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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Eric Garcetti points to Hollywood turnaround as proof of his leadership


By Dakota Smith, January 29, 2013



 L.A. mayoral candidate and City Councilman Eric Garcetti at Tommy's Burgers in North Hills on Dec. 18, 2012.

Speaking to local business owners in Encino last month, City Councilman Eric Garcetti evoked the grittier days of Hollywood, a neighborhood miles from the San Fernando Valley but central to his mayoral campaign.
"Fifteen years ago, if you went to Hollywood, you would have been embarrassed to show it to someone visiting," Garcetti, 41, told the crowd. "And if you were from here, you didn't spend much time there."

Back then, tourists visited Hollywood, he added, for an average of just 20 minutes. "They would see prostitution going on at Sunset Boulevard, drug dealing on the Yucca Corridor," Garcetti said. "Then they would get the heck out of there to find Hollywood somewhere else."

Hollywood's revitalization has become a campaign platform for Garcetti, a leading contender to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Property values are up and crime is down in Hollywood, Garcetti repeatedly tells crowds. Having represented the neighborhood for more than a decade, he frequently ties the boom in that area to his larger, economy-boosting goals.

It was at an East Hollywood-based college that Garcetti made his first campaign speech in September, outlining a handful of citywide proposals, such as boosting L.A.'s technology sector.
 "Hollywood is back," his campaign boasted in a release last fall. In Hollywood, "we've shown how we can help create jobs and deliver better services citywide," Garcetti stated.

All the candidates tout recent accomplishments, but Garcetti is expanding that message, said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A.
"Jobs and economic growth, that's what voters are saying they want," Regalado said. "He's listening to that."

But Garcetti's challenge is persuading voters that he's capable of delivering a citywide economic turnaround when City Hall has already dramatically cut public services.
The business community has at times been cool to Garcetti. And City Controller Wendy Greuel, his closest rival in the race, also bills herself as a business-friendly Democrat and frequently points to her work in the private sector.

A peppy optimism

Like other neighborhoods that have flourished in Garcetti's district -- including Echo Park, Filipinotown and Glassell Park -- Hollywood's turnaround involved many groups, including investors, small-business owners and community members.
The neighborhood's transformation is evident from Garcetti's field office at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. His building faces a shuttered Peruvian restaurant, an adult bookstore and a paved vacant lot.

But turn a few corners and the blight fades. Grocery-bag carrying apartment dwellers share the sidewalks with tourists. The steel beams of a new college building rise on Sunset Boulevard. Taxis line up outside new upscale hotels around Vine Street. Homeless advocates praise the increase of services and housing in the area.

In person, Garcetti exudes a peppy optimism that more turnarounds are possible in Los Angeles. On the campaign trail, he frequently pitches proposals to create jobs and pay for better streets and more cops.

"This is a city of dreamers and a city of doers," said Garcetti, speaking earlier this month in Beverly Hills. "I want to be mayor of Los Angeles because I want to make sure our best days are ahead of us, and that we put this city back to work."

He announced his mayoral run last fall with a Facebook post. "Getting to Yes" is one of his
catchphrases. Park openings or small-business loans, he believes, are examples of "urban acupuncture" -- small details capable of changing city blocks.

CicLaVia, the citywide bike event, should be held monthly, he believes. His office holds Planning and Budget 101 courses so residents can have more input at City Hall. In Hollywood, he appointed 400 graffiti block captains to report tagging and help curb gang violence.

"Every neighborhood is different," he said in an interview. "I think that's what I bring to this race. I understand that you have to listen to neighborhoods, to what they want."

Garcetti grew up in Encino, where he was, by his own estimation, an "average kid having a very average childhood." The son of Gil Garcetti, a two-term Los Angeles County district attorney, Eric studied at Columbia University in New York, focusing on political science and getting a master's in international affairs.

He went on to study as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and later attended the London School of Economics.

After teaching diplomacy and public policy at the University of Southern California and Occidental College, Garcetti was elected to represent the 13th District in 2001 and served six years as council president.

On council during cuts

During Garcetti's tenure, the city eliminated thousands of positions and cut basic services. As the economy begins to rebound, Garcetti, and mayoral candidates Greuel and City Councilwoman Jan Perry, face complaints on the campaign trail about those cuts.
During a recent chat on the website Reddit, Garcetti fielded a question about the city's inability to fix its streets and sidewalks.

"The only solutions we've heard is just to tax us more when there should already be a general fund for these kinds of things. What happened to the money allocated for that? Are we really out of options?" asked a Reddit user.

Garcetti replied that he agrees the city can neither tax nor cut its way out of its fiscal problems. He told Reddit users of plans for a "film czar" to encourage local film production, pitched a proposal to establish jobs centers in all of L.A.'s community colleges, and talked of trying to save a Van Nuys Airport mechanic school.

He also proposed creating L.A. offices in the capitals of the city's major trading partners. "I'd look at L.A.'s place in the world with a laser-like focus to developing our economy," Garcetti wrote.
Garcetti's emphasis on economic development speaks to the business community, as does his record of supporting the Hollywood building boom with millions of dollars of City Council-backed loans and incentives for developers.

But business groups that most influence City Hall through lobbying and fundraising haven't always backed Garcetti.

Business groups like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry Commerce Association have yet to endorse a candidate in the race.

Around City Hall, Garcetti has been perceived as a coalition-building politician, which doesn't always win over
some business groups. His office will often ask a developer for multiple community meetings. Rival Perry, for instance, is viewed as more willing to push through controversial projects.

And like many of the other council members, he's also perceived as being too close to labor, Regalado said. Garcetti backed a living wage ordinance and a package of pay raises to city employees in 2007.

More recently, Regalado believes Garcetti has moved closer to the center, evidenced by his support of city employee pension changes. Garcetti also backed passage of the Hollywood Community Plan, a controversial blueprint that allows taller buildings on the boulevard. A handful of homeowners' groups are suing to stop the plan.

As the March 5 primary election draws closer, Garcetti's record of economic growth will be compared to that of Greuel's, his closest rival in the race.

Greuel worked as a government relations executive at DreamWorks, and her family owns a building-supply company.

"Eric is great at political sloganeering. But he brings theories, no practical experience," said John Shallman, Greuel's political consultant.

But in a region where the unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, Garcetti keeps returning to economic themes. Monday, he offered another proposal for job growth: A plan to expand the city's solar rooftop program and create thousands of jobs.

Garcetti's campaign also paints Greuel - who is quickly gaining support of influential unions representing police officers and Department of Water and Power employees - as more of the "establishment" candidate.

By contrast, Garcetti is winning party endorsements from grass-roots groups like the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley and the Stonewall Democrats. Roughly 70 percent of his donations are from residents new to city elections, Garcetti's campaign claims.

"Greuel represents the status quo," said Jeff Millman, Garcetti's consultant. "Garcetti has new ideas to create jobs and to help solve people's problems."