By Paul M.J. Suchecki
On May 21, voters in the city of Los Angeles will decide whether Eric Garcetti or Wendy Greuel will be the next mayor. Both candidates spoke recently to The Argonaut in separate interviews to discuss their views on some issues impacting Westside constituents.
The former City Council colleagues are vying to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is termed out after serving since 2005.
Since 2009 Greuel, 51, has been the Los Angeles city controller, the city’s independently elected, chief taxpayer auditor. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is a graduate of UCLA who has worked for a range of politicians, including former L.A. City Councilman Joel Wachs and former Mayor Tom Bradley.
In the Clinton Administration she was U.S. Housing and Urban Development field operations officer for Southern California. In 1997, Greuel joined the Corporate Affairs Department of DreamWorks SKG. She emphasized her business background to The Argonaut,
“I’ve not only been in the iconic entertainment industry in Los Angeles but also have a small family business in the San Fernando Valley that’s been in my family for 66 years.”
In 2002, Greuel was elected to the Los Angeles City Council where she represented District 2 in the Northeast San Fernando Valley for seven years. She lives in Studio City with her husband and 8-year-old son.
Garcetti, 42, was born in Los Angeles and raised in the San Fernando Valley. An L.A. City Councilman, he currently represents District 13, which includes much of Hollywood and all of Silver Lake where he lives with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. In speaking with The Argonaut, he stressed his ties to the Westside.
“My senior year of high school I lived on the Westside of Los Angeles. It is a place I spend a lot of time,” Garcetti said.
He earned his bachelor of arts degree and master of arts from Columbia University in New York, studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and the London School of Economics and taught at Occidental College and the University of Southern California. He was elected four times by his colleagues to serve as president of the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012.
A lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, he is the son of Gil Garcetti, who was Los Angeles County’s district attorney for two terms. Having a prosecutor for a dad taught the younger Garcetti to “always respect the law,” he told The Argonaut.
As Westside voters head to the polls, one of the most pressing problems they face is traffic.
“Traffic is strangling the quality of life in West Los Angeles and our ability to keep our economy going. We lose billions of dollars a year and millions of hours in lost productivity. Companies don’t want to locate on the Westside, people don’t see each other cross town. This is a real human issue with a human face, not just statistics,” Garcetti said.
“The Westside is more impacted than most on the issue of traffic. It’s something that I know is a key component of my mayor’s tenure but also something I have pushed for since I was on the City Council, specifically in getting resources to build the kind of public transportation system we need,” Greuel said. “We have to address this very, very serious issue facing Los Angeles.”
Greuel pointed out some immediate fixes that she believes would help — “more left-hand turn signals and more anti-gridlock zones, enforcing the ban on road construction during rush hour.”
Garcetti said, “We keep on implementing traffic solutions from 30 years ago to a city that needs much more forward looking options. More self contained neighborhoods and use of smart technology will help reduce traffic in West L.A.”
Greuel stated that in the long term, it is important to “make sure that we get people out of their cars and that they have options for public transportation.”
Both candidates agreed that finishing off the Expo Line to Santa Monica and extending the proposed Wilshire Boulevard subway were important mass transit solutions. Both have also backed tunneling through the Sepulveda Pass for a subway that would get people from UCLA to Sherman Oaks in 10 minutes.
Greuel said that she’d work to ensure, “that there’s a balance as they put in development communities that have been negatively impacted. We just can’t do that anymore. We can’t have areas where the traffic continues to grow.”
“It’s very important for us to have neighborhoods that are livable where you have what you need to shop, dine, live, work as much as possible in that neighborhood so you don’t have to get into your car and drive to the next neighborhood or across town to do whatever you want,” Garcetti said.
When it comes to plans to address road repairs there was a substantial difference between the two. Garcetti backs a bond issue to fix L.A.’s streets: “The crumbling roads are a symbol of our failure in Los Angeles, seven years in the making, so it’s not going to disappear overnight. We need a comprehensive approach. We pay each over $300 a year on average in car repairs caused by our bad roads. For a fraction of that cost we could pave all the streets in Los Angeles over the next 10 years, put people back to work and make sure that we reduce our long-term maintenance cost on those roads,” Garcetti said. “Interest rates are lower than the rate of inflation for street repair.”
