Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 01:44:43 +0000
The following is an excerpt from a chapter in my forthcoming book:
LOS ANGELES - THE MILLENNIUM CITY; An RX FOR 21ST CENTURY CITIES.
click here to jump directly to part II
click here to jump directly to response
MIKE DAVIS AS THE WIZARD OF OZ
Question of the day; name two significant ways Mike Davis, author of the
much acclaimed books about Los Angeles, CITY OF QUARTZ and ECOLOGY OF FEAR,
differs from Clifford Irving, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Patricia Smith,
Bill Clinton and Mike Barnicle.
Before answering that question, first some background for those not
familiar with Mr. Davis's charmed career. After publication of his surprise
best seller CITY OF QUARTZ in 1990, he was overnight anointed the prophet
of Los Angeles. With the book's vision of a paramilitary LA as the violence
prone antichrist of American cities, it appeared unusually prescient when
the Rodney King riots took place only two years later. The riots sealed
Davis's fate; from then on was the unquestioned expert on anything Los
His new book, ECOLOGY OF FEAR, is five hundred pages of increasingly dire
predictions of the demise of LA from acts of a vengeful nature (all of
which, of course, Angelinos have brought upon themselves). Unsurprisingly,
it is receiving rave reviews from throughout the world. While some critics
might quibble about the odd point, there are a few items on which they
almost unanimously agree; that Davis's books benefit from his having LA as
his "hometown" (New York Times)), that his books are "prodigiously
researched" (also New York Times), "enormously convincing" (Business Week),
that they have "a multitude of facts, large and small" (NY Times Book
Review), that Mr. Davis "holds the keys to understanding the city of Los
Angeles" (Lingua Franca) and that that they are "heavily footnoted" (almost
everyone mentions this).
There is only one small problem with all these hosannas. None of them are
true (other than the fact there are sure a hell of a lot of footnotes).
Mr. Davis was not only not born in Los Angeles, he was not even raised
anywhere near LA, geographically or culturally. And of the heavily
footnoted and researched facts, not just a handful, not just a few dozen
here and there, but many hundreds (and hundreds) of them - were simply made
up. Or, if not made up, twisted, rationalized and distorted until they bear
as little relation to the truth as does President Clinton's definition of
To begin with Davis's own paternity, in his CITY OF QUARTZ bio, he did
admit - as he had elsewhere - that he was born in a rust belt small town
(Fontana) in San Bernardino County and raised in a tiny hamlet called
Bostonia in the outback of San Diego County.
=46or New Yorkers, that is the equivalent of saying someone born and raised
in a dying farming town 60 miles north of Buffalo is a native New Yorker
and thus uniquely qualified to write about the inner workings of Manhattan.
If any writer in New York made that claim, they would be legitimately
ridiculed out of print.
But the geographically challenged reviewers of CITY OF QUARTZ seemed
incapable of looking at a map and realizing Mike Davis's background could
not be further from the reality of anyone actually born and raised in Los
Angeles. Reviewers of his current book will have a harder time, though,
divining the truth of his physical upbringing. In a very recent event
(undoubtedly due to previously undetected paradigm shifts in the earth's
tectonic plates), Davis's birth place (as listed on the book's jacket) has
just been moved - post natal - to the city of Los Angeles.
Much like the Stalinist era creation of non-persons - the communities of
=46ontana and Bostonia have suddenly (conveniently in time for Davis's
publication date) become non-places.
Now the alternative reality of Davis's being born and raised in small
desert fringe towns far from LA doesn't mean he can't - or shouldn't -
write about LA, but to sell books - as he does now - on the basis he was
born in LA and to further claim he is a native son with specific first hand
knowledge of LA is.... well, fraud.
But even after taking into account Davis did not live in LA until
adulthood, that still doesn't explain the sheer volume of errors in both
books and an almost total lack of understanding about so many events. Both
books appear - in some places - to have been written by a person with
almost no first hand experience of LA; someone with little first hand
knowledge of the physical much less social geography of Los Angeles.
Some research into the scant biographical data available on Davis may
answer that conundrum. He appears to have arrived in LA for his first visit
in the mid 1960's (he was born in 1946) after leaving the greater Bostonia
area for San Diego and a short stay at Reed College in Oregon. After some
years of political activity throughout the Western United States -
including managing a Communist Party book store - he became a long distance
truck drive for a number of years.
In the 1970's he spent two more periods in LA - both times as a student at
UCLA, but for much/most of the decade he was in Europe, particularly
England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The 1980's were spent in London,
but he returned to LA in 1987 and in the following two years, he appears to
have written CITY OF QUARTZ (it was published in 1990). Our 'native son'
wrote the 'ultimate insider book on LA' after just two years in LA, a city
in which he had not lived since the early 1970's other than two stints in
the ivory towers of UCLA.
It is not surprising, then, that QUARTZ appears to have been written in the
research stacks of UCLA; it probably was. Davis not only did not know LA at
all until adulthood, but he also spent most of the 70's and all of the 80's
prior to writing the book studying Marxism in Europe which does explain a
lot about his unique insider knowledge of Los Angeles. Almost everything he
describes in and about LA happened while he wasn't even on the American
continent, much less in LA.
So much for the alleged native son advantage.
As for examining the work itself, it is hard to know how or where to begin.
To fully detail the extent of the error, deception and mistakes in each
book would require far more words than either book contains. The most
economical way may be to take a handful of pages and demonstrate just how
flawed each aspect of the research, analysis and writing is on those few
The main trust of QUARTZ and an important part of ECOLOGY is his thesis
that the public spaces of LA are being replaced by heavily controlled,
gated environments which exclude the bulk of the citizenry and,
furthermore, that this process has speeded up since the riots of 1992.
