Garcetti seeks to stem poverty, boost social justice in vision for L.A.’s recovery

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers State of the City address.


Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his vision on Monday for helping Los Angeles emerge from the financial devastation of COVID-19, saying city leaders should commit to economic justice by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into relief programs and ramping up initiatives that keep residents safe, employed and out of poverty.

In his annual State of the City address, Garcetti promised to spend nearly $1 billion on initiatives for addressing homelessness and increase funding for gang intervention workers, sidewalk vending programs, arts activities and relief for businesses.

The mayor, speaking at the Griffith Observatory with the downtown skyline behind him, also laid out plans for delivering $1,000 per month to 2,000 of the city’s neediest households over the next year, as part of a “guaranteed basic income” pilot program that he described as the biggest of any city in America.

Mayor Eric Garcetti delivers his State of the City address from the Griffith Observatory.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The proposals reflect the political shift that has taken place at City Hall since last year, when Angelenos filled the streets to protest police brutality and racial inequality that traces back to the city’s origins. They also serve as the mayor’s acknowledgment that COVID-19, which has left nearly 24,000 dead across Los Angeles County, had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the region’s Black and Latino families, especially those who are working class.

“We saw how unfair the world still was,” Garcetti said. “The pandemic hit us all, but it hit some of us worse, taking too many of our seniors and too many of our sick, too many of our poor in too many communities of color. And it reminded us how much work we still have left to do.”

Garcetti described his upcoming spending plan, which will cover the year that starts July 1, as a “justice budget” that would be the most progressive of any municipal spending plan in the U.S. And he portrayed the city, where thousands of people are getting vaccinated each day, as a place “bursting with joyous possibility while it cracks with sorrow.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s $24-million Basic Income Guaranteed program, which will be included in his city budget to be released Tuesday, would provide $1,000 a month to 2,000 Los Angeles families for a year.

April 19, 2021

The hopeful tone of Monday’s speech — with its promises of expanded city spending and newly created relief programs — bore little resemblance to the message he delivered last year. In April 2020, one month into L.A.’s COVID-19 crisis, Garcetti gave what was by far the bleakest State of the City speech in at least a generation, reporting grimly that Angelenos were “under attack,” worn down by the coronavirus and mourning their dead.

Since then, Garcetti has focused almost exclusively on two goals: responding to the coronavirus outbreak — setting up free testing sites, amplifying new public health rules and finally, opening vaccination centers — while keeping the city financially afloat.


The pandemic and the accompanying shutdowns walloped several big sources of revenue for the city, including the taxes generated by tourism and the hotel industry. The city’s financial outlook had been dire until March, when the Biden administration threw the city a lifeline — a $1.35-billion rescue package to help it recover from its financial losses triggered by the pandemic.

Mayor Eric Garcetti
Mayor Eric Garcetti lays out his vision for Los Angeles, saying city leaders would commit hundreds of millions of dollars toward economic justice.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Community groups from some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods quickly urged city leaders to pour that money into aid for the most impoverished families. But the city’s financial analysts argued that the first big chunk of that money — more than $600 million — was needed to stabilize the city’s finances, which would include replenishing its emergency reserves and canceling a loan that could have damaged the city’s credit rating had it been finalized.

On Monday, Garcetti said he intends to tap $300 million from the Biden rescue package for relief programs, such as those that can help residents pay their rent and their mortgages. The mayor also announced plans for issuing $5,000 “comeback checks” to 5,000 companies — money designed to “help L.A. businesses roar back.”

Garcetti’s proposal for a guaranteed basic income, if approved by the City Council, would be accompanied by a similar plan to provide $11 million in monthly payments to needy residents of South Los Angeles and portions of the San Fernando Valley.

“When you give money to people who are poor, it creates better outcomes,” the mayor said. “It covers child care. It puts food on the table. It leads to more high school graduations and better checkups.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, takes a selfie with Andre Herndon.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, takes a selfie with Andre Herndon, deputy chief of staff, after the State of the City address.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The proposal drew praise from Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, who championed a guaranteed basic income program in his own city. Tubbs, who attended Monday’s speech, said Garcetti is giving a major boost to the movement, which is built around the idea that “we don’t have to have poverty in this country.”

“The world cares about what L.A. does,” Tubbs said. “To have the mayor of the second-largest city come out so boldly is significant.”

The mayor’s proposed budget, set for release Tuesday, comes at a moment of heightened frustration over the city’s handling of homelessness.

April 19, 2021

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., offered a more critical take, saying programs that “give away free money” will simply give L.A.’s elected officials a new way to buy votes when they run for reelection.

“When you can rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the vote of Paul,” he said.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district stretches from Crenshaw to Koreatown, applauded the mayor for “leaning in” to issues of equity, justice and the homelessness crisis facing the city. Now it falls to the council to ensure that the programs touted by the mayor can be sustained in future years, he said.

“This is not the business of onetime funding,” he said. “This cannot be flash and dash.”

Garcetti said he would take initial steps toward creating a pilot program for slavery reparations for Black Angelenos, by naming an advisory committee and finding an academic partner to help push the initiative.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, meets with Griffith Observatory staff
Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, meeting with Griffith Observatory staff members, unveiled a “guaranteed basic income” pilot program to support the city’s neediest households over the next year.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

As part of his calls for social justice, he also spoke in favor of efforts to move key duties away from the Los Angeles Police Department and turn them over to social workers or mental health experts.

The mayor’s proposed budget will pay for a program entitled TURN, or Therapeutic Unarmed Response for Neighborhoods, which would send specialists instead of police officers to nonviolent mental health emergencies. Such programs are viewed as a way of reducing incidents of police brutality.

Still, Garcetti drew a line against activists who have argued that the city’s policing system is beyond reform — and should instead be dismantled. The first job of any city, he said, is to “guarantee a life without fear.”

“If you want to abolish the police, you’re talking to the wrong mayor,” he said.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and an outspoken supporter of police abolition, said she was not surprised by the mayor’s defense of the LAPD. Abdullah accused Garcetti of appropriating the language and ideas of activists, and voiced doubts that he would ultimately carry out the proposals in his speech.

“We know he likes to talk a good game, but not actually follow through,” she said.