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Opinion: Grading Garcetti -- why L.A.'s mayor gets a C

Opinion: Grading Garcetti -- why L.A.'s mayor gets a C
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, seen here speaking at City Hall on June 9, has been criticized for his reluctance to take stances on difficult issues. (Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, 10 days before the first day of school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. With grading in mind, let's uncap our red pens and take a critical look at City Hall.

In deciding what grade Mayor Eric Garcetti deserves for his first two years in office, The Times' editorial board noticed an unsettling pattern: He would articulate some positive, bright vision for the city, only to execute it poorly and leave little to show for his efforts.

Campaigning for mayor, he said middle-class job creation would be his priority; today, he has yet to detail a comprehensive job-creation strategy for Los Angeles. He promised to do away with the city's business tax, which companies identify as the biggest deterrent to locating in Los Angeles; today, L.A. still has a business tax, and there's little sign of it going away. Garcetti started out his term promising to be a "back to basics" mayor, focusing on city services and quality-of-life issues; later, he killed a sales tax proposal to pay for street and sidewalk repairs.

In the editorial board's #GradeYourGov series, Controller Ron Galperin received a B-minus, City Atty. Mike Feuer a B-plus and City Council President Herb Wesson a C-plus. Garcetti nets the lowest grade among the city's top leaders: C. The editorial board explains why:

It's not as if these are new issues for Garcetti, who served 12 years on the City Council and was its president from 2006 to 2011. He bears some responsibility for the current state of affairs and can't claim to be shocked by the magnitude of the city's problems.

When Garcetti chooses to lead on an issue, he can be effective. Amid growing concern about police shootings, he pushed the Los Angeles Police Department to outfit every officer in the field with a body camera by mid-2016. He helped negotiate a deal to build a rail connection to Los Angeles International Airport. He has promised to end years of inaction on earthquake safety, and he is lobbying the council to enact laws by the end of the year to require that thousands of vulnerable buildings be retrofitted, though there are still important details to be worked out, including where the money will come from.

Too often, Garcetti is unwilling to speak out unless he knows it will be good for him politically. The result is that he has sat out some significant debates in which the mayor should be heard. He refused to take a position, for instance, on whether the city should consolidate local elections with state and federal elections (even though he said as a candidate that he opposed the idea). He was one of the few big-city mayors who stayed silent during the debate over giving trade deals a fast-track approval process, even though major deals such as the forthcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership will affect L.A.'s port and growing logistics industry. He refused to either sign or veto a controversial ordinance on homelessness. And on the eve of the Police Commission's meeting to decide whether officers were justified in shooting a mentally ill, unarmed black man, Garcetti ignored protesters at his residence and tried to slip out the back, purportedly for crucial meetings at the White House but really to attend a D.C. fundraiser.

Garcetti's silence on public education has been particularly galling. Unlike his predecessors Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, he has mostly stayed out of school district politics and governance. L.A.'s public schools are responsible for educating more than 600,000 children. The mayor cannot lead the city to a better future without using his bully pulpit to offer policy suggestions, support or oppose school board candidates, and find new ways to coordinate city services with student needs.

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Switching gears from the metaphorical sausage factory of government to the production of actual beef, author Anastacia Marx de Salcedo looks back at Americans' changing tastes in meat. How we get our supply of bovine protein is a lot more complicated than slaughtering the cow and butchering the meat, she writes -- and the squeamish might have trouble making it all the way through De Salcedo's frank article. What started as fulfilling the very real need to feed the armies fighting World War I by completely stripping cow bones and then packaging the product for shipment abroad has become the mainstream way of feeding Americans. L.A. Times

Seventy years ago, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, ending World War II. That's the extent of most Americans' knowledge of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and it's painfully lacking, writes author Susan Southard. The bombs did more than end the wars -- for the Japanese in those two cities, the terrible effects lingered: "For years, tens of thousands of hibakusha ('atomic bomb-affected people') suffered agonizing radiation-related illnesses. Many died. Meanwhile, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's occupation press code censored Japanese news accounts." L.A. Times

Columnist Jonah Goldberg doesn't buy the "federal funds don't pay for abortions" argument in defense of Planned Parenthood. "This is an accounting fiction drafted to do the work of a moral distinction," he writes. "If the federal government were funding churches or businesses that opposed gay marriage -- or sold Confederate flags -- it's doubtful liberal critics would credit such defenses." L.A. Times

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and Sen. Patrick Leahy harshly assess the state of voting rights in America. After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby case, they say, "many state legislatures eager to neutralize the impact of minority voters are no longer constrained." They tout their proposed Voting Rights Advancement Act as restoring the protections for minority voting rights lost after Shelby. L.A. Times

The Special Olympics World Games, held in L.A., should inspire local leaders to do more for the developmentally disabled. That's the recommendation of the L.A. Daily News' editorial board, which notes that the cheerful atmosphere at the Games doesn't reflect the reality faced by many who struggle with less-than-effective services. Daily News

Back to grades: Two readers sent letter-grade evaluations last week in response to my #GradeYourGov-inspired solicitation to "grade this newsletter." Their matching (and flattering) assessments: A-minus. Send me your suggestions for improving this newsletter: paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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