The anger in Los Angeles

Robert F. Kennedy had several impressive titles during his brief career, but none had quite the impact of the words that are in front of his name now.

The $578 million Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools Complex just opened on the site of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Five hundred and seventy-eight million dollars. It’s the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history.

“The K-12 facility includes a swimming pool, soccer fields, a memorial depicting the school’s namesake, fine art murals and a public park,” the local ABC television station reported. “The legendary Cocoanut Grove Night Club in the old hotel is now the theater, and the ballroom is now a library.”

The Wall Street Journal was more descriptive. “The school boasts an auditorium whose starry ceiling and garish entrance are modeled after the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub and a library whose round, vaulted ceilings and cavernous center resemble the ballroom where Kennedy made his last speech,” the Journal reported. “It also includes the original Cocoanut Grove canopy around which the rest of the school was built.”

The New York Times noted “a faculty lounge that replicates the Ambassador’s sleek Art Deco coffee shop, down to the soft, curved orange banquettes.”

Fine art murals of Robert Kennedy and a half-block-long Jerusalem Stone slab engraved with quotations from Ted Kennedy cost the district $1.3 million. The little park facing Wilshire Boulevard cost $4.9 million. The taxpayers were billed $54,000 for talking benches that play a three-hour audio narration about the history of the site.

The money came from a $20 billion bond issue, approved by voters after proponents ran TV commercials showing crumbling schools with peeling paint, broken windows and cockroaches scurrying through the bathrooms.

Now, somebody’s going to pay.

We’d guess that Barbara Boxer is going to pay, and possibly Jerry Brown, too.

People in Los Angeles are angry. You can hear it in the supermarkets and in the restaurants and in the shopping malls. “Did you see that $578 million school?” they’re saying. “With the competition swimming pool and the talking benches?”

To understand the depth of the rage you’d have to know that for quite some time, the Los Angeles city schools have been in a financial crisis. The district has a $640 million deficit and has laid off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. The cuts have been so deep that teachers are sending kids home with shopping lists for the classroom. One first-grade teacher asked parents to donate laptop computers, ink cartridges, wireless routers, $20 gift cards, books, Play-Doh, toys, reams of paper, marker boards and markers, tubs of wipes, tissues, plastic bags, houseplants, floor cleaners, Windex and Lysol.

We heard about it from some of the angry parents. And what do you think was the first thing they said?

“They spent $578 million on that Robert Kennedy school and WE have to buy the computers and the marker boards and the Lysol??!!”

We’re talking angry. Not the overwhelmed, hassled, first-week-of-school kind of annoyed. Angry.

“You should register to vote,” we suggested.

“I’m going to!” was the answer.

It takes a lot to get people in Los Angeles to pay attention to politics.

Five hundred and seventy-eight million dollars is a lot.

Robert Kennedy’s name will forever be linked with reckless, grandiose, irresponsible government spending, and maybe with the end of Democratic party dominance in California.

That Ambassador Hotel site is just bad luck. It got him twice.

© 2010

Susan Shelley posted at 2010-9-15 Category: Uncategorized