Town Hall's thoughtful discussion of Los Angeles' future Tuesday was a refreshing contrast to Mayor Eric Garcetti's vague talk about going back to basics.
Austin Beutner, co chair of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission, and commission member David Fleming talked about whether L.A. is at “the tipping point” and is on its way to becoming “the next Detroit.” Los Angeles Times editor at large Jim Newton moderated the event at the City Club, part of Town Hall’s efforts to shed light on the city’s politics, culture and other aspects of public life. On May 12, Garcetti gets his turn when he is interviewed at Town Hall by Patt Morrison.
The Beutner-Fleming appearance couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. It’s the anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riot. And Toyota announced it is moving 3,000 jobs from its Torrance headquarters to Texas, a blow to the Los Angeles area economy. Garcetti, the most visible and powerful mayor in the area, should have been on top of that one, leading a regional effort to save the Toyota jobs.
Beutner and Fleming were part of a group formed by City Council President Herb Wesson to figure out ways of improving Los Angeles. In their presentations and answers to questions, they were often as vague as the 2020 Commission’s reports, but hit the big issues in a way that Garcetti has so far avoided.
What I liked about it was the way they dug deeply into the city’s budget process, explaining in detail why nobody is sure how much money the city has, spends and owes. It was impossible for the commission to find certain answers to these questions, Beutner said. He noted that the federal government, with its Office of Management and Budget, and the State Capitol, with the legislative analyst provides such information about their levels of government.
Garcetti has put up two web sites, one for the city budget and the other for departmental performance, but neither have enough information to satisfy the questions raised by Beutner.
One member of the audience told Beutner and Fleming that Los Angeles has a “weak mayor” system, and that is handicapping Garcetti.
“People confuse a weak mayor with a weak mayor’s system,” Beutner replied. What the mayor does have, he said, is “a bully pulpit.” He noted that Garcetti’s predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, used that pulpit to promote change in the Los Angeles Unified School District and while he fell short of his goals, “he tilted the discussion toward” reform.
Fleming recalled Mayor Tom Bradley. “He worked together with people, and they got things done, and he had much less power than the present mayor.”
The current mayor, said Beutner, has “plenty of power” if he wants to use it.