ALPERN AT LARGE-Whether I'm being hopelessly optimistic or hopelessly naïve, I admit to a continued sense of hope with Eric Garcetti that is a welcome exchange from the betrayal I shared with other Angelenos towards the end of his predecessor's term in office. Whether he's got the power or the fiscal ability to get things right again in L.A., Eric Garcetti clearly is trying to restore credibility between the Mayor's office and the citizenry of Los Angeles.
And meeting with local Angelenos in a temporary "pop up office", established in two parking spots in Boyle Heights, is clearly both a crafted media moment and a down-to-earth attempt to connect with ordinary citizens.
The temporary office was held, appropriately enough, on Parking Day, which is a day and a movement that encourages people how to rethink uses for parking spots. This alone brought all kinds of ideas to my mind on how to improve the city, but a money quote by the Mayor about ficus trees, and the need for the city to replace them, brought up quite a few more:
"Their roots are so invasive," he said. "Whoever planted them way back, I don't know what they were thinking."
So how many times have we each thought of that question in our own lives, and how many times have we heard this from our neighbors?
As the Mayor and others, such as City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Paul Krekorian, Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, refocus Angelenos' attention on a "back to the basics" paradigm that includes repair of our streets, sidewalks, alleys and other infrastructure, Mr. Garcetti's event and statements have extra significance.
For starters, are we going to have a grown-up talk about parking needs and funding, or are we going to continue with a "we need more transit, and parking hurts transit" discussion that is anything but grounded in the real world?
Any renewal of LA City Charter and Planning/Transportation Elements must certainly include more pedestrian, bicycle and transit components, but this is 2013, not 1913. Whether it's part or all of our daily commutes, or for our daily errands, cars will be needed in Los Angeles just as they are in transit-friendly San Francisco and New York.
However, all open space--even parking spots and lots--require funding for construction and maintenance. The Metro policy of free parking for transit must end, and City lots and parking meters should fund the creation of transportation-dedicated efforts from creating new lots to sidewalk/alleyway repair.
Mayor Garcetti has enormous political power at Metro as Mayor of Los Angeles. Including himself, he has four votes on the Metro Board when one includes his three appointees. It's high time that Eric Garcetti established affordable, low-cost but NOT FREE parking at train and bus station parking lots to help fund the creation of more parking and more access to MetroRail and Metro's bus system.
As L.A.'s Mayor, he can work with City Council Transportation Chair and Vice Chair Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz to derive a Strategic Parking Initiative to replace streetside parking on major thoroughfares with properly-located small parking lots and structures.
The key line for this Strategic Parking Initiative: Parking Helps Get People OUT Of Their Cars.
Getting people OUT of their cars means enhancing pedestrian and transit access for those commuting for long distances and who wish to use intermodal transportation to quickly and conveniently get to their destination.
Getting people OUT of their cars also means allowing an END to much of our streetside parking, which is a very cost-ineffective form of land use that is almost always much better served, with MORE parking altogether, by parking lots/structures located conveniently and strategically along business/economic corridors to enhance car access as well as bus access to streetside businesses.
Ending streetside parking also allows everything from bus lanes, bicycle lanes and even expanded/widened sidewalks for better pedestrian access and a better commercial/business experience on major thoroughfares.
And the next time a lobbyist or developer wants a variance to build a project without the required parking because it won't "fit" into the project's plans, the proper response can be, "Sure, if it won't fit, no worries--just pay the same sum, or maybe a bit more because you want a variance, towards that local parking structure down the street to meet your parking needs. And by the way, here's your bill to spruce up the local bus stop, to boot."
Because we really need to have an answer for oversized developments that are "transit-friendly" but also somehow unable and/or unwilling to pay their fair share for the transportation/infrastructure needs of Los Angeles--and that includes parking as well as bicycle, bus, rail, carpool, DASH and other needs of individuals to access work, school, shopping, etc.
On a related note, the Mayor is absolutely right about the ficus tree problem--it's thrashing our sidewalks and utilities, and establishing safety and legal problems throughout the City. Furthermore, one need not be obsessed with environmental matters to conclude that native trees, which use less water and are more conducive to local birds and other fauna, are the best fit of all for modern-day Los Angeles.
Every sidewalk repair caused by ficus trees must involve both a short-term repair of the sidewalks as well as any long-term fix that can be brought about only by the removal of the offending ficus tree that is the "root" of the problem (pun intended).\
Such efforts are also necessary to avoid utility problems, and with the recent transfer of so many City employees to the DWP by former Mayor Villaraigosa, it might be a necessary joint Public Works/Street Services/LADWP effort to ensure that our sidewalks are fixed...and stay fixed for years to come.
Yet one thing can be certain--throwing billions of dollars willy-nilly at the problem isn't going to fly with the average Angeleno voter at this time. Our budget situation is tight, and we're seeing money that should go to street, sidewalk and alley repair go straight into the pockets of early retirees who are living large with a system that was established over the past 15 years that only recently has been addressed.
Our pension and budgetary issues will not be easily fixed by a huge tax/bond revenue-raising effort because the average Angeleno is hurting financially, and wants to know that new hiring for Street Services and Public Works will be both smart and cost-effective, and wants to know that the projected budgets and costs for repairing our crumbling infrastructure is transparent and can be done cost-effectively.
Furthermore, the average Angeleno wants to know that Public Works is already doing things in the most cost-effective way, and probably is wondering if a few volunteer efforts coupled with some private investments can do a lot of the most urgent repairs in the next 6-12 months.
This is not an easy topic to address, and won't be solved overnight. Certainly, however, the first step is for the Mayor and the City Council to restore their credibility to the citizenry of Los Angeles. Having seen new CD11 City Councilmember Mike Bonin involved personally in a host of city services and cleanups, I think that he is an example of someone who "gets it" with respect to credibility (he's a truly great followup to Bill Rosendahl).
As for the rest of the City Council--particularly City Council President Herb Wesson--I think that many of them would do well to follow Mr. Bonin's example...although I don't expect them all to do the physical labor that young, uber-physically fit Mr. Bonin is capable of doing.
But the Mayor's desire to stay in touch with the ordinary Angeleno is both exemplary and necessary to restore the faith--and cash flow--of a cynical citizenry who will understandably question what the intent and purpose of Mayor Garcetti's Parking Day really was.
So "nice parking job", Mr. Mayor. Here's to hoping that it's an ongoing trend from a man who truly wants to demonstrate that he means what he says, and says what he means, when he focuses on a "back to the basics" approach in governing and leading Los Angeles to a first-rate 21st Century economy.
Vol 11 Issue 77
Pub: Sept 24, 2013