City Council president says L.A. lacks a strategy for creating jobs

City Council president says L.A. lacks a strategy for creating jobs
City Councilman Herb J. Wesson at Los Angeles City Hall. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said Wednesday that the critics were right: City Hall lacks a comprehensive strategy for attracting new jobs.

With the region emerging from a recession that dramatically upended the city's finances, Wesson announced that he is creating a special five-member committee to develop a plan for increasing employment across the city.

Wesson's comments, made after his colleagues voted him in as their president for another two years, could prove awkward for Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is running for reelection and has been talking up his work on the economy.

The issue of a jobs plan was raised two months ago by Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., a San Fernando Valley business group. As the council debated its plan for hiking the city's minimum wage, Waldman told lawmakers that the city lacks an overarching plan for attracting and retaining high-paying jobs.

Wesson, laying out his agenda for the council's new legislative session, said Wednesday that Waldman had a point. “Guess what, Stuart? You were right,” he said. “And when we work on reorganizing this council today, you will see a new ad hoc committee on a comprehensive jobs plan will be in place.”

Waldman later praised the council for tackling the issue, saying that Wesson's action “says something about the fact that we don’t have a plan from our mayor.”

“The sad thing is I am right,” Waldman said. “This city does everything to business, nothing for business. And I am extremely excited that the City Council is going to move in the right direction and try and help.”

Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said the mayor supports the creation of the council committee and looks forward to working with lawmakers on new economic development initiatives. He said Garcetti recently worked with Air China to add a third daily flight between LAX and Beijing.

“The new flight is expected to add more than 3,000 jobs and more than $600 million to our local economy,” Millman said. “Overall, Mayor Garcetti is leading an economy that is growing and has created jobs faster than at any time in the past decade, with 85,000 new jobs and a 3% drop in the unemployment rate during Mayor Garcetti's term.”

In recent days, Garcetti has pointed to his work advocating for a state film tax credit, lowering the city’s business tax and attracting to L.A. such companies as Riot Games and eHarmony. He also argued that there are other indicators to show that L.A.'s economy is rebounding, such as tourism.

“People are choosing to study here, people are choosing to visit here, in record numbers,” Garcetti said last week, after a news conference on high-tech bus stops. “There's more jobs than we've ever seen before, and we couldn't say that a month ago.”

The job growth cited by the mayor has been accompanied by less rosy economic indicators. Like the rest of the country, Los Angeles has gradually seen more people returning to work as the recession wanes. But the city continues to cope with stubbornly high unemployment.

As of May, L.A.’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 8.1%, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast, which compiles data on the city’s labor force. By contrast, the adjusted unemployment rate statewide was 6.4%, according to statistics from the California Employment Development Department.

Between July 2013 — when Garcetti assumed office — and May of this year, L.A.’s unemployment rate dropped 20.6%, compared with a 27.3% drop statewide over the same period. Immediately before Garcetti took office, the city’s unemployment rate declined 20.9% during the final two years of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s administration.

Wesson, for his part, said he doesn't see his position as being at odds with Garcetti's views. Council members are taking on the jobs issue, he said, because they don't “shrink” from their obligations.

“The mayor, and us, we work well together. As we proceed, we'll be having conversations with the mayor,” he said. “I'm doing this because it's the responsibility of the City Council.”

Ruben Gonzalez, a senior vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wesson’s statement on the lack of a jobs plan is something that business leaders have been saying for years.

“The quickest way to raise the standard of living for everybody, to improve the quality of life, is to grow economic activity across the board,” he said. “So we are excited to work with the council president to look directly at how we do that as quickly as possible.”

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Times staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this report.