His poster child for the new BLADE RUNNER LA is Bunker Hill; a decaying
slum which was replaced with new office buildings, museums, the Music
Center, hotels, schools, and apartments from the 1960's until today. On
Page 364 of ECOLOGY he claims that after the 1965 Watts Riot, the downtown
property owners decided to abandon plans to redevelop the old Spring Street
=46inancial District and formed a secretive 'Committee of 25' which then
manipulated the city to condemn Bunker Hill (a claim he elaborated upon in
an essay this chapter was based upon). The Committee then had the city
clear the land of structures so they could buy the land a far below market
value, thus having the city bail them out of their failed downtown
The only problem is, not one of these 'facts' has any resemblance to the tru=
The Committee of 25 was formed in 1952, not in 1965. It was not 'secretive'
- it's existence was well known by anyone involved in local affairs. It was
also not a landowner's association, but was a committee of the largest
corporations in the city. And it was not the driving force behind the
Bunker Hill redevelopment; that was the Central City Association. Lastly,
the riots were actually the beginning of the Committees' end as leader of
the city's power structure, not it's genesis.
As for abandoning any plans to redevelop the old Spring Street Financial
District (located in the older east side of downtown), Davis is referring
to a plan called Centropolis which was proposed in the area south of Bunker
Hill long after the Bunker Hill redevelopment had already been approved and
physically started. And even that new plan did not call for the financial
district staying on Spring Street; the Bunker Hill project was always
scheduled to be the new headquarters area for downtown.
The Centropolis plan only showed a grand total of two buildings - which
hardly constitutes a financial district - actually being built on Spring
Street, and even they were barely in the conceptual stage. The drawing
Davis shows of projected high rises were actually proposed in the newer
western portion of downtown - not the old Spring Street financial district.
That new area, by the way, has since been redeveloped with high rises; the
plan he claims was 'abandoned' was actually later largely realized in
spirit if not exact form.
As for 'saving' the bank's 'investments', all the buildings on Spring were
30 to 60 years old, functionally obsolete and had long been fully
depreciated. The only post war bank building was the 1959 California Bank
Building and when that much merged bank did finally move - it bought a lot
at fair market value on 6th St. outside of the Bunker Hill redevelopment
And as for the claim Bunker Hill land was sold for far below market value,
by law each parcel was auctioned off to the highest bidder to ensure that
they were sold at market value as required by law.
Lastly, as for his statement the downtown business interests had gotten the
city to condemn Bunker Hill to 'save' them in 1965, the real decision to
redevelop Bunker Hill had first been made clear back in the 1930's and
finally activated in 1959. The clearing of buildings started in 1961 and by
the time of the 1965 riot, most of the land had been bought by the city,
the bulk of the buildings had been cleared, the Music Center was under
construction, the infrastructure was going in place and the lots were
getting ready to be auctioned off to builders.
There as no way the property owners could have 'gotten' the city to condemn
Bunker Hill in 1965 for the simple reason the city already essentially
owned Bunker Hill.
Since literally every single 'fact' in his scenario is dead wrong, I was
really curious to see where the footnote for all this misinformation would
lead; what source could have gotten everything so totally ass backwards. A
quick turn to the back of the book revealed that Mike Davis's so unreliable
source was.... none other than... Mike Davis. An essay he had written some
He had footnoted an essay he had written about redeveloping downtown LA in
a collection of essays, OUT OF SITE. Now here's where things get really
interesting; the facts he cites in his essay are completely different than
the facts he cites in his book he refers to in his footnote. I'll repeat
the two key words... completely different.
In the essay he correctly lays out the scenario for the redevelopment of
Bunker Hill starting in the 1930's and finally approved in 1959 (not 1965
as it says in the book). He also correctly identifies the Central City
Association as the supporters of the group - with no mention of the
'secretive Committee of 25' and correctly cites that the organization was
formed in the 1920's (actually 1922) - and not in 1965.
Better yet, in yet his third version of the 'truth' (there could be fourth
and fifth versions, too, but I've only managed to find three so far) - a
draft of the ECOLOGY chapter which appeared as an essay goes even further
field from the truth when he claims that the Committee of 25 - only AFTER
the 1965 riots - used the city's power of eminent domain to condemn and
raze neighborhoods and create a new financial core west of the then
This despite his knowing - and previously writing about and even citing in
that essay - that all these decisions all this had happened years before.
This is where it becomes obvious that Mr. Davis has a problem. Why would
anyone so blatantly falsify data and then hand over to his readers the
smoking gun - complete with fingerprints, stained dress, Bruno Magli shoes
and DNA samples - to discover how he falsified his facts? This happens so
often it's almost as if either Davis somehow wants to get caught or has
some kind of mental pathology which requires him to distort the truth.
His writings are prime examples of someone having a point of view they wish
to promulgate, and then writing not to find the truth, but to support their
case, cherry picking their facts. Which is fine. But in Davis's case, he
goes far beyond that. Whenever he needs a 'fact' to booster some
preformulated hypothesis, rather than going to all the messy bother of
actually hunting them down and picking them, it seems as if he simply grows
and rolls his own, and then assigns them whatever moderately plausible
footnote happens to be lying around.
Even in his essay in OUT OF SITE on downtown redevelopment where he starts
with some of the correct facts, his complete lack of understanding of basic
economics, real estate development, simple geography and the political
process renders his thoughts on the subject impotent.
To give just one example of how flawed his analysis is, he cites how a main
goal of Bunker Hill redevelopment was to separate the new business district
from the old east side of downtown partially by making Hill Street (which
he claims was a thriving commercial street prior to redevelopment - which -
are you sitting down? - it wasn't) an insurmountable barrier to keep the
downtown proletariat at arm's length. He cites the LA Times as a prime
backer - and beneficiary - of the project to protect their own real estate
holdings by turning Hill Street into a demilitarized zone separating rich
But there is, somehow, one very minor fact he neglects to mention - (or,
scarier, yet, somehow probably doesn't even notice); the LA Times happens
to be located on the 'wrong' side of the barricades he claims they have
erected. Since it's founding in 1881, the Times was and is east of Hill
Street - the proletariat side; the very zone he claims will be cut off from
the new downtown, left to decay in the abyss they themselves created.
One of two things has happened here. Either the LA Times created this huge
conspiracy, but just happened not to notice that they were accidentally
conspiring against themselves by walling themselves off from the new
business district, or, the entire 'Bunker Hill/Hill Street as the Berlin
Wall' conspiracy Davis has concocted is absolute and total fiction.
