Mayor talks business with local chambers but skips the big groups

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti meets with business leaders during his first day in office.
(David Zahniser / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spent his first morning as mayor discussing jobs and city services with business leaders from San Pedro to Century City while sending a not-too-subtle message to the organizations that backed his opponent, former City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Garcetti conducted a round table with more than a dozen chambers of commerce, including groups that represent Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, Venice, Lincoln Heights, Harbor Gateway and Historic Filipinotown, asking for ideas about ways to make the city more business friendly.

Notably absent were three of the city’s largest business organizations, all of which backed Greuel, who lost to Garcetti in the May 21 election. Garcetti said he plans to bring in the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and those other big business groups at a later date.

“We don’t have some of the larger entities here today because I want to help them rethink their role in the city as well and reconstitute themselves,” Garcetti told the group. “Whether it’s City Hall, whether it’s the L.A. chamber, all of us big guys have forgotten how to listen to what’s happening on the street. And I think we need strengthened institutions at the highest level.


“Oftentimes the city goes to them first and there’s a little work group and a white paper and it gets shelved and nothing happens,” he added.

Gary Toebben, chief executive of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, did not respond directly to Garcetti’s remarks, instead issuing a statement saying he attended Sunday’s inauguration ceremony.

“I ... was excited to hear the mayor lay out his priorities. which include much of the chamber’s agenda,” he said. “We look forward to working with him to make this shared vision a reality.”

The top executive of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which also was not invited Monday, said he did not view Garcetti’s comments as a slight. Some of the chamber officials that showed up are VICA members, said Stuart Waldman, the group’s president.

“Oftentimes I’m the one contacting them and telling them they need to engage on city issues,” Waldman said. “So I think it’s great that the mayor’s office is reaching out to them.”

Monday’s meeting came one day after Garcetti delivered an inaugural speech that placed a huge emphasis on job creation -- lowering the city’s business tax, keeping film production in L.A. and making sure other states don’t lure away local companies. Those themes resurfaced during the round table, along with complaints from business leaders about potholes, broken sidewalks, blighted empty lots and the city’s 3-1-1 customer service hotline.

Erika Velazquez, executive director of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, said the city needs to communicate more about its initiatives -- like a recent move to add bike lanes. “One day traffic lanes are gone and bike lanes are there, and so all of the neighborhood councils, all of the residents, are totally up in arms about it,” she said.

Garcetti said he wants a better “intelligence” network to gather information on the needs of local businesses. And he revealed that he is conducting a nationwide search for someone to oversee economic development, calling it “probably the most important position” being filled.

Garcetti plans to have four deputy mayors, down from 12. He was expected to name at least part of his leadership team later in the day. “I want people who have a great love for Los Angeles but are also innovators -- people who don’t look at government the same way we have for years but reimagine it,” he said.


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Twitter: @DavidZahniser