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Ron Kaye: Why we've got it better than we realize

February 12, 2012

Time flies faster the older you get, so it seems like only yesterday — not a year ago — that I was offered the opportunity to write a Sunday column for the News-Press & Leader and other community newspapers in the Times Community News group.

It has been an eye-opening experience.

The contrast between life in the suburbs and in the big city next door is stark in every way.

I meet a lot of people who live on the Valley floor, in Eagle Rock, and in other middle-class communities across Los Angeles who share a deep discontent over the state of their city, and who fear the long-term trend toward things getting worse is only accelerating.

All the time, they tell me, “If I could, I’d sell out and move to the suburbs — or to another state altogether.”

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But I have never met anyone in the tri-city area who says, “You can’t imagine how jealous we are that you get to live in L.A., where you have potholed streets and broken sidewalks and bad schools and big-time crooks for politicians. You are one lucky guy.”

Luck had nothing to do with it. I love big cities — the highs, the lows, the drama — but when the lows so outnumber the highs, and when drama becomes a never-ending story of the triumph of greed and selfishness, well, it becomes a pleasure to come visit towns that have actually gotten better in the 30 years I’ve been here.

We all share the most spectacular climate on earth — this winter being living proof of just how wonderful it is — and we all endure the nation’s worst traffic congestion and worst air.

But from there, our worlds start to look a lot different.

In my town, we have the nation’s highest paid local politicians by far — City Council members are paid $178,000 a year, with the most extensive benefit packages, including $40,000 cars and 20 or so staffers to wait on them hand-and-foot, and who do most of their work for them.

They take more than eight weeks a year off from work and when on duty, they spend most of their time raising vast sums of money for their next campaigns by doing favors for the union bosses, developers, corporations and political operatives who provide them with all that money, plus freebies to major sports and entertainment.

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