Patt Morrison for September 20, 2011

$275 million stadium by cardboard homeless shelters: is Los Angeles becoming a Third World city?

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David McNew/Getty Images

Homeless people sleep in their encampments in the Skid Row area of Downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times columnist, Hector Tobar, describes Los Angeles as a Third World city. From the 24th floor lounge of the Ritz-Carlton, he compares the city to Rio de Janeiro, where the rich lounge in high rises and look down at squalid makeshift shelters.

He takes a tour of downtown LA and speaks to a Mayan, street fruit vendor, who tells Tobar that he often gets chased away by the city for not having a permit. Tobar contrasts this with the city’s councilmen bending laws and issuing public debt to build a new NFL stadium, to be supported by $275 million in tax-exempt bonds. Tobar writes that this is how a Third World country works: “the wealthy can buy a government favor or an exemption from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

Tobar calls into question if the stadium is a sensible way to spend the city’s money, given cuts to education and other social services. Walking just a half block from Olympic and Figueroa where LA Live, as he puts it, “oozes celebrity,” he is greeted by “the stench of of urine” and “a human being passed out on a mattress.” Having had his father support his way through the University of California as a bellman at the Beverly Hills, Tobar wonders if the bellmen at JW Marriott in downtown LA will be able to afford the same for their children. Will the new football stadium provide enough jobs to justify the money the city will spend? Will the jobs pay enough to cover rent, health care, college tuition? Is an increasing wealth gap in Los Angeles an inevitable, harsh reality of a capitalist society? Has Los Angeles regressed to a Third World status?

Guest:

Hector Tobar, columnist for the Los Angeles Times; author of The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel


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