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Racism, LAFD: Big Ticket Challenges Facing Mayor Garcetti

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-By now it’s amply clear that Mayor Eric Garcetti’s City Hall governance style and profile is the exact opposite of his predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa’s. Villaraigosa took much heat for seemingly promising too much and delivering too little.  There’s no danger of that happening with Garcetti. 

That’s not a bad thing. His agenda is to deliberately stay out of the media glare, stick with the basics, and make changes that are doable and feasible. 

Despite the radical contrast in styles between Garcetti and Villaraigosa, there are some things that remain constant. Those things are the challenges that Villaraigosa faced, and Garcetti still faces. 

A big hint of that came in Garcetti’s first state of the city speech back in April when he spotlighted the recurring problems of reining in spending, increasing tax revenues, cutting through the red tape that’s been the bane of companies trying to do business in the city, improving police and fire services, and tackling the repair of the city’s badly crumbling streets. He wisely made no grand promises to wave a magic wand and instantly make these problems disappear. 

Garcetti understands that there are still legions of residents who are fed up with the malaise, the fog of government, and the self-serving, it's-all-about-me careerism that has enveloped the LA mayor’s office the last few years. 

It wasn’t always that way. There was the giddy expectation when LA had its last mayoral change that there would be true hope and change. 

The city expected a transportation plan that could unlock tormenting gridlock, to build more affordable housing, to take firm steps to reduce the ranks of the thousands of homeless camped out on LA city streets, to jump-start economic development in South LA, to crack down on gang violence, to continue the reform efforts of the LAPD, end discrimination in promotions and management in city agencies,  transparency and accountability at City Hall, end  waste, fraud, and abuse in city agencies, and most importantly,  end reckless spending by City Hall that has gotten the city in a deep financial hole. 

City residents expected an end to special-interest deal-making and cronyism in and outside of City Hall, a bloated city bureaucracy, and no end in sight to sneaky and upfront tax increases. 

Instead, LA’s streets and freeways look like parking lots most of the day. South LA is still one of the most neglected areas of the city. Neighborhood councils are as toothless as ever.

Crime has dropped and police-minority relations have improved. But that's mostly due to sustained emphasis on police-community relations, community engagement against crime and gang violence, and the ride of the crest of plunging crime trends nationally. 

There are two other major challenges that Garcetti must confront. They pose a more lethal minefield than opening a lane on the perennially clogged 405 freeway ahead of time, or even putting the squeeze on the DWP to be more accountable and transparent. And that’s the always thorny issue of racial discrimination.\ 

Garcetti took a bold step in confronting a racial issue when he loudly denounced LA Clipper owner Donald Sterling’s wacky, hyper bigoted anti-black rant, and demanded that Sterling stand down as team owner. Now the daunting challenge is what to do about long standing complaints by some black city employees of bias in promotions within city agencies. 

Three years ago, civil rights leaders joined with a group of black city employees in staging a protest at City Hall to call attention to their complaint that managers in several city departments engaged  in systematic denial of promotions to qualified and eligible black employees in their agencies. 

Their complaints were met with a wall of silence at City Hall. Now, three years later, the same complaints are heard again.   

Garcetti made it clear during his election bid that he will have zero tolerance toward discrimination in any city agency and will do a thorough review of the standards, performance, and enforcement of diversity and fairness in employee hiring and promotion in all city agencies. This is welcome, and civil rights leaders will keep a watchful eye to insure that his review yields change. 

The other equally thorny issue that has raised questions about racial fairness is the LA Fire Department. This has been a hot potato for years. It has resulted in protests, countless discrimination lawsuits, EEOC investigations, and massive payouts following allegations of racial harassment and intimidation of black firefighters. 

In January, Garcetti blasted the department for not doing enough to insure more diversity in the recruits and ranks of the department. A 

 bigger test will come with the hiring of a new permanent fire chief. Civil rights leaders have demanded that the next chief be an African-American as was the previous chief, and the current interim chief. This will also be closely the watched. 

Splashy media hogging grandstanding, and innumerable taxpayer dollar squandering globetrotting, has never been a substitute for willingness to roll up the sleeves, jump in the trenches, and implement a proactive working like plan, and action on it, to tackle the city’s still crushing problems. Garcetti so far has shown that he’s willing to do that in his own way.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 44

Pub: May 30, 2014