But our home town boy is still in first gear. Shifting into second gear
(and remember, all these 'minor adjustments to the truth' are still from
one single page in his book), he rhapsodizes into an Orwellian wet dream
about how Bunker Hill is now a fortified city cut off from traditional
pedestrian access from the rest of downtown. His fantasy breathlessly
continues with visions of all entrances to the new buildings being cut off
with giant steel doors shutting with a push of a button, the once public
sidewalks being replaced by building to building security controlled
pedways and fortress like structures designed to keep all nonwhites at bay.
The only problem is that - surprise - none of this is true. Absolutely zero
truth. Nada. Total fabrication.
Let's put it this way. If Davis's books were TV shows, right now we'd be
hearing, "De plane, Boss... De Plane!" as Mr. Roarke walks out to greet his
guests to Mike Davis's FANTASY ISLAND.
To dispose of his daydreams one by one, his main claim is that all Bunker
Hill pedestrian access has been cut off from Hill Street (the LA Times
doing this, of course, so it could totally cut itself off from the new
downtown and ensure it's economic doom) and all other parts of the old
Well, every access that existed from Hill Street prior to redevelopment -
still exists, except they are now far easier to use since the top of the
hill was cut off. There is a sidewalk up 1st street (the same one which has
always been there), a sidewalk up 2nd street (the same one which has always
been there), there is a staircase up 3rd St. (much improved from the one
which had been there) plus the reactivated Angel's Flight and there is both
a sidewalk and an escalator plus a stair case up 4th street plus a
staircase and sidewalks at 5th Street.
Now, I may be a little slow, but could someone please explain to me exactly
what part of this constitutes the cutting off of all pedestrian access from
the old part of the city?
As for the electronically controlled steel doors and fortress like
mentality, I couldn't recall ever seeing anything like that before, but
decided to check this out first hand (something I would recommend Mr. Davis
try sometime). For two hours I walked the perimeter of every office
building on the hill on a Saturday night when the buildings were shut down
and I could not find even ONE lobby doorway which even had a steel door
which could be used for security. In fact most of the entrance doors wire
revolving doors which could never even accommodate a steel door.
As for the fortress like appearance, virtually every building's public
areas are lined with floor to ceiling glass walls - totally open to the
public visually. At no time in LA's history has a collection of high rise
buildings been so open and unfortress like as the new buildings on Bunker
I also found vest pocket parks (not one of which even had gates, much less
locked gates), plazas, a botanical garden, fountains, ample benches for
sitting, numerous diners enjoying sidewalk cafes, brown bag al fresco
dining, skin head Hispanic rappers, joggers, an Asian/white/black roller
hockey game; in short, ethnically and economically diverse Angelinos
The only ghetto I experienced was the one in Mr. Davis's mind.
As for the elevated 'pedways' replacing sidewalks, on Bunker Hill itself
there is not one single pedway between buildings on the hill itself and
every single building is accessible from a public sidewalk. There are,
however, due to grade changes pedways linking buildings on the east side of
the hill to buildings on Figueroa which are further interconnected with
pedways. But none of them replace any sidewalks and none of them are the
primary access for the buildings, only auxiliary accesses from the
And instead of being locked, almost all of them are totally wide open
without any doors (much less locked doors) and the four pedways which open
into the LA World Trade Center, for example, not only do not have
electronically locked doors - the doors don't even have manual locks. They
are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Davis's lurid scenario of guards in control towers throwing electronic
switches to slam down steel doors over pedway entrances is simply a total,
Lastly, to encourage the public to use the sidewalks, all the heavy cross
traffic has been taken off the top of the Hill by recessing 4th street into
an open air tunnel and keeping 2nd and 3rd in the tunnels they have been in
for many years. By following the example of Olmstead - a personal hero of
Mr. Davis's - in Central Park and keeping the cross town traffic separated
from the pedestrians, Bunker Hill is easily the most pedestrian friendly
high rise area in Los Angeles. Parking and truck accesses have also been
recessed whenever possible to allow for a quiet, walkable Bunker Hill.
Anyone who has walked the Hill before and after redevelopment can tell you
that not only is the Hill which once had no public spaces now filled with
them but that the pedestrian access to Bunker Hill is substantially easier
than it had been. The Bunker Hill Steps - inspired by Rome's Spanish Steps
- in particular are not only one of the great urban public spaces in the
city but replace the truly Orwellian pre-redevelopment access to the hill
from 5th street. If Mr. Davis were to ever visit Bunker Hill, he might
check them out.
Davis demonstrates again that either during his visits to LA he never
managed to drive by, much less walk Bunker Hill before or after
redevelopment or..... just possibly......he might be accused of being
somewhat cavalier with the truth.
As an example of that, one only has to look at the opening and closing of
ECOLOGY. As an exercise, I decided to fact check both the first and last
chapters to see how far before the first 'errors'. In neither case did I
make it past the first (or final) paragraph.
In the opening paragraph of the book, Davis states that a Kona storm front
hitting LA during an El Nino "produces rainfall of a ferocity UNRIVALED (my
caps) anywhere on earth, even in the tropical monsoon belts."
He doesn't state that rainfall approaches tropical levels or says that it
is at monsoon levels, but that tropical monsoons don't begin to rival the
intensity of rain in LA.
The 'facts' in the obscure footnote he quotes (and Davis is a master of
finding that one inaccurate footnote in a sea of facts to support his
claims) are that the world record for one minute of rain is .64 inches is
held by LA County and that the former world record for decades (also in LA
County) is 26.08 inches for a full day. Both statements are totally,
completely false, and, even they were true, would still not logically
support his claim.
The truth is that in the tropics, the rain comes down so hard during any
storm (much less monsoons), the gauges usually aren't even set up to
register per hour counts, much less per minute counts. Estimates of two,
three inches per minute are common in the literature.
The American record (which for that reason is also the world record) is
1.23 inches in a minute - almost double the LA amount of .64 inches - in
that famous tropical monsoon city of Unionville, Maryland.
