A sweeping report that calls for merging the region's ports and creating a new utility commission in order to bring prosperity and stability to Los Angeles was met with a terse response Wednesday from Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The blue ribbon 2020 Commission, created last year by council President Herb Wesson and led by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, issued recommendations Wednesday to address problems identified in its initial report. That report, issued in January, found L.A. has a "crisis in leadership and direction."
"We said in the first report we're treading water in Los Angeles. We hope this is the beginning to swim — this is the start," Kantor said. "I hope people will be inspired by reading this – people in power, people in civic groups will say, 'We can do something here.'"
The commission members hope this latest report, titled "A Time for Action," empowers elected officials, civic groups and neighborhood councils to make significant changes in the way the city does business.
But the response from the Mayor's office, which was briefed on the report's findings before it was released publicly, didn't show much promise that the recommendations would turn into action.
"We thank them for their time," said Yusef Robb, a spokesman for the mayor.
The 2020 Commission was established last spring, as Antonio Villaraigosa completed his eight years as mayor and just before L.A. voters elected Garcetti as their new leader. The report was released on the eve of Garcetti's first State of the City address.
Among the commission's other recommendations for improving the city:
- Creating the Office of Transparency and Accountability to vet proposals from the Los Angeles City Council, mayor and city departments
- Updating community plans to provide certainty in development
- Moving municipal elections onto the same cycle as federal and state races to improve turnout
- Issuing three-year budget outlooks instead of one-year proposals
In contrast to the mayor's terse response, Wesson attended the public release of the report at the California Endowment and invited the 2020 Commission to a meeting of the L.A. City Council in two weeks.
"This gives us a map, it gives us a direction as to where we can go," Wesson said. "I wanted to come to make the commitment that this will be properly vetted through the council process … I can see that there's a lot where it relates to your recommendations that we can incorporate in the way that we do things at the city."
The report's recommendations made for strange bedfellows. The L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce's Gary Toebben and the county Federation of Labor's Maria Elena Durazo, who usually are on opposite sides of issues, released a joint statement saying they back the 2020 Commission.
"While we do not necessarily support all of the commission's recommendations, we strongly believe their work can and should serve as a starting point for the necessary steps our community must take to better the lives of all Angelenos," Toebben and Durazo said.
Efforts to change the power structure at the Department of Water and Power may draw the most attention from politicians and neighborhood councils. The city's current system allows the mayor to appoint part-time, volunteer commissioners to the Board of Water and Power. Though commissioners vote on policy and rate increases, they can be overturned by the city council.
The 2020 Commission's proposal would allow the five-member board, appointed by the mayor, to select the DWP's general manager and set rates without the influence of politicians. A professional staff would assist commissioners.
"The day-to-day meddling would go away, and you would build a professional class of people who could understand the consequences of long-term decisions," Beutner said.
The city currently has one such paid commission, the Board of Public Works, whose members are appointed by the mayor. That board oversees construction of public projects, as well as the departments responsible for sanitation, graffiti removal and street maintenance.
Among the commission members who signed off on the recommendations was Brian D'Arcy, who heads the union that represents DWP workers. The commission's leadership was questioned about his participation, which comes as D'Arcy and the city's leadership tangle over the release of financial documents related to the union's use of more than $40 million in public funds for training institutes.
"Whatever the situation is with him and the foundation, I have no knowledge of it and we did not look at that," Kantor said. "It is beyond our competence."
The panel also suggested combining the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, similar to structures seen in Seattle, New York-New Jersey and Georgia. The ports' market share has dropped five points in the past 10 years, according to the report, which notes:
"That drop in market share alone is the size of the fifth biggest port in the country, Seattle-Tacoma, which accounts for more than 60,000 jobs and has in excess of $100 million in revenue. We should fight to bring those jobs and tax revenues back to Los Angeles."
The new report with the commission's recommendations closes by stating: "The Mayor and City Council will choose to adopt or not adopt any of our recommendations, but they should not ignore them."