Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times
The mayor-elect is preaching a gospel of civic rebirth and lower expectations in a series of ‘Back to Basics’ forums in the weeks before he replaces Antonio Villaraigosa.
Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti is preaching a gospel of civic rebirth in appearances across Los Angeles while gently lowering expectations about how much City Hall, and he himself, can do to bring about change.
In a city of 4 million, “I can’t be everywhere, I won’t be everywhere and do a good job,” Garcetti told a crowd of about 250 at Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, one in a series of “Back to Basics” forums in the weeks before he replaces outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on July 1.
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An earlier version of this article said that Pat Pope voted for Wendy Greuel. He did not.
After a campaign filled with promises of change, Garcetti is telling audiences that his administration will be engaged and visible in neighborhoods and that he will focus on bringing them jobs, restoring services and making City Hall a more user-friendly place.
But he’s also warning Angelenos that addressing those challenges, as well as chronic ills such as clogged freeways and underperforming schools, will take sustained and cooperative efforts.
“Don’t look for the mayor to do it all,” he said. “Don’t look for the mayor’s staff to do it all. Don’t look for our city employees to do it all. Because I need you all to be part of doing it.”
Raphael Sonenshein, of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said the tour is a smart move for Garcetti, who is still defining himself to a city that largely still does not know him.
His ability to pull together seven public workshops, including one online, just two weeks after his election showcases him as an urban innovator who pays attention to basics, Sonenshein said.
His large, tightly organized campaign operation spread the word about the workshops via social media and email invites distributed to neighborhood councils, business groups and homeowners associations.
“There’s a certain logic to going out and continuing to introduce yourself,” Sonenshein said. “In that sense it’s a continuation of the campaign and that might be a very healthy thing. You tell voters you’re not taking them for granted.”
Though many participants seemed enthusiastic about what they were seeing Wednesday, others were skeptical. “It’s a good start,” said Pat Pope of Porter Ranch. “Now we’ll look for the results. It’s kind of wait and see.”
The so-called listening tour is one component of a mayoral transition that is taking a different path from previous administrations. Instead of naming a transition team of big-name donors, Garcetti decided first to hear what residents want to tell him.
He’s set up a website, transition.lacity.org, to solicit applications for the hundreds of jobs he will fill in coming weeks not only in his office but also on dozens of commissions over which he has appointment authority. He has not named a chief of staff, leading to some criticism that he won’t be on track to “hit the ground running” as he promised in his campaign.
Garcetti brushed off that concern in an interview after a workshop in Valley Village.
“The work trumps any symbolism right now,” said the 12-year City Council member. “I’m not somebody who didn’t understand City Hall. I don’t need 15 experts telling me how the city works. I already have that Rolodex to call whoever I need.”
Garcetti has also met with residents in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles and held an “ask me anything” session on Reddit.com on Thursday. Additional stops are set for Mar Vista and San Pedro.
At Colfax Elementary School in Valley Village, about 130 participants munched homemade chocolate chip cookies. Among them was Judy Ames, who runs a crisis house for girls looking to escape sex trafficking.
“We get the government we deserve if we don’t participate,” said Ames, a three-decade resident of Valley Village.
At Garcetti’s stops, the crowd is broken up into groups to offer comment on three broad topics: improving the economy, making City Hall work and making neighborhoods work. Participants are told not to list a problem but to offer a new idea or a solution to a problem.
Group No. 1 at Colfax came up with its top recommendations after about an hour of hashing things out: tax incentives to spur more jobs in Hollywood productions, student credit for community work and more town hall-style meetings.
Garcetti appeared as the groups were working, quietly standing near the rear and listening in. He moved from group to group, and then, as the hour ended, addressed them all. He pledged to work hard and hire good people.
And with their help, he told the standing-room-only crowd, the city would make steady progress.
“At most, there are 40,000 city workers in a city of 4 million people,” he said. If 4 million people get engaged in their communities, at their schools, in neighborhood gardens and at senior centers, “that is a city that is unstoppable.”