Businessman Austin Beutner dropped by Mar Vista to chat with community leaders and residents of Mar Vista Oct. 4, one of a series of campaign swings through the Westside since he announced his candidacy for Los Angeles mayor earlier this year.
Beutner, who co-founded the investment bank Evercore Partners in 1996 and is seeking to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2013, has been touting his business experience to potential voters in local communities like Playa del Rey and Westchester.
In Mar Vista, the candidate said he came to listen to residents’ concerns and thoughts about their community as well as their city government.
Beutner visited the Mar Vista Community Council Green Committee’s Green Garden Tour at the invitation of Councilman Bill Rosendahl last year and believes that initiatives like the garden showcase are good examples of what the city needs.
“One of the important tenets of any well-run city is that the best ideas are with your constituents in the community,” Beutner began during an interview at a local coffee shop where he later met with the neighborhood leaders. “(The best ideas) don’t come from City Hall.
“If you look what (Mar Vista) has done around sustainable gardening, sustainable use of water and other resources, it really makes sense, and we should embrace it and see how we can adopt it in other parts of the city.”
Solar energy is another local initiative that has put Mar Vista on the map. Asked if a mayor could be a leader on solar energy and bridge any gap between the private and public sectors on the use of this alternate energy, Beutner responded, “I think there is a real opportunity for a mayor in this town to bring back to the table the various parties to talk about issues like this.”
The mayoral candidate said he would work with business, labor and environmental groups and the community to define a balance and pursue a beneficial strategy.
“To me, it’s about leaving a better world for our kids than we found,” Beutner, who has four children, added. “But it has to be a sustainable form of classical environmental resource use, as well as a sustainable form of resource use of money.”
Mar Vista resident Chuck Ray, who attended the informal meeting, is a Beutner supporter.
“He’s not a member of City Hall and he’s demonstrated independence,” Ray responded when asked why he is backing Beutner. “His financial acumen is what the city needs right now.”
Beutner is a former deputy mayor who served in Villaraigosa’s administration and was also the mayor’s “jobs czar.”
Last year, he helped recruit Chinese car manufacturer BYD to Los Angeles.
On the national front, he worked for former President Bill Clinton as part of a team that assisted the Russian government’s transition to a market economy after the fall of Communism.
Another local topic that was touched upon was light rail and the Metro Green Line extension into Los Angeles International Airport, which is supported by all county, state and federal elected leaders who represent Mar Vista and a member of the community council’s transportation and infrastructure committee, Ken Alpern.
While city officials have said the Federal Aviation Administration has thus far not been amenable to extending the light rail line into the airport, Beutner is skeptical.
“I don’t buy the bureaucratic excuse (that a light rail line can’t make it into LAX),” the businessman asserted. He said the solution was to get more constituents to the table and make sure they understand the importance of a transit line that enters the airport.
“We’re also going to have to get our congressional representatives and our senators involved and understand how we can make a difference,” he said. “I refuse to concede that if we in Los Angeles want public transportation to access an airport serving our community that we can’t make that happen.
“That to me is inexcusable,” Beutner added. “And anyone who says it’s the FAA hasn’t tried hard enough or hasn’t brought the right resources to the table.”
Beutner addressed the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce audience June 14 in Playa Vista and won a few fans.
Westchester attorney Edgar Saenz likes what he has heard from the entrepreneur.
“I’m so impressed with him that I’m going to vote for him,” Saenz, a former field deputy to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester) said after meeting the mayoral candidate at the chamber event. “He’s about getting things to work and solving problems, and not about the sound bite.”
The campaign to replace Villaraigosa is still in its early stages, and none of the announced candidates – City Controller Wendy Greuel, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Beutner – has faced much scrutiny or challenges to their records.
Last November, Beutner, during his time as the interim general manager of the Department of Water and Power, argued against placing a ballot measure designed to reform the DWP.
An Office of Accountability, a ratepayer advocate and a citizens commission including neighborhood council representatives was advocated by Ray, Perry, Rosendahl and others as a way of holding the public utility’s executives more accountable to the council and the public.
Beutner told the council that he did not see the need for a ballot proposition and urged them to be cautious in crafting such a proposal.
The ballot proposition, Measure I, passed overwhelmingly with over 77 percent of the vote in March.
The lack of support to place the measure on the ballot does not discourage Ray. “The way that the advisory committee was designed is not being implemented by the City Council in the manner that we hoped for,” he said. “Austin supported the basic idea of the ratepayer advocate.”
Beutner spoke before the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa later that evening. Many members of the board, who have direct or indirect affiliations with the chamber, heard Beutner speak in June.
“I think Austin will be a refreshing change from past mayors,” Ray, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, said.