Anthony Asadullah Samad

*The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority did its usual “rope-a-dope” with the black community last week on the most important infrastructure investment of the next 100 years.

Several things came into crystal clear reality; 1) some people don’t see our community as part of the future of this city. 2) those that we think are our friends or allies-are clearly not, 3) the political sophistication of our community continues to be significantly underestimated, and 4) if some had their way, our community would continue to be significantly undeveloped and underserved.

Very rarely is the Los Angeles black community in complete agreement. Take a picture of this moment…it will last longer. The church community (all denominations), the civil rights community (who hasn’t been in total agreement since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed), community non-profits, business associations, activists groups (and individuals), elected officials and the community itself, all showed up to support the Ridley-Thomas motion to build a light rail stop at Leimert Park Village and an underground tunnel at Park Mesa segment of the Crenshaw Rail line.

The Lion and the Lamb laid down on this one as even Bernie Parks, Maxine Waters and Jan Perry (who don’t support NUTHIN’ County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas does) weighed in for support of this one. Community interest FINALLY triumphed over grudges. We just knew we were in for a good day, until we showed up (all 600 of us). Then it hit, this city always be reluctant to make a significant infra-structure investment in the black community. “Betting on black” is not this city’s strong suit. Trickin the community on votes that build for the future are.

It became clear that the MTA Board was almost offended that MTA Director Ridley Thomas would take a project not on the development schedule until 2029, get it moved up almost a decade and a half to 2016 (or 2018), take a $346,000 bus line and get it upgraded to a $1.715 billion dollars light rail line, and then come back in and ask for an additional $500 million dollars to include the cultural epicenter of the black community and avoid the fragmentation of business interest in his community in his advocation of an underground tunnel. Offense turned hostile quite quickly as a hidden agenda played out.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa played coy all week, refusing to disclose where he was on the vote, claiming he was “listening” to all sides. Turns out, the Mayor really wasn’t listening at all as his appointee’s to the board played out his agenda for him. After Supervisor (and MTA Director) Zev Yaroslavsky implored “consistency” as he attacked the project (and Ridley-Thomas) for trying to force parochial interests on the board, inconsistent with a previous agreement not to vote projects that didn’t have full funding in place, and after Supervisor (and MTA Director) Molina assailed Yaroslavsky’s hypocrisy and the Board’s disingenuousness around its disproportionate distribution of resources that historically shortchanges the Eastside and the Southside, Mayor Villaraigosa stroked the black community in his usual way before he turned his dogs on the project. Villaraigosa appointee’s Mel Wilson and Richard Katz totally unraveled the project. Wilson, first by attacking the fiscal responsibility of the project, which killed the Park Mesa tunnel. Wilson, a Negro that lives in the valley, argued 15-20 minutes against the proposal under the guise that he was newly reappointed and the proposal didn’t make sense to him. But he called experts who were readily at the back of the room. Then Katz comes in with a three part convoluted substitute motion, readily typed and distributed to the board, on how the Leimert Park Village could be build if it could be done within the $1.715 billion already allocated. This was based on the Mayor’s rationalization that the bids on the project were coming in at 30% under projected cost. How convenient was it for Katz to have a proposal that already fit the Mayor’s position on the project. This whole scene was contrived and orchestrated. The final MTA board position was that the Leimert Park Village (LPV) stop be approved with no additional funding on the premise that the additional $131 million hadn’t been identified and the low bids ought to leave room for the LPV stop to happen. What kind of fools do they think we are? We know infrastructure project bid come in low to get the project, but the contractors “cost change” the projects to death. Rarely is there money left on the table. So we know the game.

I’m not going to spend a lot of space saying anything more about Antonio Villaraigosa than I’ve always said in the past. I believe he’s disingenuous and plays our community regularly…and we will see him again one day as his ambition doesn’t end here at the Mayor’s Office. Instead I’ll focus in how common it has become to reward our community’s support with appointments, commissions and proclamations instead of infrastructure and industry that lasts beyond an elected official’s term of office. Villaraigosa is the third Mayor since the late Tom Bradley left office, to come to our community, make promises and don’t keep them. Like Riordan and Hahn before him, he serves our community by appealing to individual self-interests in the appointment of individuals instead of investing in the community itself. You don’t have to do nothing for our community if you promote the interest of a few individuals. South Los Angeles was ignored and underdeveloped during the Bradley years. Our city has been rebuilt since the 1992 riots and the Measure R bond, that is funding the rebuilding of mass transit infrastructure, insures that Los Angeles will be a destination city for global tourists.

If not for the demand of the community and Ridley-Thomas’ advocacy, city leadership was prepared to leave South Los Angeles out of the infrastructure development for nearly another two decades (as it has left South Los Angeles out of commercial development). At some point, the development of South (and East) Los Angeles will have to be seen, not in the equity balance of the rest of the city but, in the context of making up for the absence of development as a community historically passed over. We got tired of the white “city fathers” passing over South L.A. so we bet on brown to see “what brown could do for us.” What we’ve found out is that brown ain’t willing to bet on black. Given Ridley-Thomas’ performance on King Hospital and the Expo Line, and his role in making Measure R happen that benefited all communities, he should’ve been given an opportunity to find the $500 million on Leimert Park and Park Mesa (or at least Leimert Park Village component) for his own community, and Villaraigosa should have been leading the way in that conversation to pull his four votes. Park Mesa lost by the margin that Villaraigosa controlled. He fronted us off again. Then he sent a press release out claiming he supported the project. Yeah, in theory, not in funding. What good does that do the project? Even when we win, we lose with this guy. He’s never with us when it counts most. But he’s gonna want us to bet on him again one day…

The point here is we haven’t gotten anymore from him that we got from the other man, besides a few department appointment, a few commissioners and all the proclamations we can hang. And we should be happy when he shows up at our events. Really, now? Is that we really thought we were getting when we dumped Hahn for Villaraigosa? There’s a saying, “What I do for myself, dies for me. What I do for others, lives indefinitely.” His puppet appointments go out with him. The Crenshaw/LAX line will last 100 years and very time it goes down Crenshaw, we will remember what he did. Villaraigosa killed what legacy he had in our community. Not that he really cared.

Otherwise, he would took a chance and bet on black, like black bet on him.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.