Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Garcetti taps Rockefeller to make LA more ‘resilient’

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks in front of City Hall.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks in front of City Hall.
Mark J. Terrill/AP

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is looking outside City Hall for help governing the city. The Rockefeller Foundation has agreed to pay for a “Chief Resiliency Officer” for two years – a person who can help Garcetti plan for disasters.

“I think he’s reached outside more than most,” said Raphe Sonenshein, who heads the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. “Mayors in LA have not always asked the university or the philanthropic communities to help very much.”

In his first year, Garcetti’s convened meetings with fellow Southern California mayors and university presidents, and created a new non-profit to raise money for city projects.

“This is one unique way mayors can expand their scope of governance,” Sonenshein said.

The grant is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Program. Selected cities include San Francisco, Mexico City and Rome.

“If there’s one thing LA knows, its disaster,” Garcetti said at a ceremony outside City Hall. “We are wholly unprepared.” He said he wants the new resiliency officer, to be hired in January, to look beyond earthquake and fire preparedness to better energy and water use in the city.

Garcetti’s initiatives have included hiring famed seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones of the US Geological Survey and Cal Tech to assess earthquake safety in Los Angeles. He's often said the cash-strapped city needs outside help.

“We were really impressed by the innovative and visionary leadership that the mayor was providing on these issues,” said Michael Berkowitz, manager director of the program. “We see mayors as really important stakeholders in urban resilience building.”

Garcetti was a college teacher and he is comfortable around university people, "which not everybody in government is,” said Sonenshein. The mayor is also a Rhodes Scholar.

Sonenshein contrasts Garcetti with his predecessor.

“Antonio Villaraigosa was probably the most skilled politician the mayor’s office has seen in a very long time,” he said. “Villaraigosa was terrific at getting other elected officials on board.”

Garcetti is charting a somewhat different path.

“I think Garcetti is showing himself to be a rather unusually skilled networker” outside traditional politics. Sonenshein said.