Following up on last week's U.S.-China climate change agreement, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday he would invite leaders of Chinese and American cities to a summit in Los Angeles next year to kick-start efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions in both countries.
Wrapping up the China leg of a 12-day Asia trade mission that is also scheduled to take him to Japan and South Korea, Garcetti, a member of President Obama's climate change task force, said he has already discussed the idea with the White House, a number of his American counterparts and the mayors of Chinese cities including Shenzhen and Shanghai and received an enthusiastic response.
"Given the president's agreement, I think me being here this week was perfect timing," Garcetti said in Beijing after addressing a "clean tech" business matchmaking event. "If I hadn't been here, the [mayor's gathering] could have landed anywhere, but I think L.A. is well positioned."
Obama last week committed the U.S. to cutting net greenhouse gas emissions at least 26% by 2025. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, announced an accelerated time frame for capping carbon emissions and increasing China's use of nuclear, wind and solar energy.
"They've made the agreement but the details weren't worked out, so I think they are looking for someone to lead on this," Garcetti said. Limiting carbon emissions is really about controlling emissions in cities, he added, and given Los Angeles' track record in tackling its smog problem, "it's kind of a no-brainer to do [the summit] in L.A. ... Cities are the source of the problem and must be the solution."
Timing and other details of the proposed gathering have yet to be discussed.
The environment was a core part of Garcetti's China trip; in Shenzhen, the mayor joined in a ribbon-cutting for the new China headquarters of SaveSorb, an L.A.-based company that produces a natural absorbent for oil, paint and fuel spills. In Beijing, the mayor delivered a speech on urbanization and sustainability at the Stanford Center at Peking University.
Courting tourists was also high on the agenda. Los Angeles welcomed 570,000 Chinese visitors last year, making it the top U.S. destination for Chinese tourists. Garcetti says he aims to raise that to 1 million annually within a few years.
Five Los Angeles medical centers -- UCLA, Keck Hospital of USC, Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope and Children's Hospital -- are hoping to persuade some Chinese tourists to seek health exams and other services in Southern California. The hospitals have launched a partnership with China Southern Airlines, with the carrier offering itineraries that combine full-day health scans at the L.A. medical centers with visits to sites such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"A lot of Chinese media asked me: Is this for plastic surgery? Because you're in Hollywood," Garcetti laughed.
The mayor participated in two Discover L.A. receptions and sat for an interview with Internet portal Youku, during which he played the piano and chatted about places to visit in L.A. beyond well-known destinations such as Universal Studios.
"There's a hunger for authenticity, not just going to the big, check-the-box-off theme parks. So we talked about Leimert Park and jazz. We talked about food trucks and Koreatown. We talked about East L.A. and Mariachi Plaza," Garcetti said. "The old cliche is that L.A. is a great place to live but tough to visit. We want to change that."
In the wake of his visit, Garcetti said Youku is now planning a "Travel With Movies" show that will highlight film locations in Los Angeles. "Because of our presence here, they've decided to do that," he said. "That itself will bring enough visitors to justify the [delegation's] travel."
After visiting the Shenzhen headquarters of Tencent, an Internet company whose WeChat social networking app is used by more that 400 million Chinese to talk, pay bills, order taxis and shop, Garcetti said L.A. must seize on the platform to engage Chinese tourists.
"I want L.A. to be the most WeChat-ready airport, so when people arrive, boom, we are ready to communicate with them," the mayor said. "Making these sorts of connections, whether it's doing a lot of the social media promotion like we've done or connecting with those folks who are building this architecture, I think the first city to get this right is going to win."
The L.A. Conference and Visitors Bureau has launched a new wave of promotions in China, with displays in Shanghai's Pudong Airport, subway stations and buses. A Chinese-language website, helloLA.cn, is targeting Chinese visitors, and about 1.49 million people have joined a "Share Your L.A. Stories" campaign on WeChat and the Twitter-like service Weibo.
About 80 people traveled as part of the mayoral delegation, including City Council members Curren Price, Gil Cedilllo, Mike Bonin (whose district includes LAX) and Joe Buscaino (whose district includes the port).
"It's important for us to present a unified front. We've got to be cheerleaders for the L.A. brand," said Price, whose district includes USC, Staples Center, the Convention Center and L.A. Live.
The tab for public officials in the group was expected to be $570,000. The Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports were contributing $214,000 and $198,000, respectively, with the remainder covered by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles and corporate sponsors including Universal Studios Hollywood and the Chinese real estate developer Greenland Holdings Group.
Cheng Kwok-Yin, executive vice president of East West Bank and a member of the delegation, said bringing local officials to China "absolutely makes a difference" in bolstering business for California companies. The L.A.-based bank opened its third branch in China, in Shenzhen, this week.
Robert Rutherford, chief executive of Hive Lighting, joined the delegation in hopes of winning new customers for his 3-year-old company. Based in downtown L.A. and with five full-time employees and 10 contract workers, Hive makes energy-efficient lights for theaters, sports venues and film sets.
"For a little start-up like us, being part of the delegation gives us some cachet and allows us to punch above our weight class," Rutherford said. "When we say we're with the mayor, people take our calls."