Mar Vista: Mayor-elect gets ‘back to basics’ with Westside constituents
By Gary Walker
The Eric Garcetti Listening Tour came to Mar Vista June 15, where hundreds of Westside residents greeted him and peppered him with questions on how they would like to see their city government function over the next four years.
The mayor-elect, who beat City Controller Wendy Greuel in a May 22 runoff to become Los Angeles’ next mayor, is visiting different communities in “Back to Basics” community forums to get feedback from his soon-to-be constituents and answer questions before he takes office July 1.
In an interview with The Argonaut at the Windward School in Mar Vista, where the town hall was held, Garcetti answered a number of questions about local concerns, including three controversial matters that have affected or have the potential to affect Westchester, Playa del Rey, Mar Vista and Venice.
Garcetti was one of four council members, along with Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who voted “no” on a Los Angeles International Airport Specific Plan Amendment Study that would allow Los Angeles World Airports to move the LAX northernmost runway 260 feet north and has enraged Westchester and Playa del Rey homeowners.
The council passed the LAX motion 10-4.
“I still feel quite strongly about my position on the airport,” the mayor-elect said. “I don’t think there will only be a single bite at the apple.”
A Westchester organization has filed a lawsuit against the city and LAWA, alleging that the environmental impact report was deficient.
“Lawsuits require mediation and I’ll be involved in trying to resolve these issues, stand up for the community and modernize this airport,” Garcetti said.
The mayor appoints the members of the Board of Airport Commissioners, and while Garcetti said he will not impose a litmus test on his appointees, views on the runway will be an important factor.
“I’m not looking to stack (the board) with people who are opposed to moving the runway or are opposed to having a public transit link (into the airport), but I do want people who reflect my values and positions and who are skilled at bringing people together,” he said.
Garcetti said connecting the Metro Green Line to the airport will be “one of the highest priorities” during his tenure as mayor. “Whether through a People Mover or a direct (light) rail link – which has its challenges but is not impossible – in order to be a world class airport and to address community concerns, I can’t think of a higher priority,” he said.
The town hall impressed a number of Westsiders, not all of whom voted for Garcetti.
Mar Vista resident Sherri Akers said she has seen “more of Eric Garcetti in Mar Vista in one week than I saw of Mayor (Antonio) Villaraigosa in four years, so that is certainly encouraging.”
Akers, who attended the town hall, said she enjoyed the design of the event, which asked residents to break into small groups and list their ideas.
“I liked the fact that (it) seemed to be more than a sound bite and a photo op,” she noted. “He genuinely seemed to be interested in looking at what was on the post-its on each board.”
Nora MacLellan, who hosted a “meet and greet” for the mayor-elect in her Playa del Rey home in February, also was pleased with the town hall’s format.
“It was not like the usual town halls where it is a ‘free-for-all’ where constituents air their grievances or pet issues and then, surprise, nothing happens but some good sound bites for the local nightly news,” said MacLellan, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa. “In Saturday’s event it was organized on issues that the mayor-elect would like to focus on – neighborhoods, jobs and the economy and making City Hall work.”
On another controversial topic, the mayor-elect said he would not support the community care facilities ordinance as it is currently written if it were to be approved by the council.
Councilman Mitchell Englander is the author of a motion that seeks to create new regulations that would govern lease agreements for those residing in community care homes. If the ordinance is approved, these residences and sober living facilities, which often include veterans and recovering addicts, would be prohibited in low density or residential neighborhoods.
Mercedes Marquez, a former Department of Housing and Urban Development official in the Obama administration and the general manager of the Los Angeles Housing Department, told the council in January that she was concerned that federal housing laws could be violated if the recommended municipal law was approved in its existing form.
“I also share those concerns, and until the United Way, the chamber of commerce and others sign off on those constitutional concerns being met, I’d be hard pressed to sign it as mayor,” Garcetti said. “I want to shut down the bad actors, but I don’t want to cripple homeless and veterans facilities that may be inadvertently caught under the law because it’s too broadly written.”
New Directions, a social service agency that provides housing and rehabilitation to homeless veterans, has a facility for veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in Del Rey called Chris’ Place and residences in Mar Vista for female veterans called Mitchell House and Keaveney House.
Regarding a June 14 California Coastal Commission vote on a subject that has bitterly divided the beach community of Venice, Garcetti, who resides in Silver Lake, said he can relate to both sides in the battle.
The commission voted against granting the coastal community the right to implement overnight parking districts and preferential parking districts, which were supported by some residents to address parking problems for homeowners and visitors to Venice.
“Every neighborhood is different, but I have direct experience with this in my own district,” Garcetti said. “I can understand the impact that it has on particular blocks.
“I think better enforcement and finding safe areas within any neighborhood where you can have some sort of overnight parking is critical,” he added. “Because until we end homelessness in Los Angeles, which is a priority of mine, we need to find safe spaces for the folks who are not breaking the law, besides being homeless, to put their vehicle, which is their home right now. But that doesn’t mean that every block is fair game.”
Garcetti also said he understood the concept of maintaining the spirit and character of different neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Venice, two communities that have long embraced an open, eclectic atmosphere.
“You have to preserve that and build it in other neighborhoods,” he said. “Venice and Silver Lake are great examples of that.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe thought having the attendees convene into several different groups at the town hall was inspiring.
“I really appreciate the mayor-elect emphasizing small group discussion and solution-based thinking. Frequently, politicians follow a ‘sage on the stage’ approach and constituents are just passive listeners,” he said. “This was different and leaves me optimistic about the upcoming Garcetti term.”
The factual basis stakeholder has become a source of anxiety among some neighborhood councils, who believe allowing someone who does not have a true connection to a specific neighborhood to vote in their elections can unduly influence their councils. Due to continued calls for a revision of the law that allows a person to “affirm” a stake in a neighborhood without working, living or owning property in a certain neighborhood, the City Council will soon be considering a motion to possibly change the definition of an eligible stakeholder.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to tightening up what (defines) a stakeholder if that’s what the council does, but I don’t think it should just be residents,” Garcetti said. “I think it should include businesses and people who spend a lot of time in a neighborhood.”
“But it shouldn’t be loosey-goosey that a person can say, ‘I’ve been to Mar Vista once, I’m a stakeholder.’”
Regarding a May resolution passed by the Mar Vista Community Council that asks the City Council to explore a method that would allow residents to “opt out” of receiving unwanted political mail, Garcetti said he was uncertain about it due to potential First Amendment violations.
“It’s interesting that among younger voters, mail is very effective because they see some of it like an iPad,” Garcetti noted.
During the town hall, the mayor-elect walked around the room, reading post-it notes on white boards and meeting with residents.
“I love the Westside,” he concluded. “There are a lot of great people and great ideas here.”