As for the truth of the 24 hour record, the 4 hour 30 minute record in the
US is 30.8 inches in Smethport, Penn - far more rain in less than 20% as
much time - was in 1942, one year BEFORE LA's 'for decades the world's
record', making that statement also a non-truth. The real world's 24 hour
record is 73.62 inches in Le Reunion.
After that misleading prologue, he launches into the first section of the
In just one page, Davis first claims that in less than three years the LA
area had three of the ten most costly disasters since the Civil War; he
then goes on to claim that the Northridge Earthquake was far and away the
costliest natural disaster in American history, that the Northridge quake
was more expensive than the next four costliest disasters put together, and
that the Northridge earthquake affected the lives of more people than any
previous national disaster in the United States.
=46our very strong claims - each of which is backed up by ample footnotes.
And these are largely the facts his book is based upon.
And every one of his 'facts' is totally false.
To accomplish this deception, Davis first has his multiple 'definitions' of
Los Angeles, the LA Metropolitan area, the greater LA area, Southern
California, the South Coast and here, the Megalopolis - with totally
different populations and characteristics which he picks and chooses to
suit whatever he is trying to prove at the moment.
If that isn't confusing enough, when it comes to his disaster statistics he
isn't so much comparing apples and oranges, but Volvos and skateboards. The
first list - from the NY Times - he uses to prove LA has three of the
largest national disasters since the Civil War. The first problem with that
claim is that the list ignores all post Civil War 19th Century and early
20th Century disasters such as the Chicago Fire, San Francisco earthquake
and many others which dwarf any fire or storm LA has ever had.
Then, this outdated NY Times list he selectively chose, conveniently
predates all disasters after the Northridge earthquake such as the Midwest
floods and other non-LA disasters (even though in the very next paragraph
he mentions the Midwest floods), which again far exceed the cost of any
fire or flood ever to hit LA.
=46inally, even if one uses non-inflation adjusted dollars, when one checks
current disaster lists of total costs at the time of the writing of the
book such as the one issued by the Insurance Information Institute, they
all show Southern California as only having one disaster on the top ten
list, not three as Davis falsely claims.
The NY Times chart he cites also shows that Hurricane Andrew was far more
damaging than the Northridge earthquake, but then, when he wants to prove
that Northridge was more damaging than Andrew, that chart suddenly isn't
the one he wants to cite. Instead, he uses a figure ($40 billion) given by
a California disaster agency which takes the actual disaster costs and then
adds various other soft costs such as workman's comp, lost work time and
various other intangibles - which they can not support by actual data when
asked to supply it - which is a totally different criteria than in the
lists Davis is comparing their figure with.
=46urthermore, none of those lists take into account the National Climatic
Data Center's more extensive lists of weather-related disasters. Their easy
winner in the disaster sweepstakes is the Central and Eastern US heat wave
of 1988 with it's 5,000 to 10,000 deaths and it's $40 billion dollars in
And those are unadjusted 1988 damage costs - with no inflation or indirect
costs added. That one disaster dwarfs any hurricane or earthquake on
anyone's list. The same general area was hit in 1980 with $20 billion in
damages and 10,000 deaths, in 1996 $5 billion dollars and in 1998 200
deaths and over $6 billion dollars.
Nothing in the history of California can come any near those figures or
frequency of massive disasters. Compared to the Midwest or the South, LA is
an ecological paradise.
And those same parts of the country are regularly hit by flooding (1993 -
$21 billion and 48 deaths) tornadoes (billions in damage each year), ice
storms (1983 - $3 billion in Florida alone), hurricanes (Andrew 1992 - $27
billion dollars) and snow storms (1996 - $6 billion in damages) which again
also cumulatively far exceed the death and damage counts that the LA area
has ever experienced, much less the frequency of disasters.
=2E..end of part 1
=2E..beginning of part 2
click here to jump back to part I
click here to jump directly to response
As for Davis's claim that Northridge quake was more disastrous than the
next four disasters, that claim came from a chart which listed the costs of
only ONE SINGLE government program which was only a small fraction of each
disaster's costs. It has nothing to do with the total costs of each
disaster as he falsely represents it to do.
And as for the statement that more Americans were affected by the
Northridge quake than any previous disaster.... when it comes to floods
which shut down the much of the Midwest, hurricanes which cut across the
South, snow storms which shut down the whole Midwest and much of the East
Coast.....when compared with the number of people affected by those
disasters, Northridge is barely a footnote.
Now all of those correct facts can be gathered with a few phone calls in an
hour or two to the appropriate agencies. Interestingly, though, not one of
Mr. Davis's sources for his 'damage' claims actually comes from a direct
source. Instead he picks and chooses from newspaper articles over a several
year period. For if he had actually checked the original sources and had
gotten the truth, he wouldn't have a book to sell.
As for the final paragraph of the book, among it's several falsehoods, is
the whopper that the fires from the Rodney King riot would - when seen from
space - be comparable to the huge fires that consumed the Indonesian
forests in 1997. In reality, the LA fires were a mere pinpoint on the globe
compared to not only the Indonesian fires, but many other fires in recent
times including, but far from limited to those in Florida, Mexico and
=46or 'proof', Davis mentions an 85 square kilometer image which enclosed th=
LA fire area at it's height being picked up by satellites; the fire areas
in Indonesia 1997 were spread over a 1000 by 3000 mile area with 3,000,000
square miles of shifting smoke filled with fire hot spots (the entire city
of LA in comparison is only 450 square miles); but that was only the
central core area of the beast; the smoke area spread though out all of
Southeast Asia, tens of millions of square miles, the size of dozens of
states of California. The LA riots fires could have been dropped dozens of
times into the Indonesian fires without even being noticed from outer
space; the two events were in not in any way comparable.
So Mike Davis both begins and ends his fairy tale with the tallest of tall
tales. At least, if nothing else, he does have one virtue as a writer; he
is consistent; consistently incapable of finding the truth.
