Settling Down with Mayor Garcetti: New Style. Old Problems.

Mayor Garcetti, sounding like a spinster wooing a hesitant suitor, told an audience of downtown business and civic types earlier this week that he intended to be a reliable mayor. "It's not the girl you're going to go out on a date with for one or two nights, but the one you're going to settle down with. That's who I want to be."

In terms of honeyed persuasion, "hizzoner" isn't Dolly Levi.

But he's not Tony Villaraigosa either, thankfully. Garcetti has put an earnest, unflashy face on city government. The style is vastly different. The problems remain largely the same.

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The problem: City government is opaque, remote, and unresponsive.

Solution: Garcetti will hold (largely symbolic) office hours for the public. He has urged department directors to take "performance based" budgeting seriously (an idea that's been around municipal government since the 1930s). He launched a website (still incomplete) to compare some performance measures across city departments. And the mayor expects to sack directors who don't measure up. (Geraldine Knatz, the head of the Port of Los Angeles, and Fire Chief Brian Cummings have already been asked to leave.)

* * *

The problem: City Hall is too cozy with big developers and their lobbyists and consultants.

Solution: Garcetti has suspended (for now) the merger of the Planning and Building and Safety departments begun in the last days of Villaraigosa and perceived, at least by skeptics like me, as further politicizing the planning process. As a city council member, Garcetti was an advocate of "streamlining" permit approvals. As mayor, Garcetti has not yet offered a plan for what that might mean in practice.

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The problem: Homelessness.

Solution: Following the lead of other cities, Garcetti has proposed more "permanent supportive housing" for the homeless -- apartment complexes that incorporate rehabilitation, mental health services, and counseling under the same roof. He'd like to see these complexes dispersed around the county (meaning mainly out of newly hip downtown).

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The problem: Better streets and sidewalks.

Solution: For streets to be vibrant with life and commerce, passable, and equitably shared by cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians, Garcetti has proposed pretty much everything from filling potholes to bike lanes to "road diets" to fountains and sculpture. Somewhere inside this shaggy assemblage of good ideas might be a solution for the city's declining streets, but even if a solution does take shape, there's another problem.

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The problem: Paying for a better city.

Solution: There really isn't one. The mayor can't whistle up the tens of thousands of good jobs that have drained out of the city since 1990 (to be replaced by an informal economy that's hard to measure or tax). Nor can the mayor depend on the state (which has bled cities dry over the past 20 years). And apart from transit funding, the federal government is pretty much out of the business of assisting cities with anything.

* * *

Problem: More light rail, earthquake threatened buildings, uncertain water supplies, and runaway film production.

Solution: The mayor is working on it.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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