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Former President Clinton, Garcetti swap ideas on public works money

It was just short of a year ago that former President Bill Clinton joined Wendy Greuel at Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles to assume his role as surrogate in chief for her campaign against mayoral rival Eric Garcetti.

What a difference a year makes.

On Thursday, Clinton joined Mayor Garcetti on a dais in the council chambers at City Hall for a public event that suggested all was forgiven. By the end, when Clinton appeared to misspeak by saying Garcetti had been elected president instead of mayor, Clinton was joking, “You may become president, too, some day.”

The occasion was a Clinton Global Initiative forum on public infrastructure. Speaking to a crowd of invited guests, Clinton and Garcetti focused on their mutual interest in environmental sustainability and creative financing for public construction projects.

Garcetti gave Clinton credit for inspiring Los Angeles, under former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to convert 144,000 street lamps to LED bulbs, reducing energy costs and cutting carbon emissions. The city now plans to install solar panels and Wi-Fi hot spots on the street lamps, Garcetti said.

Garcetti also reminded Clinton of the costly preparations that Los Angeles still needs to make for a major earthquake.

“What are we going to do when the Big One hits?” the mayor said. “In 1994, when you came out here and you helped save this city after that earthquake, remember the Internet just started getting used a few months after that, and almost nobody had a cellphone. Today, we think we’re going to talk to each other by sending texts and emails? That may be gone."

Garcetti said the city needed analog technology using batteries and solar power at fire stations “so that our first responders will continue to be able to digitally communicate.”

(Left unmentioned was Clinton’s lavish praise of Greuel last year for overseeing much of his administration’s response to the 1994 Northridge earthquake, a key point in her campaign against Garcetti.)

Garcetti also praised Clinton for encouraging cities to expand the purposes of capital spending. For example, he said, Los Angeles has started to structure street repaving projects in a way that lets more rain soak into the ground, replenishing aquifers.

Clinton asked, “What can all of us do to help the mayors and governors succeed?”

Garcetti urged Clinton to help cities in their struggle to mix public and private capital. “You’ve probably been stuck in traffic -- well, probably not as a president,” Garcetti said. “But the rest of us get stuck in traffic on the 405 Freeway, the San Diego Freeway.”

Local government, he said, is having a tough time coming up with the money to build a public transit line across the Sepulveda Pass. “We’re not going to be able to fund that ourselves with just public money,” he said. “And yet there’s no obvious public-private partnership that’s there.”

Clinton mentioned the potential of labor unions or public pension funds to finance major infrastructure projects, saying they offered an excellent investment return.

Garcetti, however, has been grappling with the more traditional choice of raising taxes or floating bonds to finance the multibillion-dollar project that he hopes will be a centerpiece of his administration: repairs of the city’s vast network of broken streets and sidewalks.


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