Greuel disagreed, saying now is not the time for a road repair bond issue. “What we first have to do is demonstrate to the public that we’ve done everything we possibly can to not only balance the budget but provide the services and then you can go to the voters and indicate that ‘look, we’ve done everything possible to tighten our belts and without this, whether it’s this bond or some issue’ and then the public says, ‘okay they’ve done what they can and we understand we have to invest in our infrastructure’ and that there are checks and balances, auditing that these are going to the things that are most important.”
One of the biggest controversies in the race is the amount of money that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the L.A. Department of Water and Power union, has reportedly contributed to the Greuel campaign. Several studies have pointed out that DWP workers earn substantially more than those at other utilities and are better compensated than other city workers, averaging close to $100,000 a year, according to Bloomberg. This summer DWP rates will increase yet again, this time by 6 percent. The new DWP labor contract will be negotiated in 2014.
”The DWP union has contributed more than $3 million in spending [to Greuel] already. It’s not about any one particular union. I just think that no one institution should have that disproportionate power over buying an election. So I’m very proud that 70 percent of my donors haven’t given to a city race before. In the primary I had the most donations – 11,000 donations from more than 9,000 donors,” Garcetti said
“I’ve audited the Department of Water and Power eight times. I took on the Department of Water and Power on the issue of their holding the city hostage on their transfer [$250 million to the city’s general fund], took them on on how they were using their credit cards,” Greuel said.
“My opponent has voted for all of the rate increases, voted for the contract that came up. I have pushed very hard to be an independent watch dog. I think this is just a political ploy by my opponent to distract from issues that people are really focused in on, which is making sure our streets are fixed, that we have police officers on the street, that we’re providing services to the residents of Los Angeles,” Greuel said.
Both expressed the need to attract more business to Los Angeles.
“I’m trying to make the city more business-friendly. This is about growing our economy. It’s the only choice we have. We have to take seriously the 165,000 jobs that have left L.A. over the past 30 years. They have to be brought back or we’ll all be fighting over an increasingly shrinking pie, figuring out more ways to tax and collect more parking tickets,” Garcetti said.
“I have been particularly critical of my opponent because during that time he was president of the City Council we saw the number of jobs being lost in Los Angeles. It is not just the recession. It is about the city not being business-friendly. I was very proud of my efforts on the City Council to be the architect of business tax reform, looking at ways we can not only reduce the overall business tax and ultimately get rid of it but also looking at incentives,” Greuel said.
Given the fact that Los Angeles’ unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average, both candidates have introduced proposals to create jobs.
”I’ve put together a 20,000 green jobs program that would focus on installing solar power on our rooftops, cleaning up our waterways, and also making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. I also want to focus on key industries of the future like the burgeoning Silicon Beach,” Garcetti said.
“I have put forward a number of plans. One of course, is simplifying our system, looking at how the city could be more responsive to those that are going through the process whether it be to open a restaurant or their technology firm. I’ve also pushed forward on suggesting a tech jobs fund that will help fund start-up technology companies with private investment,” Greuel said.
Although in Los Angeles the mayor has no direct responsibility over the Los Angeles Unified School District, both say they are committed to education.
“I’d like to align our schools to prepare students to have the job skills they need with science, technology, engineering, and math in the curriculum getting taught in our high schools. Today you might not graduate with a factory job but you could graduate as a programmer at a tech start-up in Los Angeles if we give students the right skills,” Garcetti said.
“It’s important to have a world-class educational system. For me this is personal. I have a kid in public school in fourth grade. I graduated from public school and I know that the foundation of our city depends on a good educational system and so I’m going to fight for the residents of Los Angeles,” Greuel said.
Both claimed that their specific experiences have made each the better choice as mayor.
“As City Council president I’ve had to tackle our toughest problems; I couldn’t take a pass or stand by the sidelines during the biggest economic downturn of my lifetime in Los Angeles. I had to make tough decisions to implement pension reform, balance our budget. As council president I’ve gotten diverse groups of people to act together for the common good and I’ve been the acting mayor dozens of times whenever the mayor is out of the city, including moments of crisis like the May Day protestors at MacArthur Park, so I have prepared for the job,” Garcetti said.
“As council member for the 13th District it’s taught me that citywide change starts in a neighborhood. Big things are only possible when you focus on everyday problem solving. One park, one school turn-around, one intersection improvement can lead to the citywide change that we need. My proven track record of turning neighborhoods around from Silver Lake to Hollywood to Echo Park would serve me well as mayor of Los Angeles,” Garcetti continued.
