In 2008, you were instrumental in getting the transit tax, Measure R, passed.
I almost delayed the Expo Line by saying it should go down Venice Boulevard to Venice Beach, where we have 13 to 16 million [tourists] a year. My friend [former state Sen.] Sheila Kuehl told me that talking about it would delay it for another two years. So I said I'd compromise, but I want a link down Venice Boulevard someday so people on the Eastside don't have to go to Santa Monica, a high-end, gold-plated community, but can come to Venice Beach.
You represent the airport area. How do we fix LAX?
Simple: regionalism. The Ontario airport is the solution to these jumbo jets, not destroying Westchester. Metrolink is just a half-mile away [from Ontario airport] and [it's] 59 miles to downtown. At LAX, I envision the Crenshaw Line and Green Line [taking people] to a central terminal for a people-mover going all around [the airport], and to get on the trains to get downtown.
You use medical marijuana for cancer pain, yet you're backing a ballot measure to limit medical marijuana outlets in L.A.
Voters will make that decision in the May runoff. The whole thing [in L.A.] is a disaster right now. If there was real leadership in Washington, they would legalize marijuana, period. It's not a war on drugs; it's a war on people. Marijuana has issues but not as debilitating as alcohol or prescription drugs.
You want L.A. to suspend its sister city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia, over ianti-gay laws. Do council declarations about matters thousands of miles away really matter?
Yes, they do. L.A. is a microcosm of the planet, so it resonates throughout the whole world.
You've fought in the billboard wars. Digital billboard owners say they'll sue for $100 million if the city takes the signs down.
We should [at least] be getting money off every one of those digital billboards, and I mean millions of dollars. They're right there in your eyes, and what do we get? Zippo. Nada. I hope my colleagues will fight for our share of the money from billboards that are a blight to many of us, and hazards while we're driving.
Why aren't people in L.A. more engaged with city government?
People in my district take more part in issues in this city than the rest of the country. They come to meetings. They call me 24/7. Everybody has access to my cell number, from the homeless to the billionaires. And I take that very seriously.
What kind of realpolitik does it take to make city policy work?
Clinton said that politics is a combat sport. It's tough. It's rough. We rely on trusting each other and working with each other because we're in a battle all the time. Good leadership can make things happen, the way we're seeing with Herb Wesson.
I've told all my colleagues, use neighborhood councils — they're good. Look what Venice did the other day: 1,622 people voted in a neighborhood council meeting. I love the democracy.
What don't non-Angelenos 'get' about L.A.?
They don't get the megalopolis feeling of people from all over the world. They don't get the interconnection. Second — the warmth, the sun. That's why I'm big on solar energy. I just opened up a private-public solar carwash. We should all have a solar panel on our roofs.
I don't yet because of trying not to get in the middle of "Rosendahl [bought] this or that" [brand].
By the time this is published, you'll know if your choice for your council seat, Mike Bonin, is in the May election. But you'll still have 12 weeks in office. What's important to change?
Pension and healthcare reform. I came from the private sector. I know what it's like in the real world. I know how capitalism functions, and I know how workers have to be taken care of, because if you don't take care of your workers, what good are you?
Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes
This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.