The Great Depression Online

Great Depression Online Archive Issue:

What Depressions Are For

Great Depression Online
Long Beach, CA
July 27, 2010

Inside This Issue You Will Discover…

*** The City You’ve Never Heard Of
*** Bell’s $800,000 Man
*** What Depressions Are For
*** And More

The City You’ve Never Heard Of

There are places in Southern California where, although the sun always shines, they haven’t seen a ray of light for over 50-years.  There’s a no man’s land of urban blight along the 710 Freeway, between Long Beach and Los Angeles, where cities you’ve never heard of and would never go to, are jumbled together like shipping containers on Terminal Island.

Bell, California, is one of those places.

When James George Bell began acquiring property in the 1870s from the then fragmenting land holdings of Rancho San Antonio, the prospects for the place must have seemed limitless.  Here was open and fertile land for a small farming and cattle raising community just several miles from the budding City of Los Angeles.  With a little hard work and persistence money would flow to Bell in exchange for feeding Los Angles’ growing appetite.

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Through the first half of the 20th century the City of Bell grew up with style and class…transforming from an agricultural area to a lively civic and commercial district.  But sometime around mid-century Bell’s good fortunes were suffocated as the mania to splatter every square foot of the LA Basin with concrete took hold of the local spirits.

Bell was soon enveloped by a sea of urban sprawl.  And what was once the outskirts and boonies quickly became a forgotten and desolate slum.  By the turn of the century the per capita income for the city was under $10,000 and nearly a quarter of the population was living below the poverty line.

Bell’s $800,000 Man

The gods were smiling down on Robert Rizzo as he rang in the 2010 New Year.  In fact, they’d been smiling down on him so long he’d come to expect it.  His salary was approaching $800,000 and he’d locked a guaranteed 12 percent annual raise into his contract. 

You’d think the man could move mountains or, at the very least, turn water to wine for those kind of bucks.  But alas for Rizzo, the gravy train was about to run out of steam… 

In March he crashed his car into a neighbor’s mailbox.  When the cops tested his blood-alcohol level he measured 0.28 percent; more than three times the legal limit.  But little did Rizzo know this was just the beginning of his troubles…

Not since March 2000, when a shipment of 55 Oscar statuettes were stolen from a trucking company loading dock, had Bell achieved national publicity.  Several weeks ago the city made national headlines again.

On July 15th the Los Angeles Times published an article with the headline: Is A City Manager Worth $800,000? 

The City Manager the Times was referring to is Robert Rizzo and the city they were referring to is Bell.  In addition to Rizzo, it was reported that Police Chief Randy Adams makes $457,000 and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia makes $376,288.

What Depressions Are For

When the residents of Bell – one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County – found out they were paying their city manager nearly $800,000 they went bananas.  By the following Monday tempers were running hot.

“An overflow crowd packed a City Council meeting in Bell, a mostly Hispanic city of 38,000 about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, to call for the resignation of Mayor Oscar Hernandez and other city officials,” reported the Los Angeles Times.  “Residents left standing outside the chamber banged on the doors and shouted ‘fuera,’ or ‘get out’ in Spanish.”

On Thursday night City Manager Robert Rizzo, Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, and Police Chief Randy Adams, agreed to resign without severance packages.  For residents of Bell this may not provide much consolation, but at least their ‘public servants’ are no longer raiding the city’s coffers for personal gain.

In the larger scheme of things, this is exactly what depressions are for.  To clear out the swindlers and crooks…to boot them to the curb…and to take back control of the public finances. 

No one cares about public morality and impropriety when the economy’s booming; everyone’s too busy getting rich.  It takes economic stagnation for the scum to float to the top where the public can see it.

Good for Bell.  It took just eight days to throw the bums out of office.  If only things could be so efficient on a national level.  Perhaps the depression will be the impetus for clearing out the halls of congress at the midterm election in November.  We can think of a number of crooks we’d like to see booted to the curb.


M.N. Gordon
Great Depression Online

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