LA Mayor Defends His Out-Of-State Trips, Updates Efforts To Reduce Homelessness, Traffic Fatalities

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti (Signe Larsen / LAist)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti insists he's not running for president — yet — but he is considering it. That said, he claimed he spends more time talking to the media about the topic than thinking about it himself.

During an hour-long conversation on Friday, Garcetti freely shared criticism of the current occupant of the White House, while sidestepping his own possible presidential ambitions.

"We have the biggest threat to our democracy in our lives, at least in my life," he said. "We have a president who is treating allies like enemies, who's treating enemies like friends."

Garcetti said he thinks President Trump isn't listening to the American people or getting things done effectively.

"You have to actually address the problems that are before you. You can't invent problems like the White House does and then not even solve those."

The L.A. mayor, who has been talking to media outlets around town, didn't break news during his stop at the KPPC/LAist newsroom. But he did go in-depth on some issues raised by our reporters and our readers. Here's more from our discussion:

HOMELESSNESS

A homeless man naps on a downtown sidewalk in Los Angeles last year. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

If the mayor officially seeks the presidency, he is likely to face questions about the city's most visible and intractable problem: homelessness. The number of homeless in L.A. dropped by 5 percent from the previous year, according to a head count released in May. Still, over 30,000 people lack permanent shelter in the city.

Asked about any plans to crack down on homeless people sleeping on L.A.'s sidewalks, Garcetti said that the city is not planning to step up enforcement any time soon.

"You can only begin to consider that when you have a neighborhood system set up that can solve homelessness in that neighborhood and we're a long way, any neighborhood, from declaring that," he said.

Garcetti's plan to build homeless shelters in each of the city's 15 council districts would improve the situation, he said, but would still not be enough to justify stepped up enforcement.

So far, finding sites for those proposed shelters has been slow. When City Council President Herb Wesson suggested a site in Koreatown, he was met with heavy opposition — which raised questions about whether the shelter expansion plan would die in the face of NIMBYism.

Garcetti disputed that idea, saying neighbors had opposed the specific site, but were open to having a shelter go up in Koreatown.

"A few years ago, you would have had many more voices saying, 'We don't want this at all,'" he said. "So that's a good fight to have about where rather than if."

The mayor also called for a uniform set of quality standards for homeless shelters.

A KPCC investigation earlier this year found thousands of shelter beds sitting empty in L.A. County, along with serious hygiene, sanitation, and safety issues.

"We haven't had standards, we haven't had oversight," he said. "And my worry now is that voters gave us money from Measure H and we have hired and are hiring what will be a thousand new professionals to do outreach teams, to do mental health care, anti-addiction programs, etcetera. I want to make sure they're effective."

The quality of services for the homeless has improved, he said, but he would advocate for a more comprehensive set of standards, expected outcomes, and training for those providing services.

TRAFFIC FATALITIES

L.A. officials and the cast of "On Your Feet" christen a new diagonal crosswalk in Hollywood with a Conga line. It's the second so-called "scramble" crosswalk on a street known for pedestrian injuries. The first reduced pedestrian injuries by more than half. (Caleigh Wells / LAist)

Speaking about his Vision Zero initiative that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities in Los Angeles by 2025, the mayor redoubled his commitment to the aggressive goal.

"I launched Vision Zero. I'm not going to retreat from it because it's difficult any more than I would on homelessness. If the decision is to retreat, that is not leadership."

Speaking to some of the challenges facing the Vision Zero effort — including residents who oppose road changes designed to reduce fatalities for fear they could make traffic worse — Garcetti says it's all a part of the often messy democratic process. He said he will continue to push at times hesitant City Council members to experiment with more aggressive and effective Vision Zero projects in their districts, although neighborhood opposition can be severe.

"You'll have community members who say they want it one way, but there are other community members — this is part of democracy — who don't. Plus, there's the politics of a council member as well. I will continue to be the voice to push council members to at least try, and then prove us wrong," he said.

Due to the peculiarities of L.A.'s government, council members rather than the mayor have the final say on whether lane changes and other Vision Zero projects are rolled out in their districts. Looking forward, Garcetti encouraged communities and council members to test proposed street modifications before rejecting them outright.

"I would encourage all communities to, before you say 'no' to something that might reduce lanes and may accommodate bicycles and now electric scooters, to say, 'Let's try, and then unwind.' I think that's the best way to go forward," he said.

IMMIGRATION

Marchers in L.A. protest Trump administration immigration policies in June. (Kyle Grillot / LAist)

The mayor plans to join with other city executives in opposing an anticipated federal government rule change that would disqualify legal immigrants from seeking citizenship or permanent residency if they receive such government benefits as food stamps.

"We'll be launching a pretty big campaign because there's a public comment moment for that," Garcetti said.

The government has long imposed a means test for newcomers to ensure they don't end up relying on the government for basic survival. But it hasn't been used to exclude from the country legal immigrants who are already living here.

Immigrant advocates say some families are already turning down public assistance for fear that they could be deported.

The proposal is one of a series of changes pushed by the Trump administration to restrict both legal and illegal immigration.

POLITICAL AMBITIONS

Garcetti defended his time out of the state to attend events that could benefit him politically. The mayor said he's been honest about the fact that he's thinking about running for president, but he probably spends more time talking to the media about it than he does personally pondering whether to run.

He said his out-of-state travel is not new and benefits the city, but acknowledged he occasionally takes political trips, describing them as making up a small portion of his time.

When asked whether he will be releasing out-of-state travel and security details as requested by the Los Angeles Times, he deferred to the LAPD, saying the police are in charge of his family's security.

"It's a dangerous job. There are threats and I want to make sure that they're well protected. But to be clear again, I pay for my own costs. Taxpayer dollars aren't used for any political trip of my own in terms of my costs, my hotel, my flight etc. I'm very, very strict about that. Always have been long before any of these conversations," he said.

CIVILITY IN POLITICS

In what could be a theme for a possible presidential bid, Garcetti decried what he called a lack of decency and diminished kindness in politics.

"You get that in social media, you feel it when you go out there — it's on all sides of the spectrum," the mayor said. That lack of civility, has the potential to erode democracy, unless people find a way to talk with each other across the divide, he said.

Garcetti noted that when 18 mayors gathered at the border in June to denounce the separation of migrant families, the officials included both Republicans and Democrats.

"There's a role for the street, but there's also a role for the seat," the mayor said, noting people should speak out in times of moral crisis. But for people tasked with solving problems, it should not come at the cost of real action, he argued.

ASIA TRIP

The mayor left Monday for Asia, where he said he will promote the city's tourism and trade, including the impact of newly imposed tariffs on the port in Long Beach. He will be out of the country for eight days, visiting Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China — "in record hot temperatures."

KPCC/LAist's Rina Palta, Matt Tinoco, Mary Plummer, and Sandra Oshiro contributed to this story.


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