“My first priority would be changing the culture at City Hall to be much more constituent-focused and much more efficient using technology, getting general managers to return phone calls getting the city back to work, bringing companies here,” Garcetti said.
“One thing I’d like is some sort of special area I think we need to use as a prism of sustainability across everything we do so its not just a side issue but everything we do. Specifically I’d like to get us off of coal so that LADWP is a completely coal-free utility. I want to make sure that we expand our recycling so that we’re as close to a zero waste city as we can be to end our use of landfills. As we did in my own district where we tripled the number of parks, I’d like to see a park within walking distance of all Angelenos to build a network of parks throughout the city that would allow people to have a green space close to where they live no matter what part of the city they’re in,” Garcetti said.
Greuel said, “The issues that face the Westside of Los Angeles are not unique to other parts of the city including the Valley. As city controller I represented citywide and talked to people across Los Angeles. As a City Council member I dealt with issues that were of course very, very important to the Westside – traffic, getting a budget in order and of course making sure we have a good educational system for the people of the Westside.”
“I have piloted a couple of things of consolidation which are important. I put forward a number of proposals where we can identify funds. That includes our pension investments, and the costs related to our pension systems; pension reform including looking at raising the retirement age, ending abuses like pension spiking and double-dipping, and changing the city’s pension investment practices. The fact is that we pay higher than most in the city of Los Angeles than other cities for some of our investment funds. We can cut the cost of health benefits and workers’ compensation by 10 percent and cut the mayor’s office and City Council budgets by 25 percent,” Greuel continued.
“I’ve also looked at ways in which we could implement some of those audits that I’ve put forward from animal services audits to the cell phone audits. As you balance the budget and get new revenue, 20 percent of that should be set aside for public safety. Both former (LAPD) Chief (William) Bratton and current Chief (Charlie) Beck have said the optimal number of officers in Los Angeles is 12,000. [Jan. 1, 2013 Los Angeles increased its police force to more than 10,000 for the first time.]
“We are the most under-policed big city in the country so I put that out there; that is my goal. We can close our budget gap so we can get back to providing the services Angelenos depend on. We have to look at ways in which we can be more efficient and look at where our priorities are with public works and public safety,” Greuel said.
Garcetti said, “I think you can either cut services or you can cut costs and that’s one thing I’ve shown over the past four years. This year we were projected to have over a billion dollar deficit. We only have a little over 100 million as we face this year’s budget deliberation, a 90 percent improvement. Instead of cutting services we cut costs. We all tightened our belts a little bit, did things like pension reform, trimmed costs of health care, got more efficient.”
Drawing a contrast between the two candidates, Greuel said, “I have had both public and private experience. I have managed a department and I’ve been able to roll up my sleeves and demonstrate the effectiveness of what you can do as a fiscal watch dog, the person who has stood up and said we can’t spend more money than we have. We have to work at efficiencies. We have to work at ways in which we can provide services to the residents of Los Angeles without raising taxes,” Greuel said.
“I’m more of doer than somebody who I think just identifies problems or potential savings. I don’t have that luxury; I’ve had to actually solve problems and find savings. I think the two frames are completely different. My opponent has been much more careful, much more cautious and on the sidelines. I think people are looking for a stronger leader,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti has been endorsed by 10 of the 14 other City Council members, including the council’s three African-American members – Herb Wesson, Jan Perry and Bernard Parks; the defeated mayoral primary candidates Emanuel Pleitez and Kevin James, The Los Angeles Times and the Sierra Club.
Greuel has been endorsed by former Mayor Richard Riordan, former President Bill Clinton, NBA legend Magic Johnson, The Daily News, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
In the March 5 primary Garcetti had a 4 percent lead over Greuel, 33.1 percent to 29 percent, which has now opened to a 10 percent lead according to a new USC Price/Los Angeles Times poll. Although Greuel would make history as the first female mayor of Los Angeles, she’s trailing with female poll respondents by 9 points.
Perhaps the most telling number is that 79 percent of eligible city of Los Angeles voters did not vote in the primary. In the March primary, 45 percent posted their votes by mail. Mail-in applications are now available online at http://clerk.lacity.org.
An Emmy Award winning documentary producer and writer, Paul Suchecki is a longtime Venice resident.