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Garcetti’s Mayoral Forum: Commitment to Small Ideas, Big Festivals and Regular CicLAvias

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RETHINKING LA - Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti is nothing if not thankful, and he opened last Friday’s AIA/LA Mayoral Candidate Forum by thanking everyone he could, perhaps in a nod to Hollywood’s award show tradition, taking time throughout the evening to give a shoutout to those he missed.


Garcetti waxed poetic as he recalled his childhood memory of LA’s beauty at night, “a bed of jewels that lays out before us” and during the evening, his recollection continued to rely more on poetry and less on reality.

When asked about LA’s Transit Oriented Districts, Garcetti reconnected with his “human perspective” approach to the built environment and spoke of the W Hotel and its impact on the lives of the people who work there, who live there in the affordable housing apartments, and the people who enjoy the impact of the development on the surrounding community.

This soft-focus recall fails to acknowledge the broken community-benefit promises of the W Hotel, the street furniture that has already been removed from the public space, the energy spent discouraging human activity in the courtyard, and the high vacancy rate that stands in stark contradiction to the TOD vision.

Meanwhile, Garcetti takes the high road on LA’s built environment, passing up the opportunity to connect with LA’s architectural elite by celebrating the buildings that he loves, instead embracing the people of LA and their experience as they connect with each other in LA’s burgeoning public space.

Garcetti thanked those who went before him in Council District 13, acknowledging Mike Woo for teaching him to plan from the human level and Jackie Goldberg for serving as Hollywood’s conscience.

“Woo was one of the first urban thinkers,” said Garcetti when asked about his quote that  “he saw a farmers market where others saw an empty street.”

“Goldberg was the one who taught me to embrace fear,” Garcetti explained when asked about overcoming resistance from the community, “she pointed out that you can’t dismiss people’s fears, that you must recognize and feel the fear to move past it.”

Garcetti spent much of the evening regaling the audience with small case study successes in his council district, as seen from the rear view mirror, and of the community partnerships that made it all possible.

“I want to be the sort of Mayor who is going to partner with communities,” Garcetti explained, “ to find out the individual needs and logic of any neighborhood and to make those dreams possible.”

At face value, the “small is the new big” philosophy to urban renewal sounds great, but it’s worth noting that Garcetti has enjoyed greater success selling it to the residents of his district, but not to the developers who simply can’t make small “pencil out” when big is so much more profitable.

For all the talk of invoking the community as his civic leadership partner, there were no success stories told of the neighborhood councils in his district, no nod to the city charter mandate that positions them as the official voice of the community, no references to the city services they fight to maintain, no validation and no reference to their place in his future plans for Los Angeles.

To make up for this slight, intended or unintended, Garcetti thanked cyclists for introducing bike culture, urban farmers for introducing community gardens, business owners for repurposing dead alleys, and all those who have supported him on the journey because “I’m looking for a team to help me govern.”

Garcetti was graceful as he artfully navigated a retrospective that was full of success yet claimed to be the reform candidate, committed to a city that works for the people.

“No longer can we settle for City Hall that relies on fees, fines, and penalties in order to fund its operation. We must focus on the delivery of city services.” The irony to this position is the fact that Garcetti’s Council District leads the city in Over Height Fence enforcement, demonstrating that the City of LA preys on those least able to fight back, begging the question “Where is their Councilman?”

Apparently, on the campaign trail.

Garcetti was clear on his contention that the days of private space in LA are the days of old, that the opportunity at hand is to celebrate LA’s public space, both in the built environment with great common space, and in City Hall with civic public space.

“It no longer works,” he charges, pointing to his densely populated district with few parks, gang activity, disconnected residents, empty storefronts as the embodiment of this principle. “We’re confronting this failure by emerging from our private space. This a snapshot of what our city will look like.”

Garcetti introduced the notion of “urban acupuncture,” small improvements that have a big impact on how a community feels, introducing a sense of limitless space and serving as catalysts for hope and vision.

Demonstrating a knack for framing the debate, Garcetti preemptively dismissed concerns over density by introducing concepts such as “yardscrapers” and “horizontal density” as justifications for vertical development “that leaves more surface space open for green space.”

