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The Stem Cell Screwup: Who Bears Responsibility?

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We’re not really sure when we stopped paying attention to the inconsistencies and broken promises spouted by the political leadership of Los Angeles. “We” not only being the writers of LAist, but also the editors of the Times and the City’s citizens. The instant broken promise we are referring to “Stem Cellgate” as Bob Hertzberg’s former verbal hatchet man, Matt Szabo, called it. (Check his blog out; it’s quite good.) Over and over again mayoral candidates have talked about bringing jobs to the City, especially encouraging biomedical industries. So, why exactly did we concede this major coup to Emeryville, among others?

The short and easy answer is the incompetence of the Mayor’s office. The Mayor’s office bore responsibility for preparing the City’s application and ensuring it was done correctly. This fairly straightforward-sounding job was not done correctly, to the shame of City government. Some cities even realized it wouldn’t be so straightforward and hired consultants to help. Why wasn’t LA smart enough to do this? We’ve had the entire RFP period to prepare. We’ve known the state would pick a city since November. One of the Mayor’s most important jobs is appointing and managing staff; this is a huge failure for the Mayor especially in that regard.

In some measure, responsibility must also fall on Jan Perry’s office. For those of you who don’t know, Jan Perry is the councilperson who represents downtown, district nine. Her office’s inaction (have you heard her office making any statements at all?) is a perfect example of the Council’s parochial and narrow-minded focus. Most of their time is spent keeping their own constituents happy instead of promoting something that would help the City in the long run. They tend to be reactive rather than proactive, and rarely support new policy initiatives with City-wide importance. This is an unfortunate consequence of having a “strong Council-weak Mayor” City government–-citywide issues get short shrift, with the exception of a few (like inclusionary zoning) that are the darlings of certain councilmembers.

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And when it comes to bearing responsibility for the failures of our municipal officials, never, never forget the coverage of the Times. Szabo is right: why isn't Noam Levey or Jessica Garrison all over this? Why isn't this an outrage? The Mayor's office screws up what could be a massive job-creator and economy-booster, as big as a new sports arena or something, and there's a collective yawn from everyone--citizens, media, and City officials.

What's it going to take for the City to start paying attention to these critical issues? It's going to take your involvement. Call the Mayor's office. Call your Council office. Write letters to the Times. Get a legislative deputy on the phone and ask that the mayor, and your councilperson, pay more attention to Citywide issues and not simply fixing potholes or issuing building permits. Until there's some outrage, some understanding of what's lost when the City fails its constituents on a wider and deeper policy level, and until we get our heads out of the sand of parochial neighborhood issues, LA will never be more than a bunch of small towns pretending that, together, they're a great city.