These falsehoods do help to show how he is seemingly utterly unable of
being truthful even in his opening and closing paragraphs (which you would
think he would realize would come under greater scrutiny than other parts
of the text).
It's hard to decide upon which chapter in the book is the silliest, but
'Maneaters of the Sierra Madre' has to be one of the top contenders. His
whole premise here is that LA is uniquely threatened by the wild animals on
every side. He starts off with beachcombers finding snakes on the beach
after heavy rains. Well, if you read the accounts about storms in Texas,
Louisiana, Florida etc. this year, in each of those states snakes are
washed down to the beach after storms. Any place in the world where there
are snakes, rivers and rain - the exact same thing happens.
But the really silly season begins with his claims that LA's population is
in a panic due to the threat of man eating coyotes and mountain lions. The
only problem is that in over 200 years of history there have been ZERO
people killed much less eaten by either a coyote or a mountain lion in the
entire city of Los Angeles. Even when one takes in the entire Southern half
of the state - in over 200 years - there is exactly ONE death from each
animal in 200 years. This warrants a chapter called 'Maneaters of the
When one considers that over a 100 people EVERY YEAR are killed by having
their cars hit deer - with numerous fatalities every single year in places
like New York and Chicago, that alligators have killed far more people in
=46lorida in a single year than all coyote, and mountain lion attacks in the
entire state in 200 years..... it's obvious that Davis has gone over the
edge from Fantasy Land into Paranoia Land. The entire chapter makes
absolutely no sense as - even using Davis's own figures - LA probably has
far fewer wildlife related deaths than most cities.
To give just one example of how bizarre his rantings can get, he even
breathlessly states that the LA will be the very first major city in the
Northern Hemisphere to experience the attack of the killer bees.
Well, and remember here that Davis is by education in part a geographer,
Mexico City and most major cities in Mexico have had killer bees for years
and the last time I checked, Mexico City - which is far larger than Los
Angeles - was in the Northern Hemisphere - as is every other major city in
Mexico and Central America.
As are Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, St. Louis, San
Diego and many other major cities which either already have or are about to
get the killer bees. As is so often, what Davis says is the exact opposite,
180 degrees of the truth. LA may actually be one of the last major Northern
Hemisphere cities in their range to experience killer bees, not the first.
Maybe we should all chip in and buy little Mikey an atlas.
But that chapter only reinforces the total bankruptcy of Davis's thesis in
his book. When it comes to ecological disasters, LA actually has had far
fewer deaths and less costly damages than most of the rest of the county (a
handful of Mid-Western heat waves alone dwarf every LA disaster put
together - and that's not counting when the New Madrid Fault reduces every
city from Chicago to New Orleans to rubble due to their faulty building
=46inally, there's his other thesis that what deaths and damages there are i=
LA are due solely to willful ignoring of the environment.
Unfortunately for any one who wants to try and dispute Davis's assertion,
he barely even attempts to prove his claim (not that any of the reviewers
have noticed this); we are supposed to take it as a given since it has come
from the master's lips.
The reason, of course, he can't prove it is that his whole thesis is simply
Earthquakes are going to strike almost anywhere in the country in the long
run and in the greater LA area in the short run. Anywhere you build in
California there is a threat of quakes and after every quake, the building
codes are strengthened to prevent future loss of life and property.
As for the idea that the city has created fire and wildlife danger by
reckless building into the wilderness... well, everywhere outside of the
original pueblo was wilderness. Anywhere the city expanded, it bordered
wilderness where there would be interaction with fire and wildlife.
The Hollywood Hills used to have numerous fires, but once the area
developed, the frequency of fires stopped (not that fires can ever be
totally stopped, of course). The same pattern of numerous fires, then
almost no fires happened in the Santa Monica Mountains in West LA. The fire
areas just keep moving out as the city has expanded.
Even in areas such as Malibu where most of the land will remain wild, with
the replacement of old wood shake roofed houses with fire resistant
structures, better fire truck access, brush clearance and the installation
of up to date water lines, the fire damages will greatly decrease over the
The big fire of 1993 happened because the old water lines were inadequate
and the area had not burned since the 1930's leaving fifty years of brush
adjacent to the oldest area of pre-fire code houses left in Malibu. That
kind of fire can never happen again as the homes now meet present fire
codes and the water lines have been upgraded.
The next fire a few years after that - even though it covered almost as
large an area in acreage within Malibu proper - did not destroy a single
house within the Malibu City limits - and only burned one home in the
Malibu Post Office area, and that was one of the oldest homes in the area.
Moving on to another chapter (and another page) of ECOLOGY, Davis claims
that there has been a massive media conspiracy which has prevented people
from learning that Los Angeles is the tornado capitol of the Western United
States. He claims the LA Times has essentially banned the use of the word
tornado in articles about LA, but in randomly checking twelve articles from
his footnotes, eleven of them used the word tornado. For our further fact
checking, let's look at page 157.
He starts off by claiming that 60 major structures have been 'wrecked' by
twisters in Southern California (I might add that there are at least four -
if not five - different geographic definitions of LA, Southern California
etc. he uses in this chapter which make it almost impossible to make
accurate comparisons). Among the wrecked buildings he claims are a movie
studio, two airports, a municipal wharf etc.
He later describes how one tornado destroyed the New York false front
street at Universal studios; that 1% of Universal studios - a false fronted
stage set being damaged - is what he called the 'wrecked' motion picture
studio only pages before. The other 'wrecked' major buildings are - for the
most part - similar exaggerations. He then claims that 1440 homes and small
businesses have been either been destroyed or seriously damaged; broken
windows and some roof damage actually account for most of that number. (One
I know for certain first hand as it was my former next door neighbors'
He then, after earlier citing ground breaking research articles by Warren
Blier & Karen Batten and by Hales, takes their data and starts spinning
facts faster than any tornado LA has ever seen.
He starts by claiming that tornadoes occur nearly ten times more frequently
in the South Coast Area (Roughly, Mexican border to Ventura and east to San
Bernardino and Riverside Counties) than in the rest of California, But the
study he cites also says what while there were 99 tornadoes in the South
Coast area, in the state of California there were a total of a total of 242
tornadoes for the same period (a figure he neglects to mention, of course).