Third rail topics for LA’s Mayoral Candidates have been the demise of the CRA, the proliferation of billboards on the urban landscape, and the Hollywood Community Plan.

Garcetti was nimble in acknowledging the overreach of the CRA but quick to shift to safer grounds in explaining his vote to keep control of the CRA’s assets within the City of LA, stating “We have a responsibility to our community and to our employees, I’d rather have us in control than the county or state.”

Garcetti positioned the First Amendment as an impediment to billboard control, added the complexity of murals to the mix, then slid out of the topic by demonstrating his objectivity, “I’ve never been an absolutist, Hollywood is an example of dynamic signage.”

Garcetti quickly flipped criticism of the Hollywood Community Plan around, instead focusing on the old plan and the fact that it doesn’t include references to LA’s collective new lifestyle of open space and shared space. In a clear violation of the Goldberg Principle, Garcetti dismisses the fears of the Hollywood Community Plan opponents, “As we look at the gloom and doom, we could have built skyscrapers and we didn’t.”

This was the last of five AIA/LA Mayoral Candidate Forums and Garcetti was prepared, offering a fast paced journey that started with his humble beginnings pulling carrots from the family garden to a Mayoral Candidate “with the strength to lead and the humility to listen.”

Garcetti’s vision for Los Angeles starts with the notion that the biggest ideas are small ideas, ones that unlock the logic of our neighborhoods. In a room full of architects, planners, and designers, he acknowledged the power of “cool” as the element that stirs interest, attracts investment, stimulates growth, and revitalizes communities. “We must use good design to make our neighborhoods great.”

Garcetti committed to supporting America Fast Forward, adding his additional commitment to leverage the local return funds (15% of Measure R funds go to local communities for discretionary projects) so that the City of LA could bond it and use the money now, resulting in 1600 miles of repaved streets.

Garcetti reiterated his commitment to the human experience, pointing to mass transit as an opportunity to embrace geographical equity so that bus riders in South LA have the same opportunity to enjoy public art, comfortable transit stops, and shade as other passengers.

Garcetti acknowledged LA’s need for relationship therapy, pointing to the surrounding cities as an opportunity for partnerships, if only LA was helmed by a Mayor who was willing to listen first, then lead. This theme was also applied to his hope for moving the Metro forward, using LA’s four seats on the Board to establish better relationships with the other members in order to move forward.

Garcetti promised to encourage City Departments to “fail forward,” explaining “the big ideas come from experimenting and using the city as a platform.” When asked about naming a Deputy Mayor of Architecture, Garcetti went further, stating “Design should be at every level, get it out of the silo so that it is in everything that we do.” He then committed to training all General Managers in design.

This being a campaign platform event, Garcetti demonstrated a knack for connecting with his audience by laying down a couple of campaign promises.

When asked by an audience member about opening the front doors of City Hall to the public (City Hall’s address is 200 Spring Street but the public uses the back door on Main Street) Garcetti noted that both our national capital and our state capital allow the public to enter multiple entrances without the need to sign in or wear a sticker. “As your Mayor, I’d like to open the doors and say “This is the People’s Building.’”

When asked by the moderator about making CicLAvia a permanent event, Garcetti was quick to state “The easiest way to make CicLAvia permanent is to elect me Mayor, ‘cause I’m going to make it permanent, I want to see it regularized, at least once a month. I want to see roving CicLAvias in other parts of the city.”

When asked to look at the successes of other cities, Garcetti said it was time to let the world look at us because “We do it better than all of them!” and committed to challenging the SXSW Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in LA’s pursuit of cultural tourism.

Garcetti concluded the evening of New Age and New Urbanism by turning to the audience and introducing Team Garcetti, “Can I have your support, not just as a Mayoral Candidate, but along the way on the journey? If you are looking for an opportunity to help implement these ideas, I’m looking for a team to help me govern, not just elect me Mayor.”

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]. You can also find him on Twitter and on Facebook.)
–cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 10 Issue 23

Pub. Mar. 20, 2012