Editorial: Mayor Garcetti: Please stay, finish the job

Once again, speculation is swirling that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti may resign before his term ends and accept a position in the Biden administration. This time, Garcetti would be vying for an ambassadorial post, possibly to India.

This is all guesswork, of course. Garcetti, an early supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, was considered for federal nominations during the presidential transition but remained in Los Angeles. He is also expected to stay now and complete the job he set for himself when he was elected in 2013.

Certainly, it would be difficult to say “no” if the president asked you to serve your country. India is a central bulwark in an increasingly uncertain Asia as the United States attempts to counter China’s growing hegemony. Being mayor of America’s second largest city is an incredibly difficult, demanding, and often thankless job that draws endless scrutiny and criticism. And Garcetti is nearing the end of an oversized five-and-a-half-year term (due to an election date change), so he could make a plausible argument that he has served his sentence.

Still, it’s too important a moment for Los Angeles for the mayor to abandon his constituents.

Moving to greener pastures now would create a leadership vacuum in Los Angeles as the pandemic emerges. It would cause even more uncertainty and confusion as the city faces an order from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to house or shelter all of the homeless residents of Skid Row within months. Its exit would leave a free seat and political freedom for all to fill it, which would put the city’s governance in limbo until next year’s elections. There would be little progress on the critical decisions that need to be made now, not at the end of 2022, when a new mayor is sworn in.

Moreover, if Garcetti left now, he would leave behind a legacy of unfinished business and unrealized potential.

Time and time again, we’ve argued that when Garcetti chooses to lead and take risks, he can be remarkably effective. After years of inaction on seismic safety, Garcetti pushed city council to pass a law requiring seismic renovations to thousands of vulnerable buildings. It was extremely controversial at the time, but will ultimately make Los Angeles a safer city. Likewise, he was the architect and tireless advocate of Measure M, the county-wide sales tax increase that will double the size of the region’s transit system over the next several decades. .

Garcetti at his best is articulate and persuasive. He has a good vision of a more livable city, focused on public transport, respectful of the environment and technology. He has ideas and plans to help solve the city’s problems. But often he failed to implement his proposals and visions. On too many occasions he has dodged controversial decisions, such as the recent decision to eliminate tent camps at Echo Park Lake, and has failed to fight for his own initiatives.

There is still time for Garcetti to improve, if he stays around. He could throw political caution to the wind and be relentless in implementing his political agenda. It should seize the opportunity offered by the health, economic and racial justice crises to deepen and restore its legacy.

LA has been hit hard by COVID-19. The virus and the economic fallout have exposed deep inequalities and injustices in the city. With $ 1.3 billion in federal pandemic assistance, the city must decide how best to spend those one-time dollars. What will it take to help low-income communities of color not only recover from the pandemic, but also thrive? Or to help small businesses, tourism and employment rebound? How can the city avoid a wave of tenant evictions once the moratoriums on evictions end?

Garcetti has proposed a “justice budget” which devotes part of federal aid to pilot projects to fight poverty and reform the police. These are worthy efforts to begin with. But Garcetti surely knows the real challenge is ahead, showing what works and what doesn’t and then finding the money to pay for new services.

Los Angeles has a controversial but vital debate over the future of policing, just as violent crime is on the rise. Like most of the city’s leaders, Garcetti supported the expansion of the LAPD, as well as increased compensation and benefits for officers. But after George Floyd’s murder and amid calls for police funding, he proposed a big cut in the police budget. In this year’s budget, he proposed funding crisis counselors, mental health experts and other non-police teams to respond to 911 calls about non-violent episodes.

LA needs both police reform and improved public safety. Achieving the right political balance will be a challenge, but Garcetti is almost eight years away. Leaving office now would force a temporary mayor, or permanent successor, to redo a public safety and policing strategy from scratch.

As for homelessness, no single mayor can eradicate the problem in a year and a half. Nonetheless, Garcetti could make major strides during this period if he were more energetic and enterprising and less political.

There is growing pressure for the city to start pouring money into shelters and temporary accommodation in order to clear the tent camps more quickly. Garcetti is expected to stay the course by defending and building permanent housing, which needs to happen much faster. He should be directly involved in removing political and bureaucratic obstacles that block projects. He should push to invest in community land trusts that will ensure a long-term supply of affordable housing. He should try to get as much money from the state as possible to buy hotels and motels and convert them into housing for the homeless.

Garcetti cannot allow the city to please the NIMBYs – or their representatives – who want to block homeless housing and services for false reasons. Homelessness policy should not be led by 15 district fiefdoms of the city council. The mayor should take the initiative to define and implement a human and responsive city-wide strategy. If he leaves now, progress could collapse.

A former Rhodes scholar and naval reservist who epitomizes California’s multicultural nature, Garcetti could be a good ambassador. He is polite, articulate and a natural diplomat. The prospect of tackling issues of global significance may seem overwhelming to someone who has spent the past 20 years filing complaints about potholes, permits, and garbage collection. But Garcetti is so close to the finish line in LA that he shouldn’t give up now.

About Michael Brafford

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