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Opinion

A to-do list for L.A.'s next mayor

A to-do list for L.A.'s next mayor
Angelenos will elect a new mayor on May 21.
(Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

Tackle real problems

By Austin Beutner

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Only 21% of registered voters cast a ballot in the recent primary elections. And convenience didn’t seem to be the issue, since only about a third of those who were sent vote-by-mail ballots bothered to fill in the circles and put them in a mailbox.

There is reason enough, however, that voters should care. Emergency response times have increased dramatically in Los Angeles; the effective deployment level of cops on the street is lower than it’s been in years; the city’s jobless rate is 50% higher than the national average; and our roads and traffic are among the worst in the country. And with the city forecasting large deficits into the future, we can’t simply spend our way out of trouble.

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Yet, in the primary, not one of the major candidates put forth a concrete plan to solve more crimes, reduce response times, fix roads or rebuild our economy, let alone a plan to balance the budget and provide money to address these issues. I’m not saying their plans lacked sufficient details; they had no plans at all.

In politics, voters don’t have to choose one of the names on the ballot. They can instead choose not to vote. In an election in which 79% of the voters chose that option, “none of the above” was the clear winner. The candidate who moves beyond platitudes and identity politics and puts forth a concrete plan to make Los Angeles once again one of the world’s great cities could convince the 79% they have something to vote for and become the next mayor.

Austin Beutner is the former first deputy mayor of Los Angeles and founder of Evercore Partners.

Make schools transparent

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By Gloria Romero

Iwant the next mayor to be an education mayor, but not by simply operating his or her own network of schools. I’d like the mayor to create an Office of City Schools to provide a one-stop informational shop for families. This office would provide detailed information on each school’s academic “dashboards” to parents and residents: the academic performance level of each school (including charters, magnets, private); graduation rates; their eligibility to be transformed under the state “parent trigger” or the federal No Child Left Behind laws. Information on parental choice organizations and laws, including open-enrollment data and transfer eligibility, would be available, enabling parents to make informed decisions. Because housing and schools are closely linked, the office would provide data on real estate sales, transit routes and crime rates. Information for each school on staffing, salaries and ongoing major litigation would also be made transparent and accessible.

Los Angeles cannot be a great city without great schools. An Office of City Schools would serve a key role in empowering parents and all residents to become engaged and enlightened architects of our children’s futures.

Gloria Romero is California director of Democrats for Education Reform and a former state senator representing Los Angeles.

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Save the parks

By Steve Soboroff

Parks are some of Los Angeles’ most valuable community assets, and the new mayor needs to work to increase funding for them. They provide precious open spaces where local children and families can exercise, play and enjoy the outdoors.

City park funding also supports invaluable programs such as job training, anti-gang and drug prevention, health and nutrition classes, recreational sports leagues and many others.

But as crucial as parks are to quality of life in L.A., they are in serious financial trouble. In addition to budget cuts resulting from the city’s financial situation and added pension and healthcare costs that other city departments typically don’t pay for, the Department of Water and Power has been charging the parks at a rapidly increasing level for utility services. These combined “charge-backs” now take up one-quarter of all parks funding. This budgetary manipulation is unfair and is jeopardizing the park system’s ability to provide programs and services that families depend on.

With such an important city asset in dire straits, the new mayor will need to come up with workable solutions. A solar park system is one, as it can be done in conjunction with the DWP.

Steve Soboroff, president of L.A.'s Recreation and Parks Commission from 1995 to 2000, is chairman of the ParksSave! campaign. He has endorsed Eric Garcetti.

Undo poverty

By Cecil “Chip” Murray

Coming on board during the Depression, my generation used to joke, “Being poor ain’t so bad, it’s just so inconvenient.” No, it’s bad.

Poverty of pocket can contribute to the poverty of family/education/self-image. See how the envelope is pushed in, say, the black community, where the dollar turns over one time — it’s spent and it’s gone — as compared to five or more times in the white and Latino communities.

To get started on finding solutions for closing such disparities, the new mayor can begin here: Create a city commission to design a plan with deadlines to elevate our underserved and served communities; use downsized and/or abandoned military bases as preparatory centers for job training; partner with Congress in programs to rebuild the infrastructure, thus supplying blue-collar jobs; ask corporations for, say, a 3% set-aside for entry-level jobs for the underserved.

The Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray is a senior fellow at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He has endorsed Wendy Greuel.

