Editorial: Garcetti: Glad you’re sticking around. Now here’s what we want to see

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gives his annual State of the City speech in Los Angeles on April 19.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gives his annual State of the City speech in Los Angeles on April 19.
(Los Angeles Times)

After weeks of speculation over possible Cabinet appointments, it’s now settled: Mayor Eric Garcetti is staying in Los Angeles, presumably to serve out the remaining two years of his term.

Garcetti said he’d taken himself out of consideration, telling President-elect Joe Biden’s team that he preferred to remain in his current job. “I let them know early this week that my city needs me now, and that I want to be here and that I need to be here,” Garcetti said in a news briefing on Thursday.

That’s good, because Los Angeles is mired in multiple crises. The city’s $675-million deficit budget is so dire that L.A. may have to slash services and lay off hundreds of workers, including police officers, amid a spike in homicides. There are still thousands of people living in tents and cars, and the lack of affordable housing means that many residents who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic are teetering on the edge of homelessness. Restaurants and small businesses are facing an economic apocalypse.


There’s a lot of critical work to be done, right now. It’s hard to see how the city would have been well served by a yearlong political scrum that Garcetti’s departure would have set in motion.

So Garcetti is right — the city does need him now. But this is also the moment for Garcetti to be the leader that L.A. truly needs. That means bold, compassionate and innovative action to get this city out of crisis mode and on the path to fixing long-standing problems that have held the city back.

Garcetti has always been an eloquent spokesman for Los Angeles. He understands the city’s challenges. He’s full of ideas and plans to solve problems. He’s a convener who brings different agencies and partners together. Where Garcetti falls short is in the implementation. Too often he’s ducked difficult decisions and failed to fight for his own initiatives, leaving good ideas to wither on the vine. With two years in his tenure, there’s little time left to draft lengthy plans or lofty speeches. It’s time to make things happen.

There is no greater priority than ending the homelessness crisis. If Garcetti spent every single day left in his term getting shelters and affordable units built to provide a housing safety net, then his time would be well spent.

Yes, Garcetti was critical in helping pass Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion bond measure to build permanent supportive housing, and he has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to providing temporary housing. But it’s not enough, particularly because the city still struggles to get homeless housing built in a cost-effective and timely fashion. (It took three years for the first HHH-funded housing project to open.) Garcetti needs to redouble his efforts to eliminate the red tape that entangles vital shelter and affordable housing projects. He ought to call out City Council members and agencies when they throw up hurdles or take NIMBY stances. He can also leave a lasting impact on the city by advocating for land-use changes that make it much easier and cheaper to build all kinds of housing.

This year brought issues of police brutality and systemic racism to the steps of City Hall, and there has since been a welcome reckoning over the Los Angeles Police Department’s mission to protect and serve. Garcetti has struggled to find a consistent message on policing and public safety, in part because the political winds have shifted so quickly. But this could be the defining issue of his final two years, particularly as homicides and shootings increase. How does Los Angeles ensure that Black and Latino communities are protected from violent crime, which is often the outgrowth of systemic racism, and protected from an occupation style of policing that amplifies systemic racism and hurts communities that need help? L.A. is reimagining public safety, and we need a mayor who will use his understanding of police, racism and public safety to lead that effort — or else get out of the way.

It won’t be easy, particularly given the city’s budget crunch. When Garcetti was elected in 2013, he promised a “Back to Basics” agenda that sounds almost quaint now. The idea was to get City Hall working better — trim the trees, fill the potholes, empty garbage cans, balance the budget — so that L.A. would be in a better position to tackle big, ambitious projects. The basics still matter, and there’s still time for Garcetti to leave City Hall in better shape than when he arrived. But homelessness and policing present major challenges that Garcetti has to manage as well, no matter how much political capital he has to expend.