By his statement and using the studies he cites, there should have been
over a 1,000 tornadoes in the South Coast.
He then states that Blier and Batten claim that the South Coast - using a
particularly inventive set of statistics - has more tornadoes than
Oklahoma. In their article, they quickly modify that by stating that those
statistics are really kind of a parlor trick in that not only are the
'tornadoes' in LA a far cry from Oklahoma twisters, but, even more
importantly the numbers they come from two very different data banks. In
other words, the Oklahoma count comes from one source while their LA
figures were put together from many sources to arrive at a far high total
than the standard study showed for the LA area. That major point is
needless to say, omitted from the book. Too inconvenient.
Davis then makes the claim that Metropolitan LA is hit by tornadoes at a
far higher rather rate than any other urban area - with nearly twice as
many tornadoes as Oklahoma City. To achieve that 'fact' Davis first takes
the low figure for Oklahoma - and Blier and Batten show that in Iowa the
double checking of those numbers found 300% more tornadoes than the
official report - and then, rather than using the LA numbers from that
source, he cites totally non-comparable disproportionately high LA or South
Coast figures, though it is hard to tell exactly where those figures
actually come from.
Even on this single page, there are even more false statements, but with so
many hundreds to choose from..... let's keep moving.
In another chapter, he claims that the Westlake area of LA has the highest
urban burn rate of any city in the country. I might add that this
neighborhood while described as a tenement district in this book during the
1950's, in OUT OF SITE, it is described as a fashionable district in the
1960's 'threatened' by the demolition of slum housing on Bunker Hill.
While not in any way minimizing the seriousness of the city's neglect in
enforcing fire codes in older buildings, the area's burn rate pales when
compared with New York, Detroit, Chicago or most other cities. Both the
Bronx and many areas of Detroit have had more apartment buildings destroyed
by fire in one week - if not one night - than have happened in his
self-described 'burned over district' in an entire year.
Backing his claim that the Westlake area is the urban fire capital of the
entire country is a footnote which says that this 'statistic' was given him
(presumably verbally) by an unnamed staff member of a local politician.
This politician, I might add, whom Davis portrayed as battling the
exploiters in his district was - at that very time - buying cocaine from
drug dealers operating right around the corner from school yards.
Well, as long as it's from a reliable source.
Since this story was so easy to disprove, I almost didn't pull up the exact
fire records, but I was really shocked when I finally did. Out of 15
council districts in the city in 1993 - the year when Davis called this
area the urban fire capital of the entire country, the 1st council district
had the fewest structure fires of ANY of the 15 council districts.
Let's see... Davis said the area had the highest fire rate in the entire
country and yet the facts show it has the lowest fire rate in the entire
city of LA. What's wrong with this picture?
Another of the major themes of recent LA history Davis tries to tackle in
QUARTZ was - to paraphrase Davis - the political and cultural clashes
between the downtown, largely WASP power structure and the growing, largely
Jewish Westside elite in the 1950's and 60's, resulting in the location of
the LA County Museum of Art in the Jewish Hancock Park area.
The facts in that last sentence, courtesy of Mike Davis, demonstrate just
how mystified Davis is when he tries to parse this - or any other subject
regarding the inner workings of Los Angeles.
To know Hancock Park and it's denizens it to know the story of the Los
Angeles downtown establishment in the twentieth century. Many of them were
born there, raised there, lived there, went to it's schools and died there.
It is not uncommon for three or four generations of the same family to
still reside in Hancock Park or its sister neighborhoods of Windsor Square
and Fremont Park Place.
=46or Mike Davis to confuse the neighborhood of Hancock Park with the Fairfa=
District - LA's traditional Jewish community - is inconceivable to anyone
with a first hand knowledge of the city.
To make certain this was not a one time lapse, I checked the index to see
the other references to Hancock Park only to find there were no references
to the power center of the city he is writing about.
Again, to use a New York analogy, this is as if not only not knowing the
difference between the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side, but not
even knowing of the existence of the Upper East Side.
But it gets even better as Davis finally shifts into third gear..
His scenario of the Jewish Westside Howard Ahmanson versus the Gentile
downtown Chandlers et al makes for good street theater, except there is (as
usual) one minor problem; Howard Ahmanson lived virtually his entire
business life within the waspy confines of Hancock Park - silver spoon by
silver spoon with the rest of the downtown establishment of which he was
one of it's leaders. His savings and loan - Homes Savings - was long
headquartered in downtown Los Angeles and even when it later moved - it was
to the Mid-Wilshire District which is the further most East you can be in
LA without being downtown.
Virtually all his major charities were downtown oriented as were most of
his business activities.
Oh, there's also one other minor point. Howard Ahmanson - Mike Davis'
anointed leader of the Westside Jewish community - was not only not a
Westsider, he also wasn't Jewish. Despite Mike Davis's reference to him as
being "despised... for his Jewishness", he was a white bread Methodist from
To mention just a few of the clues anyone actually residing in rather than
visiting LA would have picked up, Ahmanson's son at the time of the writing
of the book was already supporting the Christian right wing of the
Republican Party, each year the Ahmanson Foundation makes a Christmas gift
to the people of LA, he was a member of the Ur-Wasp Wilshire Country Club
and a quick look through the Ahmanson gifts hanging in the County museum
will find numerous representations of Christianity.
Returning to ECOLOGY, and now checking out page 376, Davis starts by
talking about the millions of square feet of vacant 1950's office space
left vacant in the Wilshire starting in the 1970's. OK, the only problem is
that almost all the modernist space on mid-Wilshire (with a very few
exceptions such as the Tishman buildings) was built in the 1960's and the
1970's. Not a huge error, but still any one who has any kind of
relationship with the physical structure of the city shouldn't be making
mistakes like that.
Warming up, Davis next repeats the urban myth - which he may have even
originated - that Bullock's Wilshire had $10,000,000 in damage from the
Rodney King rioters and that the store then promptly closed for good.
