Mayor Eric Garcetti got lucky. When he took office in 2013, the national and regional economies were on the upswing and he was able to spend a little money instead of being forced to slash programs and services dramatically, as his predecessor had to do. Garcetti had an ally in President Obama, who directed billions of dollars to L.A., including funding for rail lines and anti-poverty programs. And there were no major crises in the city during the last four years — no secession votes, no earthquakes, no civil unrest.
Now, the calm is ending. Los Angeles will be challenged in many new ways in the coming years, by the Trump administration, by the possibility of another recession, by the increasing effects of global warming and by the changing demographics of the city itself, which will necessitate hard, controversial decisions about growth and development. L.A. needs a steady, experienced leader who can champion a progressive, humane and modern vision for the years ahead. Garcetti is the best — really, the only — choice on the ballot. Voters ought to give him a second term.
Two years ago, the Times Editorial Board gave Garcetti a midterm report card grade of "C," noting that he ducked far too many difficult decisions and too often refused to speak out on issues of importance unless he knew that doing so would be good for him politically. Garcetti, we wrote, was a mayor with a laudable vision for the future of L.A., but might lack the political courage to make that vision a reality.
To his credit, Garcetti has begun to show more backbone. Last year, he was the public face for two hard-fought ballot measures designed to address some of L.A.'s most pressing challenges. Garcetti was both an architect of and unrelenting advocate for Measure M, the county sales tax increase that would raise $120 billion over four decades to double the size of the region's mass transit system and invest in crucial transportation infrastructure. In the end, Measure M received 71% of the vote — well over the two-thirds majority needed to pass. It is an ambitious program that will help the mayor and his successors create a more modern, viable and efficient Los Angeles.
Garcetti didn't initiate Measure HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing for the homeless; the City Council did. But Garcetti hustled to help it pass. With 28,000 homeless people living in the city, he recognized that it was time to put himself on the line. He made a compelling case to the public for investing in L.A.'s future and voters responded. It passed overwhelmingly.
If Garcetti is committed to fulfilling the promises of Measure M and Measure HHH, he needs to demonstrate that same kind of political courage and leadership early and often. But he was too slow to respond when slow-growth advocates proposed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the two-year moratorium on major building developments now on the March ballot as Measure S. This measure not only jeopardizes Garcetti's pledge to build 100,000 new market-rate and affordable housing units by 2021 but also is a threat to his vision of L.A. as a livable, affordable, transit-oriented and environmentally friendly city. Yet, until last week he had barely made a public peep about the ballot measure. Like it or not, Measure S will be a referendum on Garcetti's version of L.A.'s future, and he should be using every ounce of his political capital to convince the public that his is the right vision for L.A. and that he is committed to fixing the city's broken land-use process that has undermined trust in City Hall.
What's more, he will need to be a champion for building the permanent supportive housing funded by Measure HHH, as well as a watchdog to make sure the program lives up to its promise.
Garcetti has rightly pushed the city to focus on the fundamentals. He was out front pushing for citywide earthquake retrofitting. And he should also stay committed to his "back to basics" agenda that focuses on improving services and government accountability. It's difficult, however, to invest in new computer systems, training and efficiency and other basics when the city continues to spend 20% of its budget on workers' retirement benefits. Garcetti says he's controlled costs by limiting employee raises earlier in his term, but he agreed to generous 4% pay hikes to police and firefighters last year. Garcetti was elected in part for his pledge to reform the Department of Water and Power, but the utility is on its third general manager under his watch and voters rejected a measure he supported to reform governance of the department.
Ten Angelenos are running against Garcetti for the job of mayor. They offer interesting ideas for increasing transparency and improving services, but none have the experience to run the nation's second-largest city for the next 5½ years.
Garcetti, meanwhile, appears to have political ambitions beyond L.A. Despite having no serious challenger, he's raised $3.1 million already and is continuing to fundraise. So what's going on? Is he planning to stick around — or will he jump ship to run for the next major seat that comes open? Rather than a placeholder mayor waiting for his next career move, Los Angeles requires a committed leader who is willing to invest the time and energy required to help L.A. evolve into a modern city. If Garcetti wins, he should stay put and do the job.