Two tales of a city

jc-mg-200-names.jpgJon Christensen writes: LA mayor Eric Garcetti has a narrative problem. The two stories he is telling about Los Angeles don't line up.

Right now--since we're still arguably only at the end of the beginning of his mayoral saga--this is not a huge complication. But as any show runner in this town could tell him, sooner or later it will have to be resolved.

Season 1 of the Garcetti mayoralty has been all about "back to basics." And the mayor says season 2 will be more of the same.

"Back to basics" sounds good and it makes good, safe political sense. It's hard to get riled up about that--indeed, it's hard to know exactly what it means. But it doesn't describe where LA is headed, let alone where we need to get.

Garcetti's "back to basics" line actually hides a very ambitious agenda, particularly on the environment and sustainability. And that agenda has very little to do with getting back to basics. Indeed, the two may be incompatible.

olympics1.jpgConsider LADWP reform. Without a doubt, the Department of Water and Power needs to get the basics right, starting with billing. Like many Angelenos, I recently got a water bill that was five times my water bill for last year at this time, and more than any other water bill I've ever received. It hasn't been that hot and dry. And we haven't been using that much more water.

The mayor's promise not to allow the DWP to raise rates until it fixes its billing problems is great politics. But if the mayor wants to give LA and the DWP any chance of reforming our current water system to make it more sustainable--as he has also pledged to do--rates will have to go up to pay for those investments.

The mayor's "great streets" initiative is going to face a similar challenge. A "back to basics" approach will focus public attention on filling potholes and fixing sidewalks when, as the mayor knows and often says, we need much more. And it's going to cost a lot more to make our streets more "accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers, and bicycles--not just cars"--and make our streetscapes better able to absorb stormwater, "clean and lush with plant life, local art, and people-focused plazas," as the mayor rhapsodized in his state of the city speech.

Then there's rail service to LAX--"we will settle for nothing less," the mayor proclaimed, though he didn't say how it would get done.

If it is successful, LA's bid to be the host city for the 2024 Olympics could provide a deus ex machina to dramatically change the mayor's "back to basics" narrative to a story with, er, the truly Olympian ambitions the city will need to be successful in the 21st century. The U.S. Olympic Committee is expected to make its recommendation to the International Olympic Committee by the end of this year, with the IOC making its decision in 2017.

But as everyone in this town knows, really good stories hinge on the actions of the hero not on a deus ex machina to resolve the narrative's complications.

Photo of Olympic Gateway statues Los Angeles Coliseum by Mr. Littlehand.

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