Well, there was zero, repeat zero structural damage to the store during the
riots, much less ten million dollars worth. A lot of windows and glass
display cases were broken and a lot of merchandise was stolen, but the
store was open again within the week. It did finally close a year later,
but only after the parent store Macy's went into bankruptcy and the store
was closed along with many other stores from coast to coast, none of which
had been in the riots.
He then stated that Hancock Park houses had dropped in value by $200,000 in
less than a year and that the Wilshire Corridor became a unique category in
urban history, the modern high rise ghost town.
None of this was true. Housing prices had dropped due to the recession
before the riots and the Wilshire Corridor is well over 70% occupied,
hardly a ghost town. And as for being a unique urban ghost town, it pales
in comparison with the see through skyscrapers of Houston, Dallas and New
York at the end of the last two recessions.
He also distorts the truth by listing the buildings on Mid-Wilshire which
have closed due to the loss of their institutions, but then neglecting to
mention their new uses. Bullock's Wilshire is now a law school, another
building is low income housing, the historic Los Altos apartment has been
restored, the Brown Derby is still a restaurant and that Wilshire is
turning into a shopping district again.
Since Davis apparently doesn't know either the past or the present of Los
Angeles, how about his record as a prognosticator of the future? After all,
he did 'predict' the Rodney King Riots. Well, it is hard to image anyone
'predicting' bizarre events which led up to the riots, the possibility of
such an event was certainly anticipated in his first book.
As for almost every other prognostication he's made before or since, he's
batting a perfect zero.
His major theme in CITY QUARTZ (which was actually less a book than a
series of somewhat related essays converging upon one theme - paranoia)
again, was that the public spaces of Los Angeles are being shut down and
replaced by gate guarded, privately controlled complexes which will shortly
replace public street life in Los Angeles.
He could not have been more wrong. Since his book came out pedestrian
street life in public spaces has grown more than any period in LA's
history. Virtually every part of the city is developing walking streets
while some of the hotter newer places like Old Town Pasadena and 3rd Street
Santa Monica even becoming internationally known.
They have been joined by the comeback of streets like Hollywood Boulevard
and Westwood Boulevard not to mention the streets like the Sunset Strip,
Melrose, Hillhurst, Larchmont, Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood,
and too many others to mention. Then there are public places like the
Venice Board Walk, the many piers and beaches and the beach front bike
trails. No other city in the country has the wide variety of public spaces
that LA has developed.
One of Davis's wackier predictions was that the building of City Walk
shopping/dining/entertainment mall in Universal City would destroy the
ability of the real Hollywood to recover; even the building of City Walk in
=46lorida is claimed to have depressed property values on Hollywood
Boulevard! How having priceless free publicity for Hollywood Boulevard in -
3000 miles away - Orlando Florida reduced the values of retail property and
theaters on Hollywood Boulevard is mercifully not explained.
Instead of Davis's predicted fate, right now Hollywood has more diverse
development projects ready to go than any other part of the city. From one
end to the other, new buildings, stores and theaters are breaking ground.
Historic landmarks are being restored, old houses renovated, new housing is
being built, new restaurants opening and new hotels are planned. Evidently,
this was beginning to worry Davis so he stuck a late footnote into the book
about how one of the many new projects in Hollywood was going to be like
Rodeo Drive... which I guess disqualifies it from being considered as part
of the Hollywood comeback.
Even W Magazine has portrayed the new Hollywood Hills are being the 'hip'
place for young people in the Industry to live. From glitzy shopping to
multiplying small theaters to art galleries to sidewalk dining to funky
loft conversions, Hollywood is on the verge of becoming one of the most
coolest and most diverse places in town again.
Probably Davis's biggest miss is his contention that crime was about to
totally overwhelm the city turning it into one giant armed camp.
BLADERUNNER was his immediate prediction for the city; instead the future
is looking a lot more like Andy Hardy Goes to the Big City. Crime has
declined in record numbers, gun sales are plummeting to record lows (while
he predicted the exact opposite), the streets are safer than they have been
in decades, murders and violent gang activity are both drastically down and
almost all types of crime is still dropping.
So how does Davis deal with these inconvenient facts (and there are few
things Davis finds more inconvenient than facts) in his new book?
He ignores them.
Now that's Chutzpah.
In 484 heavily footnoted pages - with the subject of fear in the title of
the book yet - he can't find even room for one little sentence to mention
that the crime rate in the City of LA has plummeted downward since the
writing of the City of Quartz.
The single biggest change in the city since his previous book and he simply
refuses to even acknowledge it's existence for one simple reason; to
acknowledge it would disprove everything he has to say.
It is now time to answer the riddle at the top of the piece... what two
things does Mike Davis NOT have in common with the most notorious literary
hoaxers of our time. First of all, while each of those individuals lost
their jobs after their untruths were revealed (well, with one exception, so
far), Mr. Davis has gotten away unscathed - and he will continue to do so.
Not only that, but he has walked off with a McArthur Genius Grant, has had
two best seller books, become a Getty Fellow, been nominationed and won for
literary awards, has world wide lecturing commitments and various teaching
gigs at universities throughout the country.
The second thing he does not have in common with the others on the list is
that they have had short or long illustrious careers which were compromised
or cut short by the discovery that at one time or another they comprised
their principles and falsified some information. Mr. Davis's entire career
in contrast has been based upon a self-created myth of his being a native
son of Los Angeles (and something more than a part time visitor for much of
his life) and by two books of passably written prose (coating some highly
unlikely Marxist dialectics) about a fictional City Of Quartz of his own
invention supported only by myths, untruths and inaccuracies masquerading
And that is his true genius.
While the other writers before him made the mistake of serving only one
master who could dismiss them or made the mistake of writing about subjects
other people actually know something about, by creating a fictional city
whose existence has met so many people's emotional needs, Davis has managed
to get himself and his creation validated by major publishers, colleges he
has taught or lectured at, mainstream and specialized journals, virtually
every major newspaper in the country and a number of major foundations. And
they have all proclaimed him the golden boy of LA, the native son who is
the ultimate authority on the city. And they now all have too much invested
in him to allow that image to be destroyed.