Link to philanthropy

By James M. Ferris

To say the least, the challenges of leadership will not be easy for the next mayor. But there is one idea that may offer the potential for progress: the formation of strategic partnerships with philanthropy in the region.

The new mayor may want to consider an expanded capacity to work with philanthropic leaders and organizations in ways that engage their expertise and knowledge, leverage financial resources and foster new collaborations with philanthropy — as well as business and community organizations — to tackle seemingly intractable public problems.

The city’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, formed in 2009 to spark efforts between government and philanthropy, should be continued and strengthened. It has achieved successes, including the formation of the Neighborhood Revitalization Work Group made up of philanthropic, business and community leaders working to make Los Angeles more competitive for state and federal funding, and the expansion of Summer Night Lights, an innovative crime reduction and youth development program in 32 parks in the highest crime areas.

Such collaborations are not easy, but our center’s research has found that offices of strategic partnerships offer the potential to catalyze and accelerate meaningful efforts to make positive change.

James M. Ferris is the director of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at USC and a professor in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC.

Fight special interests

By Richard Close

Who controls the agenda in the city of Los Angeles: (a) the public; (b) the City Council; (c) the mayor; or (d) none of the above? Currently and unfortunately, it is (d) none of the above.

It is special-interests groups. We need a mayor who is strong enough to stand up to them and focus on restoring quality of life, economic growth and the human spirit in the city.

Municipal employee unions are concerned about employee compensation; real estate developers are allowed to build projects that are out of scale for the surrounding areas and in violation of city ordinances; and the billboard industry is allowed to create visual blight in our communities. Although their goals of maximizing profit are legal and part of our economic system, they are often contrary to the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

It’s our city, and we need a mayor who is strong enough to say no when pressured to compromise the interests of the citizens of Los Angeles in favor of special-interest groups.

Richard Close, an attorney, is president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn.

Raise wages

By Diep Tran

How can the new mayor help grow our local economy? Work to raise the minimum wage.

I’m a restaurant owner, and it may seem strange that I would be advocating for increasing my payroll expenses, but raising the minimum wage is good for all of us. When you raise the wages of workers who are living from paycheck to paycheck, they spend their money immediately in the local economy.

Today’s minimum wage is simply not enough for a family to live on. The minimum-wage workers serving and cooking your food cannot afford to put food on their own tables. They use food stamps at a rate higher than any other workforce. I work alongside a talented staff that turns out great food every day. I pay my staff in the kitchen above minimum wage to compensate their hard work and because no one can live on $8 an hour. Period.

Whether we are customers, restaurant owners or political candidates, we have to do better than $8 an hour. Our new mayor needs to ensure that everyone in our community shares in the prosperity of Los Angeles, the greatest city I know.

Diep Tran is owner and executive chef of Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park.

Fund the arts

By Danielle Brazell

Icall on our new mayor to reinvest in the city’s creative capital: arts and culture. There are three simple ways he or she can help:

Restore a full 1% of the transient occupancy tax (the hotel tax) to the Department of Cultural Affairs grants budget.

Place a moratorium on waiving the tax to encourage hotel construction.

Revise restrictions on the use of L.A.'s arts development fee (the “private percent for art” required from big developers in the city) so that those funds can best serve the communities in which new development occurs.

Restoring full funding to Cultural Affairs would result in about a $4-million increase in its grants budget for nonprofit arts organizations, and because those grants must be matched by private donations, in the end $8 million would be contributed to our communities.

The private sector does a great job supporting our world-class and for-profit arts, but our arts ecosystem has eroded at the neighborhood level as public funding has dwindled. Bringing public money back to the arts would once again support a rich and diverse cultural ecology that reflects the people of our town and will revitalize us all.

Danielle Brazell is the executive director of Arts for L.A.

Stop wage theft

By Kent Wong

Los Angeles’ next mayor should make eliminating wage theft a top priority. Although there is a national push to raise the minimum wage, cities must enforce existing laws. Los Angeles has the highest levels of wage theft nationwide.

Unscrupulous employers violate the law by refusing to pay the minimum wage, disregarding overtime pay requirements and deliberately undercounting the hours workers are on the job. Recently, car wash workers filed a complaint for more than $500,000 in back wages owed to them by a single car wash owner in Los Angeles. This is not an isolated case. The UCLA Labor Center has found that every week in Los Angeles, low-wage workers lose more than $26 million in stolen wages. The problem is especially pervasive among immigrant workers and communities of color.

Wage theft hurts us all. When employers steal from workers, they steal from working-class communities — and the city’s tax base. They make it tough for law-abiding employers to compete. Unions and worker centers are at the front lines, assisting labor agencies to target the worst offenders.

