Published by the Los Angeles Times
Written by David Zahniser & Catherine Saillant
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti began his first day in office Monday sitting down with business leaders and holding afternoon office hours for Angelenos to speak their minds, part of his promise to embrace a "listen, then lead" style of governance at City Hall.
One day after he gave an inaugural speech promising to focus heavily on job growth and basic city services, Garcetti got an earful from residents troubled by potholes, broken sidewalks, business taxes, illegal home additions and homelessness, among other issues.
The mayor also sent a not-too-subtle message to the city's three largest business groups, all of which endorsed his opponent, former City Controller Wendy Greuel, in the May 21 election. Garcetti held a round-table session with more than a dozen chambers of commerce from Century City, Venice, North Hollywood and elsewhere but did not invite the biggest ones.
"We don't have some of the larger entities here today because I want to help them rethink their role in the city as well and reconstitute themselves," he told the group. "Whether it's City Hall, whether it's the L.A. chamber, all of us big guys have forgotten how to listen to what's happening on the street."
Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, offered a muted response, saying in a statement that he attended the inauguration and was "excited to hear the mayor lay out his priorities, which include much of the chamber's agenda."
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which also was not invited Monday, said he did not view Garcetti's comments as a slight. "Oftentimes I'm the one contacting [chamber officials] and telling them they need to engage on city issues," Waldman said. "So I think it's great that the mayor's office is reaching out to them."
Garcetti spent part of his first day walking the fourth floor of City Hall, greeting members of the City Council and their staffs. He also began to provide a clearer picture of his administration, saying he would have four deputy mayors, down from the 12 retained by his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa. He also promised a nationwide search for an official to oversee economic development.
Garcetti's inaugural address placed a huge emphasis on the city's business climate, including efforts to keep the entertainment industry and other companies from fleeing to other states. Talking with the new mayor, some business leaders told Garcetti that they simply want better communication with City Hall.
Erika Velazquez, executive director of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, said the city should have performed more outreach before adding bicycle lanes in her community. "All of the neighborhood councils, all of the residents, are totally up in arms about it," she said.
Garcetti's afternoon was devoted to meeting with members of the public, in sessions of up to 20 minutes. Landscape architect Mia Lehrer, a longtime Garcetti backer, asked him to appoint a "design czar" — a high-level official who would make sure development projects navigate the city's approval process smoothly, fit in with their surroundings and have "innovative" design. "Elegance and good design matters," she said.
Leonard Delpit of South Los Angeles asked for lower business taxes and enforcement of laws requiring construction permits. Michael Konowitz of Hollywood spoke out against the city's recent crackdown on Lyft, a ride-sharing service opposed by cab companies. "It was amazing," he said. "I wasn't actually expecting to meet with the mayor himself. I was expecting to get a staff member."
Garcetti's office hours are a continuation from his 12 years as a Silver Lake councilman. Of the 24 residents who showed up, several were supporters of his campaign, some of them donors. Half saw Garcetti himself.
Anna Ruiz of Boyle Heights discussed the proposed Wyvernwood development, telling the mayor she fears that she and other tenants will be forced to move if it is built. Two employees of the Midnight Mission, a social services agency that helps skid row's homeless, spoke with Garcetti about the need for more emergency shelter beds.
Mai Lee, the mission's director of public affairs, said she thinks regular office hours will help Garcetti stay informed on the issues facing the public. "When you're sitting at the top, you get buffered,'' she said. "It's very important to get down and walk the streets so people know you aren't isolated from those issues."
Garcetti offered a similar take, saying his office hours should show residents that they "don't have to head up an important association or be a campaign donor" to meet with him. "I want this to be a place where it's not some sort of remote island, but where the people feel this is their real estate too," he said.