Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been in office for a little over a year. Returning efficiency, accountability and transparency to City Hall has been a priority of his administration. Shortly after he took office, he asked all city managers reapply for their jobs, and in May launched a new city data website providing access to data gathered by the city.
One of the high points of the Mayor’s tenure thus far has been his battle with the Department of Water and Power union, resulting in a contract for new employees with reduced salaries and pension costs. He also managed to win approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his $1-billion proposal to revitalize the L.A. River, to the surprise of many.
But victories like those have been few and far in between, some say, and the general consensus is that his performance has been solid, but safe. Skeptics charge that his mayoral agenda still hasn’t come fully into focus, and some supporters are still waiting for him to put his imprint on the city.
What grade would you give Mayor Garcetti? What would you like the Mayor to focus on in the coming months? Call in with your question for Mayor Garcetti.
Road and sidewalk repairs didn't receive much of a boost in the 2014-2015 budgets. What's going on there?
"I agree and actually, sidewalks did get a huge bump. We are more than double what we put in ever before in these past years. It's a priority of mine, we're going to have probably about $25 million just repairing our sidewalks. But I've been honest with people, it's a 7-year backlog, it starts with the first step forward, we'll pave a record number of miles of lanes of roads as well as the sidewalks that I mentioned.
"But back to basics is a larger approach, whether it's the wait time when you call 311, whether it's that we force you to take a day off of work to get a building inspector at your home. Those things are changing and in the first year, we're seeing a city that's headed in the right direction: crime, the economy, and City Hall becoming a more user-friendly place, focusing on those basic services."
Let's talk about the economy. The business tax is just one aspect of L.A.'s less competitive positions with neighboring cities. Why a 2-year delay on reducing that tax and why not reduce it more so that it truly is competitive with other cities?
"I'd do it overnight if it were solely in my power, but I was glad to get a 4-year deal. It's not a 2-year delay, it's a 1-year. We still had to balance this budget, I'm proud that we did it, we just went to Wall Street to sell our bonds as we do every single year to get our revenue for the beginning of the year until our tax receipts come in. It was the lowest interest rate in our city's history, 0.11 points better than a lot of other municipalities and even the county of L.A.
"That shows that the first things first before you can expand things due to tax breaks or add more services, we have to show that we can balance our budget, and that was my most important goal when I came into my first year. Good labor contracts that are saving us billions of dollars in the coming decades, and making sure we go after pension reform, making sure we keep down our raises for another year or two and then we can make sure we can restore those services, cut the taxes and become more business friendly.
"But one last thing on business is we have a totally different approach now. We're getting new developments up and running 4 months after they come to us. We're getting building inspectors out to your home on saturdays, we're investing in key industries, like the film industry where we're about to I think have a big victory in Sacramento with film tax credits. Aerospace, where we just got designated by the Obama administration as a key city for manufacturing, and a bunch of other industries where we can make sure L.A.'s economy is going to prosper, not just this year, but for the next 20 years to come."
Is there any way that you think within the next year you can significantly improve the experience for small business owners to open up their places?
"Absolutely. First of all it's a free, don't pay your business tax for the first 3 years under the policy we have now. Second, we're going to make sure that things you had to get into your car and go downtown during the work week to get, say, the pictures of your building, the old files, we're going to digitize those and have them online for free 24/7.
"The wait time on 311 when you call to get your business appointment scheduled, it's down 80 percent in the first year and it's a wait time of about 36 seconds now. So those things that are seemingly small, they don't make big headlines, but I think the city wants results before flash. Now it's time to make it a business-friendly city.
"The proof is in the pudding, 26,217 new business have been established since I became mayor. The unemployment decline was 3.1 percent in the last year, we're headed in the right direction and we've got more to do."
A recent Harvard study found L.A. the least affordable big city in the country. What can and will you do to help those working in the city be able to afford to live in it?
"I support a higher minimum wage, I'm going to invest in a lot more housing being built in the city, because even though we're not as expensive as a place like San Francisco or New York, too many people are paying too much for their housing. And I'm going to invest in a public transportation system. I'm leading now as the chair of the MTA, the largest public transportation construction program in the country.
"My six trips to Washington, just in my first year alone, brought more than $3.5 billion for that, finishing off of the Crenshaw line, we passed that we'll finally get rail to LAX, and that we're going to extend the Wilshire and Downtown Subways to make sure that they all connect with each other, giving the people the option not to be just stuck in traffic and the working person to be able to save a little bit more money by not having to own a car."
What do you think could be done to expedite construction of [housing] units to deal with the demand?
"One we're seeing our permit level almost back to where it was before the recession, so there's very good news coming in and that includes a lot of new housing starts. There's just a big market for it right now, both in for sale and apartments.
"Second, we're going to be looking at things like, for instance, if somebody wants to install solar panels. We made people come downtown, get approval, someone had to go through the bureaucracy for weeks or months. Now its going to be a ministerial stamp that you get and it can be done online for about 80 to 90 percent of those homes that get built. So I think a lot of builders looked at L.A., they said it's a great market, but I don't want to go in there and have to get through all of that red tape.
"I brought together all the general managers, the first thing I did in my first couple months as a mayor was to re-interview all of them and say no longer are we going to be judged on how well you enforce bureaucratic rules. You're going to be judged on how many housing starts, how many jobs, and how customer-friendly you are.