If he walked naked down Wilshire Boulevard (assuming he could find it),
they would still gasp in awe at his robes.
Mike Davis has become the literary equivalent of the big Japanese bank too
huge to be allowed to fail. He can't be allowed to falter for fear of what
else he might bring down; to expose his sins of scholarship would be to
expose their sins.
There is a time when a lie can become too big to ever be corrected and Mike
Davis's lie about the City of Quartz has become one of those truths. There
are now too many people with too many reasons to allow the 'real' truth to
ever come out.
As for Mike Davis as the WIZARD OF OZ, it is appropriate that another small
town immigrant to LA, Frank Baum (whom Davis alludes to in his writing),
created Davis's literary equivalent almost a hundred years ago. For like
the impotent Wizard hiding behind the curtain in the mythic Emerald City,
our fair haired boy has constructed an equally illusory City of Quartz out
of nothing more than smoke, mirrors and footnotes.
And it is in that way, that Mike Davis on his own terms - in his own way -
has finally become a native Angelino. The poor kid from the sticks who
comes to the big city and reinvents himself... Mike Davis LA Native
He is now finally truly a citizen of Los Angeles. For like so many others
before him, by rejecting his past he has reinvented himself. Out of nothing
he has created the latest, but not last myth in the City of the Angels.
=2E..end of part 2
click here to jump back to part I
click here to jump back to part II
MIKE DAVIS ADMITS TO 10 YEARS OF LYING
=46or some time I've been hearing about how Mike Davis has been planning his
response to the growing number of people who are just realizing his books -
City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear - are essentially literary hoaxes. My fir=
draft of 'Mike Davis as the Wizard of Oz' - available by email - got to him
probably seven weeks ago giving him plenty of time to come up with 'his'
reply; it has just been published. His buddy Lewis MacAdams (who, despite
having to do Davis's dirty work for him, is a true LA hero for his work with
the LA River) has done a cover puff piece on him in the LA WEEKLY which cove=
all the basic hagiography - with one minor, new addition to the canon.
Not only does MacAdams - for the very first time (since the party line - unt=
today - has been how totally factual Davis is) - admit that Davis makes up
many of his facts - but he now claims that Davis's making up facts - which h=
calls story telling - is really an honest way of finding the 'real' truth.
This 'confession' is buried in the middle of the piece with studied
nonchalance and makes no mention of the growing chorus of critics who are
coming to realize that his books are essentially hoaxes; that way this
'confession' does not look as if it is a response to any charges just now
being made public.
It's a truly amazing way of covering up sloppy research, falsification of
facts (many of which were repeated in the article) and pathological lying.
McAdams defense of Davis is he has to lie to us to tell us the truth which i=
something like having to destroy the village, I mean the truth to save the
truth. The goal, of course, is to make it so that for anyone to now bring u=
his deliberate lying - since he now so openly claims/admits that lying is th=
essential part of his creative process - is made to seem to be petty. After
all, lying is merely Davis's most creative tool in enlightening the masses a=
we should be thankful he has so generously graced us with that gift over and
Needless to say, the whole basis of his 'lying' is very elitist. Davis's
premise is that the 'people' are children; easily confused and who
consequently must be led by a Great White Father. Truth is too dangerous fo=
the masses and, even if they knew it, they couldn't understand it. Therefor=
Great Story Teller Mike Davis has to predigest the truth for the proletariat
and, if that requires a great many lies to be told to the faceless proles,
well, that is a small price to pay for his leading them to even his even
The amazing thing is, he will get away with it. The need the media has for =
'Mike Davis' far outweighs any feeble commitment the press has for the truth=
And with both the LA Weekly and the LA Times uncomfortably trapped by
association in his corner (and articles like the LA River hoax piece outed i=
the November 27th Weekly article are the reason why, I suspect, he only
'occasionally' - read, almost never - writes for the Weekly any more). Whil=
neither paper hires him much any more, they can't let him sink their
credibility, either, by his totally crashing and burning, so they will never
cover this story. Ergo, he will escaped unscathed - again.
=46or your amusement,
below are the two excerpts in which Davis's creative handling of facts is
dealt with. I had heard many stories about his LA Weekly articles and LA Tim=
articles and also about his SCI-ARC lectures in which he would just make it =
entire stories out of whole cloth as he went along, but I never dreamed he
would so openly admit to this type of deception.
McAdams says, "The first time I met Mike Davis was in the summer of 1989,
when he called to say he was doing an L.A. Weekly cover story on the Los
Angeles River. Since it was going to be the biggest piece anybody had
done yet about the river, and I was running Friends of the Los Angeles
River, I suggested we get together down by the river for a talk. He said
he wanted to work on the story a little first. A few weeks later, he
called to tell me he=EDd written the story and wanted me to take a look at
I was amazed to discover he'd fabricated an entire interview with me: We
were standing together at the Fremont Gate entrance to Elysian Park, a
place I'd never been, and I showed him a "dog-eared 1890s topographical
map prepared for City Engineer J.H. Dockweiler," a document that I'd never
heard of at the time. Though we'd never actually talked, the words he put
in my mouth made me sound like I knew a lot more about the Los Angeles
River than I actually did. I told him to go ahead with the piece just the
way it was."
Later in the article McAdams says:
"Davis is the first to admit that he won't let a fact get in the way of a
good story. "I was stunned," I've heard him say twice lately, "to find out
that something I said turned out to be true."
Is this incredible, or what? This is a writer for the LA Times? A Getty
=46ellow? A MacArthur winner? A college teacher? And we're supposed to
love him for his prevarications according to the LA Weekly.
Needless to say, nothing remotely like this was ever printed by one of his
boosters (or even his rare detractors) until my and other then unpublished
articles started circulating. But the rest of the article is so
flattering (brown nosing is too kind a description - we're talking full
cranial insertion here) that even these 'indiscretions' come across as
charming in the piece. Once again, Mike Davis has pulled the wool (well,
in his case, a low rent synthetic fiber) over a willing and gullible
Mike Davis 1, Diogenes 0.
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