LINCOLN HEIGHTS — Mayor Eric Garcetti highlighted both his successful mediation of the recent teachers strike and support for a parcel tax measure on the June ballot to increase funding for local schools during his State of the City speech April 17 at Lincoln High School.
The choice of the Lincoln Heights school as the location for the speech was not coincidental, as education issues and efforts to improve the city’s schools were a major focus of his comments, which also touched on the city’s fight against homelessness, the falling crime rate, the strong economy and actions to improve the environment.
After an all-night bargaining session at City Hall, Garcetti helped broker an end to a strike by United Teachers Los Angeles that stretched over six school days in January. After the strike, the parcel tax, called Measure EE, was placed on the June ballot by the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education as a means to help fund the new contract that was struck with UTLA.
Garcetti painted the new contract and the ballot measure as a way to achieve not just better schools but a better city.
“Tens of thousands of people walking picket lines in the rain — and as I convened parties at City Hall to help settle a strike, I saw an opening for something much greater than just a teachers’ contract. I realized this was a moment for us to unite around a new social contract to enshrine L.A. as a city of opportunity for everyone,” Garcetti said.
Unlike some big city mayors in other states, Garcetti has no formal role or power in the city’s schools. His predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, led an unsuccessful legal battle to take over LAUSD. Garcetti has had a much more hands-off approach when it comes to LAUSD, and as a result was in a position where both sides appeared to trust him enough to broker an end to the strike.
“What began as a tense negotiation evolved into a real plan for how we could work together to put our kids, and their futures, first,” he said.
Garcetti said that Measure EE can help not just Los Angeles’ schools, but the entire city by lifting up its students — eight out of 10 live in poverty — through adding resources, lower class sizes, nurses and librarians.
“Now is the time to stop complaining that you can’t find the right employees for your business, or the expense of incarceration, or the homelessness epidemic. Now is the time to fund our schools,” Garcetti said.
The measure approved by the LAUSD school board in February would impose a tax of 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district. The measure would raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
Garcetti will be squaring off against some business leaders who oppose the measure.
At a school board meeting in February, Maria Salinas, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, asked the board to consider a per-parcel flat-rate tax instead of a square footage tax, because the square foot proposal was “inconsistent with [the chamber’s] principles in singling out business community and commercial enterprises.”
Early in the speech, Garcetti also spoke of the feelings of despair residents of the Democratic stronghold of Los Angeles may be feeling as a result of the Trump administration’s policies and attempted to cast Los Angeles as a city that is fighting the good fight.
“At a moment defined by both great potential and by threats to our families and futures, Washington remains paralyzed by partisanship, by prejudice and by pettiness,” Garcetti said. “But here in L.A., we take a different approach. Here in L.A., we see the problems in front of us. We act on the opportunities that surround us.”
Garcetti voiced support for the City Council’s recent move to establish a Civil and Human Rights Commission, and pledged that the city would continue to fight for the rights of immigrants.
Garcetti chose last year’s speech to unveil his “A Bridge Home” program to establish emergency homeless shelters around the city, and in the new speech laid out what he said is the program’s progress, including a reduction in crime and homeless encampments at a shelter near the El Pueblo monument.
Three Bridge Home shelters have been opened. Although proposed shelters have been strongly opposed by some community leaders in Venice, Sherman Oaks and Koreatown, Garcetti said the ones operating are making a positive impact.
“Yes, we can point to the barriers we didn’t see coming, NIMBYism that’s slowed down projects’ lawsuits focused more on people’s stuff on the streets than how quickly we can move them indoors, a statewide housing crisis that hasn’t gotten any better,” Garcetti said.
“So, yes, some days I’m frustrated. But you know me. I’m passionate about this. There’s no issue I work on more deeply than homelessness — and I can tell you this: we will get there. We will get there.”
Garcetti also pledged that “by this time next year, at least 15 new bridge housing projects connecting people to permanent housing will be open.”
The Bridge Home program is intended to work in conjunction with Measure HHH, a 2016 voter-approved city bond measure expected to raise $1.2 billion over 10 years for permanent supportive housing.
The original goal of HHH was to build 10,000 units, but the per-unit cost so far has proven that it will probably fall well short. Some activists have also complained that the units are taking too long to be approved and built.
Garcetti pledged that the first HHH project will “finally” open in the fall, and that there are 107 developments in the pipeline that will open in the coming years.
“That’s nearly 7,000 new units that our homeless brothers and sisters, and low-income families, deserve,” he said.
The 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found that more than 31,000 people were homeless in the city, including more than 23,000 living without shelter, which were both slight drops from the previous year after years of increases.
Garcetti also focused on environmental issues during the speech, including his recent decision to phase out three natural gas power plants, and announced he would be establishing a Los Angeles Climate Emergency Commission to direct the city’s efforts.
Garcetti also spoke of the economic progress the city has made along with large reductions in crime.
Over the last five years, Los Angeles has outpaced New York, Chicago, and the nation as a whole in economic and income growth, he said, while Los Angeles is now the third-largest metropolitan economy in the world, after Tokyo and New York.
Garcetti also said the city experienced the second-lowest number of homicides in decades, and the lowest homicide rates ever recorded in South Los Angeles.
Garcetti did not mention an FBI investigation of City Hall that appears to be related to real estate developments. He also did not mention an effort by the City Council that is underway to ban developers and non-individuals from contributing to city election campaigns if they have pending projects in need of city approval.