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On 'parking day,' Mayor Garcetti hits his spots in Boyle Heights

Arcelia Gonzalez complained to the city months ago about sidewalk tree roots that ruptured the drain pipe outside her family's Boyle Heights restaurant — to no avail.

So when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti showed up across the street with a makeshift outdoor office to hear citizen gripes on Friday, she seized the occasion and told him her restaurant flooded when heavy rains hit.

"I just think it's sort of unfair," she said.

Garcetti promised action by Wednesday and said the city would soon replace the street's ficus trees. "Their roots are so invasive," he said. "Whoever planted them way back, I don't know what they were thinking."

The new mayor can't take calls from every one of the city's 3.8 million residents. But his appearance on East 1st Street, choreographed to avoid any rude surprises, was the most colorful manifestation yet of what he describes as his back-to-basics push to make City Hall more transparent, efficient and customer-friendly.

Twice before, Garcetti had opened his doors for what he pledges will be monthly "office hours" to hear from city residents — once at City Hall and once in Van Nuys. But his encounters with the ones who showed up Friday offered Garcetti a more elaborate made-for-TV-news stage to showcase his agenda for reshaping Los Angeles to his liking.

The occasion was "parking day," when people around the world put money in curbside meters and occupy parking spots with anything other than cars. In Garcetti's two spaces near Mariachi Plaza, aides laid green sod on the pavement. They placed a black leather chair for the mayor at a red metal desk. Facing him were two white leather chairs for his revolving cast of visitors. In his waiting area were a sofa and coffee tables.

"How can I help you?" Garcetti asked Armando Gonzalez, who runs a Boyle Heights skateboard shop.

Gonzalez wanted the city's assistance in securing space for a skating academy.

"Have you hooked up with will.i.am at all?" Garcetti asked, referring to the Black Eyed Peas entertainer.

"No, not yet," Gonzalez said.

"He'd be interested, I think, in some of what you're doing," Garcetti said. "He just came in and met with me last week. He grew up in Boyle Heights."

After Garcetti praised the area's abundance of "creative ferment," conversation turned to the rebuilding of the iconic 6th Street Viaduct across the L.A. River. Garcetti offered to put Gonzalez on a project advisory committee. If Los Angeles hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics, he said, an Olympic Village could be built in industrial warehouses on the river's banks.

"You could even dam up the river there, create a lake-like space on the river," Garcetti said. "I mean there's some really cool stuff going on, and I want to make sure local voices, not just top-down stuff, is happening. So we'll loop you into that."

Gonzalez gave Garcetti a skateboard. "Oh, dude, that is awesome," Garcetti said.

Like Garcetti's previous "office hours" events, this one was not as organic as it seemed. Mayoral aides handpicked the groups, such as local business owners, who got advance word. Then they vetted those granted an audience with Garcetti.

Last time, in Van Nuys, mayoral face time was offered to Susan E. Dilkes, who had co-hosted a campaign house party for Garcetti last year at her Hollywood Hills home. She handed him a list of recommendations for city commissions.

This time, those invited to the mayor's desk included Guillermo Uribe, co-host of an April campaign fundraiser for Garcetti at his Boyle Heights wine bar, Eastside Luv.

"It was probably the event I did at your place that was the good-luck charm," Garcetti joked after some back-and-forth with Uribe about the resurgence of Silver Lake when he was the area's councilman.

Still, there were flashes of candor. Leon Ahdoot, a Brentwood resident who owns property near Mariachi Plaza, grumbled about a neglected city lot in the neighborhood, saying he'd told Councilman Jose Huizar — who campaigned for Garcetti's rival in the May election — that East 1st Street needs sprucing up.

"What did he suggest?" Garcetti asked.

"He's concentrating in downtown, which I don't blame him," Ahdoot responded, referring to the richer precincts of Huizar's district.

"No, no, no, you should," Garcetti responded. "He should concentrate everywhere."

Garcetti said it was an "amazing moment" for Mariachi Plaza, with a new Gold Line train stop, Uribe's wine bar and La Serenata de Garibaldi restaurant.

"Mr. Mayor, why would anyone want to stop here?" asked Ahdoot, unconsoled. "There's nothing."

"To make it a destination, I think you need to have more of a nightlife," Garcetti suggested in a tone part parent, part therapist.

How about a business improvement district? "Hollywood Boulevard put one together when it was a dump," Garcetti said. "And look at Hollywood Boulevard now."

Garcetti said his "great streets" program would fix up the main thoroughfares of "maybe 20 neighborhoods." "I think this will probably be the one that I do in Boyle Heights," Garcetti told Ahdoot. "It will be this stretch. So the city will be investing money on the look, on art, on different things. But then it's up to you."

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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