrification with another kind of gentrification, so in Hollywood, naturally, gentrification is winning and the only question is whether it’s going to involve overpriced stupid mixed-use crapola like it mostly already does, or else overpriced stupid single family home crapola with the prices driven up by artificial scarcity like e.g. in Hancock Park.
- There are quite concrete signs of this process already appearing on Zillow, where one can see a pretty constant one or two houses per month being flipped, albeit at vastly lower prices than flipped houses elsewhere, in the rectangle bounded by Hooper and San Pedro and by Washington and Vernon. Without evidence I’m willing to say that this feels like the rate seen around Exposition between Vermont and Crenshaw about five years ago. And you know what that scene is like nowadays.
- This may actually be happening sooner than anything else I’ve discussed. Sherri Franklin recently told me in an email exchange that the BID would welcome the Central City Association’s leadership with respect to homeless issues and street vending. And the CCALA’s leadership doesn’t mean anyone but zillionaires any good. It’s finely tuned to support their ongoing process of neighborhood conquistadorismo.
- Who brought me into this world so she can darn well take me out of it.
- Or his successors.
- That, as usual, I don’t have space to go into here. This is yet another topic I desperately need to write about soonest.
- It’s too far off-topic to speculate in detail about why this is, but the answer must be some kind of evolutionary principal, e.g. that organizations that aren’t able to do this would already have been eliminated by external forces, so that any surviving ones must have this ability. Obviously this theory need fine-tuning, but it’s probably mostly correct.
- If you have any doubt that this is the case, just go to a bunch of Hollywood BID Board meetings. They’re actually mostly quite stupid in day-to-day matters. David Graeber has a thoroughly convincing explanation of why this is.
- You may wonder how democratic principles fit into this model. They do, and they must be precise adaptations. I’d elaborate, but it’s too far off-topic. Feel free to drop an email if this is the kind of abstract nonsense you like to debate, and we’ll go somewhere off-blog and talk about it.
- E.g. think of The Reef seeming like a cause of gentrification when it’s actually an effect of already existing but as-yet-unrealized gentrification.
- Like I keep saying, I’m not a cynic, even though this may sound cynical. It’s not. By the way, note that this theory also explains why neighborhoods like Larchmont have such poky little backwater BIDs. Larchmont Village has been sociologically static since its creation. It is now what it was designed to be when it was invented. So there’s no pressure on the BID to change into anything other than a trimmer of trees and a decorator of signal boxes.