Rather than lead the country in wage theft, L.A. should take the lead to eradicate it.

Kent Wong is a labor attorney and the director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education.

Modernize the rules

By Carol Schatz

What the next mayor needs to do for downtown Los Angeles is help develop and adopt a sophisticated, reasonable set of rules, regulations and planning and building codes that acknowledge the special needs of developing a modern urban environment.

The regulatory infrastructure in Los Angeles is ill-equipped to deal with the kind of smart-growth, transit-oriented development that we are building in downtown. It is based on an antiquated model that assumes development takes place primarily in suburban settings, with onerous standards for parking, density and height limits.

Effectively, we have a system intended to limit and frustrate growth.

In the last 10 years of the downtown renaissance, we have been very successful in building a new, invigorated city center with high-density housing and office space, and sports, entertainment and cultural institutions.

But it hasn’t been easy. We could do so much more if we had a cooperative and efficient city regulatory system that understands and supports progressive urban development.

The next mayor of Los Angeles needs to, once and for all, tackle the issue of development reform and help downtown Los Angeles take its rightful place among the great city centers of the nation and the world.

Carol Schatz is president of the Central City Assn. The association has endorsed Wendy Greuel.

Price parking by demand

By Donald Shoup

The next mayor has a chance to help alleviate one of the city’s most vexing problems: parking.

In 2012, Los Angeles adopted the biggest price reform for on-street parking since the invention of the parking meter in 1935. For 6,300 parking meters in downtown, the city’s Express Park program charges flexible meter rates that vary by time of day and from block to block. Express Park aims to set the lowest possible prices that will leave one or two spaces open on every block.

Getting the meter rates right can greatly reduce traffic congestion and improve business conditions. One study found that cruising for underpriced and overcrowded curb parking in Westwood Village created 3,600 excess vehicle miles of vehicle travel per day. That is more than the distance across the United States, and all in a 15-block business district.

Overpriced and underused curb parking also creates problems. When many overpriced curb spaces remain empty, the nearby stores lose potential customers, employees lose jobs and the city loses revenue. After Los Angeles increased all meter rates to a minimum of $1 an hour in 2008, whole blocks remained empty.

During its first year, Express Park raised the meter rates on some blocks but reduced them on others, and the average price of curb parking in downtown fell by 11%. The city should extend the program to the remaining 32,000 parking meters.

Donald Shoup is professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Plant the parkways

By Ron Finley

Angelenos face a public health crisis. Heart disease, diabetes and chronic conditions are the leading causes of death and illness in the city. And it’s not a secret that blacks and Latinos are most affected by this crisis. The No. 1 reason is that the areas where most blacks and Latinos live are “food prisons,” where they’re barred from access to healthy food.

I see parkways sprouting up that make exercise areas more convenient for the community, but I don’t see healthy food access sprouting up. Exercise is only half the battle. If people are not fueling themselves with proper nourishment, they are not going to have the energy to exercise in the first place.

I planted an edible food forest in front of my house, on the public land next to the sidewalk, so that my community would have access to free, healthy food. The city of Los Angeles told me to remove it. We challenged the city and were victorious. Now we are meeting with city officials to amend the parkway ordinance for good.

I challenge the next mayor to deal with the food problem that plagues our community. My message should be the mayor’s message: “One way to change a community is by changing the composition of the soil.”

Ron Finley is an artist and the co-founder of L.A. Green Grounds, which helps communities design and build gardens.

Put livability first

By Jon Coupal

We can return Los Angeles to being an attractive and prosperous city. But the next mayor needs to have the courage to say no to the two most powerful special interests in the city: the government labor unions, which have helped put the city in a fiscal hole, and developers, who extract a disproportionate share of the city’s resources to subsidize their grandiose and profitable projects.

They’ve helped drive middle class and small businesses out of the city, and to reverse that, we must address quality of life. The goal should be to make Los Angeles an attractive place to live, work and visit. This includes basic things such as cleaning up the city, fixing the sidewalks and filling the potholes.

We also need to lessen the excessive tax burden. The city imposes the second-highest utility user tax in the state. It should be cut to give relief to middle- and lower-income residents. Business taxes should be lowered, especially those paid by small businesses, which provide many of the jobs Angelenos depend on. And let’s cut the astronomical parking fines so people can feel free to shop without fear that they’ll risk a ticket that amounts to a week’s worth of groceries.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.


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