Welcome Back Mayor Garcetti

DEEGAN ON LA-His 2020 presidential dream is over. Now it’s time to rededicate his skills and imagination to Los Angeles. Mayor Garcetti, having dropped out of the guessing game of “will he or won’t he” run for president, is now able to return to focusing his brain power on doing the most for our city in the few years left in his term.

 

For California Democrats, not running means no divided loyalties between potential presidential candidates Garcetti and Senator Kamala Harris. For Los Angeles, it means having a Mayor who is no longer distracted by stars in the sky and can get back to paying attention to problems on the street. He still wields considerable power and influence in LA, even as a lame duck who might have gotten temporarily lost in the glare of the national media spotlight. 

Now, he's all ours, absent a gubernatorial appointment as U.S. Senator that would hinge on either Senator Dianne Feinstein retiring, or Senator Kamala Harris becoming President (or Vice President). He may face competition for that speculative appointment from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, or Secretary of State Alex Padilla, both of whom have won statewide elections and are currently in place in Sacramento. 

Before he entered politics eighteen years ago, Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar, was an academic who taught international affairs, diplomacy and world affairs at USC and Occidental College while in his twenties. For his entire political career, he has resided within a single setting of this City: as Councilmember for District 13 (Hollywood), City Council President, and now Mayor. His interest in politics, where he has spent his thirties and forties, may have come from his dad, Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles County District Attorney from 1992-2000. For the past twenty-seven years, a Garcetti has been in high political office on the local level, reminiscent of the father and son pair, Pat and Jerry Brown, longtime politicos on the state level. 

Among the many demands of the office, this mayor has two very public goals to reach: reducing homelessness, and championing the infrastructure build up for the 2028 Summer Olympics. The games should help showcase Los Angeles as a great city, but the failure to solve the homeless crisis could torpedo that prospect. It has been a continuing challenge for this mayor and will be for the next one as well. 

Will the cerebral meet the streets as Garcetti names himself to be the city’s homeless czar, beating the drum daily, and owning the problem? What a legacy that would create to show both sides of himself: the academic who intellectually understands the problem and the activist who solves it. He’s got nothing to lose, and lots of reputation to gain by cracking this crisis. 

His “bridge housing” program, which places a housing shelter to accommodate dozens of homeless people in each of the city’s fifteen council districts would serve just a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of homeless in the city. Housing the homeless in LA has got to be more than a tip without the iceberg beneath it. 

Voter-approved Props H and HHH may eventually start to fill the gap, although there’s a big difference between providing homeless people with free beds in a shelter and providing them with an “affordable” apartment for which they must pay rent. And Garcetti has yet to introduce a jobs program. 

Eric Garcetti, a proven political operator and known “big head,” is capable of finding a solution for homelessness (and maybe jobs for the homeless) -- something that is larger and more inclusive than the drip, drip, drip of filling the pool metaphor LA has been struggling with for so long. 

The Mayor will have been out of office for six years by the time the Olympics arrive. Whatever he does to prepare the city now, those deliverables will be credited to whomever the mayor is at that time. The shadow of Peter Ueberroth, the ultra-successful 1984 Olympics czar, will hang over both Garcetti and his successor. 

Homelessness, imagination, jobs, brain power, activism, academics, intellect, reputation, ownership, and legacy: these are all keywords in Mayor Garcetti’s future. 

As invested as he is in getting the Games positioned properly, the 2028 Olympics will not belong to him or his legacy. However, the way he deals with the homeless problem today will be. Depending on how much more deeply invested he becomes in solving this crisis -- a problem that preceded him but has not abated during his term -- let’s hope he is able to win a bronze, silver or gold medal for his achievements.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.