It was both an infuriating and embarrassing moment for Mayor Eric Garcetti in October 2015 when several members of Black Lives Matter disrupted a town hall meeting at Holman United Methodist Church.
Garcetti was at the church to discuss a range of issues from crime and police reform to neighborhood development with local residents. The Black Lives Matter beef with him was over Los Angeles Police Department misconduct and abuse, and the mayor’s supposed refusal to do anything about it. The disruption came against the backdrop of the Ezell Ford slaying.
Garcetti made a quick exit from the meeting with demonstrators in tow screaming and jeering at him. The protest symbolized the challenges that a big city mayor faces.
The police violence issue and how a mayor handles it is perennially one of the most volatile issues in Los Angeles. Garcetti walked a tight rope on the issue.
He acknowledged the contentiousness of it, promised to continue to push reform, and prod the LAPD and police commission to make that its major priority. However, that did not mean firing LAPD Chief Charlie Beck as protestors demanded, or direct intervention in the operation of the department.
The police misconduct issue, though, is only one of several thorny issues that have confronted Garcetti.
Another is how to get a handle on L.A.’s seemingly unchecked sprawl that has turned freeways and streets into virtual parking lots most of the day. He took much heat from community activists for backing Measure M, the county sales tax hike for transit.
They called it a pork barrel for contractors, with no guarantees of job creation for South L.A. residents, while piling yet another tax on residents.
Garcetti countered that the measure was the best way to provide the funding to expand transit to development and prevent L.A. from sinking hopelessly into one big parking lot, and that failure to enact it would knock any sensible development plan for a loop.
Another contentious issue is what to do about the thousands of homeless persons that are camped out on city streets, parks and freeway underpasses and overpasses. That has made L.A. the nation’s homeless capital.
The City Council’s answer is the ballot Measure HHH. The knock is that it’s a costly measure that spends a lot, with little assurance that it will make a real dent in homelessness.
Garcetti, however, didn’t punt on it and publicly backed it because it at least holds some promise of committing public funds to a problem that is a crisis issue with dire moral, humane, political and economic consequences for the city if left unaddressed.
Then there is the issue of development. The challenge for Garcetti is to craft and push the City Council to enact a solid land use plan that puts real checks on developers, taking the checkbook politics out of it, controlling high rise project building in residential neighborhoods, while at the same time ensuring the building of more affordable housing.
Garcetti understands that there are legions of voters in Los Angeles who are fed up with the malaise, the fog of government and the self-serving, it’s-all-about-me careerism that has enveloped the L.A.’s mayor’s office in year’s past. And there was a good reason for that.
City residents expect an end to special interest deal-making and cronyism in and outside of City Hall, a bloated city bureaucracy, and to sneaky and upfront tax increases.
He made a good start with a review of the performance of managers of the at times bureaucratic laden, moribund city agencies. He launched the review not just to improve performance and accountability and reduce waste, but to get rid of the dead weight in some agencies where warranted.
He took on the one agency that has been the greatest source of friction, pain and anger, the Department of Water and Power, with its huge bureaucratic management, spending waste and cronyism. He has consistently prodded the DWP to publicly commit to a timetable for reform and has kept his pledge to oppose any arbitrary rate increases.
The DWP, though, remains a tough nut to crack, with its own board and set of rules and management. Garcetti must continue to use his office as a bully pulpit to keep the heat on the DWP for reform and overhaul.
Garcetti made many trips to Washington to lobby the Obama administration hard for more funding for housing and business development in chronically underserved South L.A. He took some heat for supposedly excluding South L.A. from the Obama administration’s Promise Zone initiative. To his credit, he pushed for funding for South L.A.
The pressing need for a balanced land use plan that protects communities from runaway development, keeping the city in the fiscal black, tough oversight over city departments to prevent cronyism, mismanagement and bloated spending, and a hard monitor of the LAPD remain glaring glitches in L.A. politics.
Garcetti is the man at the top and the one who residents should and will continue to look too to fix those glitches. He certainly deserves a second chance to do just that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court” (Amazon Kindle). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.