Mayor Garcetti and the Politics of 'Meh'

"It's not easy to figure out Mayor Eric Garcetti's grand plan for Los Angeles, or even if he has one," wrote long-time political correspondent Bill Boyarsky earlier in April. "His state of the city speech ... didn't help. It was filled with short-range ideas ... Where was the vision?"

Boyarsky's question is a trending theme for the mayor's first months in office. But to be fair, there have been milestones worth marking in the mayor's "back to basics" approach.

While not winning total control of the Department of Water and Power, Garcetti unsettled the LADWP in January with the appointment of Marcie Edwards -- an outsider -- as general manager. He also ousted Senior Assistant General Manager Aram Benyamin who was regarded as too close to electrical workers union head Brian D'Arcy.

(In February, the LA Weekly complained that the mayor's "biggest achievement so far is a new contract with Department of Water and Power workers, which freezes wages for three years." The Weekly called that a success, but found it hard to point to anything else of equal substance.)

The mayor also took steps to increase transparency in city operations by making budgeting and performance data more accessible online. Critics like Boyarsky -- looking for meaningful detail -- wondered about the value of posting aggregate numbers. "It's a work in progress," said the mayor's staff.

To stem the flight of movie and TV production, the mayor appointed former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak as director of the city's Entertainment Industry and Production Office. And the city council gave producers of TV pilots a break by waiving city permit fees. TV and film productions continued to leave, lured away by subsidies and generous tax breaks.

As presented in his recent State of the City address, Mayor Garcetti's program is more of a sketch than a plan: suspending Department of Water and Power rate increases in 2014, finishing the 405 Freeway project through the Sepulveda Pass ahead of schedule, building "a people mover" to connect LAX to the Green Line, bidding for the 2024 Olympics, making Los Angeles a more bikeable city, and $20 million worth of sidewalk repairs.

(Given the scope of the city's sidewalk problems, $20 million -- or $200 million -- is like tossing in a handful of pebbles to pave the Grand Canyon.)

Story continues below

Last year, newly inaugurated Mayor Garcetti said that his goal was "making this a great city again." Civic greatness might be approached by the mayor's measured, slightly dull, step-by-step efforts, but it can't be achieved without a transformation of the relationship between City Hall and Los Angeles voters. Garcetti defeated City Controller Wendy Greuel 181,995 votes to 155,497, an absurdly tiny fraction of nearly 2.5 million registered voters of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles continues to suffer from the politics of "meh," as the recent report of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission might have summarized it.

Civic engagement is the missing structure to bind together the parts of what actually is a great city. The city charter contains the tools to remake the relationship between those who are elected and those who elect them, but no mayor has been brave enough to use those tools as they should be used.

Jon Christensen, writing at LA Observed in February, described what he thought a culture of civic engagement might one day give Angeleños:

And that's not even half of what is possible, should Los Angeles ever have a mayor brave enough. Angeleños won't care if he's bland.


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading