As Los Angeles begins to recover from the devastation of the pandemic, Mayor Eric Garcetti took time out of his very busy schedule to sit down with the Los Angeles Sentinel to directly address those issues which are impacting the lives of African Americans, communities of color, and those most severely affected by COVID-19.
To say that the past 15 months have been a roller coaster ride for Mayor Garcetti and his office would be an understatement. For the mayor of California’s largest and most populated city, every decision is picked apart, criticized, and no matter what decision he makes, there surely will be someone or some group that will disagree with that decision. But Garcetti has weathered this storm as he has done so many times before by staying focused and following his commitment to make the decisions, he believes are in the best interest of all of Los Angeles, and not just attempting to subdue the loudest naysayers in the room. As Los Angeles begins to re-open and we return back to some level of “normalcy,” the mayor finds himself rising in popularity throughout the city. A recent poll shows Mayor Garcetti’s approval ratings are hovering somewhere between 65% and 69%, primarily due to his guidance of Los Angeles through a horrific pandemic.
BASIC INCOME PROGRAM
While Garcetti’s approval ratings are high, he continues working to envision an even better L.A. He recently launched a guaranteed basic income program which will provide some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods and families with a guaranteed income for at least the next 12 months.
While other cities, including Compton and Stockton, have launched similar programs, it is the Los Angeles program launch that will serve as the bench mark for all programs to follow throughout the nation. Los Angeles is by far the largest city to launch a program of this nature and obviously will also have the largest budget. The mayor believes that launching the Basic Income Program will have a dramatic effect on the lives of its participants. “This launch will be the biggest program launch in America. Three-thousand households and 10,000 Angelenos will get a $1,000 basic income.” He says the idea, which comes right from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision that the poor in America should receive a guaranteed basic income, will empower and inspire communities. “You will see graduation rates go up, salaries and wages will go up. You’re going to see housing stability be better and were going to see that small investments have big payoffs,” stated Mayor Garcetti.
REPARATIONS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS
The mayor, along with the other African American Councilmembers, such as Curren Price, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and Mark Ridley Thomas, is looking to form a commission to study reparations for African Americans in Los Angeles. “We are looking at how we can inspire the national conversation around HR-40 that Congresswoman Lee in Texas has called for a national commission.” The mayor says this is not a new conversation for him. He originally had a discussion with Congressman John Conyers of Detroit about this concept and has supported this idea for over 15 years. But now the conversation is beginning to get traction. He is leading a group of mayors from around the country who are willing to get behind this idea of reparations and pilot a program that will demonstrate to national leadership what happens if we were to give Black Americans the financial resources, the educational guarantees, bring an end to housing discrimination, and address everything that has piled on Black people for centuries. He says through this initiative, “We can begin correcting racial injustice and not just play around the edges but actually do something lasting that would put Black Americans on equal footing with non-Black Americans.”
Recovering from the COVID Pandemic is the largest issue that has ever faced this state, the nation, and in fact the world. But the mayor has taken great steps in navigating the vaccination into arms. The city has taken the administering of vaccinations out of the hands of FEMA and is now partnering with local organizations like the Brotherhood Crusade to ensure that those who want the vaccine can receive the vaccine. “Early on, you had the eager volunteers who would go to Dodger Stadium or folks who had cars, people who can get the vaccine. But there are also people who don’t drive in L.A. or who don’t have laptops, or who just simply don’t trust the vaccine.” To address these issues, the mayor implemented a local program he refers to as the 4 – T’s (Truth, Trust, Technology and Transportation): 1) Speak the truth. Let the people know exactly what’s going on; 2) Work with trusted partners such as Brotherhood Crusade; 3) Use technology where people are; if people don’t have computers, contact them and set up appoints on the phone; 4) Transportation. Make it easy for people to get to the appointments which is why the city has partnered with Uber and LYFT, as well as established mobile clinics to take away any reason for not having access to the vaccine.
Using and implementing Garcetti’s 4-T strategy, which Dr. Fauci says has helped Los Angeles to be identified as one of the strongest equity programs in the country, the mayor says, “Using the 4-T strategy has allowed us not to just brag about our numbers overall, but we can brag about our numbers in Leimert Park, we can brag about them in Boyle Heights, we can brag about them in Pacoima, we can brag about them in communities that are always the last and need to be the first because they have been the hardest hit.”
“The city’s mobile clinics have delivered the vaccine to about 90% people of color. We have been able to go where they live, into the communities they call home and that is what has made us most effective. If we don’t do that, we won’t get past COVID across the entire city,” Garcetti said.
The city has led a huge effort to pump city dollars into community businesses like Dulan’s Soulfood Kitchen and Harold and Belle’s, who operated senior feed and meal delivery programs delivering much needed meals to seniors during the pandemic. But the mayor says that business recovery is going to be a huge part of making the African American business community whole. “Black businesses have been so disproportionately affected by the pandemic.” But the mayor also says that the pandemic has shed light on unfair and unequal financial and business practices which operated long before COVID-19. “COVID finally shed a light on justice on race and economic opportunity in America. Many of us already saw that division, we saw that inequality, but now, all of America could feel it. You could see it by who was dying, by which businesses were closing down, by who was losing their jobs. So, to me, this justice budget we established in the city was all about putting these dollars we got from the federal government and those dollars we found in our own budget in the hands of Black and Brown Communities and Black and Brown Businesses.”
The mayor is happy to discuss how he has not only been able to support Los Angeles existing businesses through the LA Cares program, but also wants to focus some attention on the $3million dollars they have put towards youth jobs and youth programs. The mayor say’s “Remember today’s youth workers are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.” He is proud of the fact that he and his administration have found ways to support so many local businesses at every level. From administering loans and grant programs to local Black and Brown businesses to amending zoning ordinances to make outside dining available to businesses who previously did not or could not operate outdoors. The mayor clearly has demonstrated a commitment to assisting our local businesses to stay afloat and/or start a new business venture as we put COVID in the rear-view mirror. “We are in the midst of experiencing a Renaissance of Black and Brown owned businesses in this city and this is our moment to do it,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.
HOMELESSNESS AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
The homelessness or unhoused problem here in Los Angeles has reached unimaginable levels, but the Mayor see’s the recent ruling by the courts and the judge’s orders to clean up Skid Row as more of a positive than he sees as a negative. The judge’s ruling reinforced the biggest commitment in the City of Los Angeles history to fight homelessness. “We have allocated over $1 billion to address this issue. I welcome the initiative and embrace the need to urgently house people, as we have done over this past year. But I meant what I said when the judge made the ruling ‘Stay out of our way. Anything that helps us accelerate I’m all for, but anything that slows us down is not wanted. Stay out of the way.’” The mayor says Los Angeles has about 5000 new units of housing in the pipeline for 2021 and over 3000 beds of shelter that did not exist a few years ago and this along with our $1 billion commitment demonstrates we are and intend to remain committed to addressing this crisis. “It’s not the city of Los Angeles that is not doing its part, can the state and the fed match us? We know how to do this work now. We have doubled the amount of people we have taken off the street each year for the past 5 years. But we have to stop people from becoming homeless,” stated Garcetti. This was the mayor’s message to his friend and then candidate Joe Biden and now President, Joe Biden. But he says it is also the message he is taking to the Governor and to the State Legislature to take the states $50 billion surplus and put at least 1/3 of that to permanent solutions for homelessness now.
The mayor explains that he is leading a 12 big city mayors committee in California. This committee has asked for $4 billion a year from the state which is 4x more than they have spent in the past several years. The president of the senate and the speaker of the house have already endorsed the program and now we just need Governor Newsom to sign off. The mayor says that this legislation will pump $20 billion into resolving the homeless crisis over the next 5 years which will help the state match the local dollars and that will help us to be off to the races in addressing the homeless crisis that is plaguing our state.
The cost of housing in general is also a huge challenge, especially for those here in Los Angeles. The mayor believes that unfortunately the cost of housing here in Los Angeles and throughout the state have gone way beyond the middle-class price range, let alone the working class. But the mayor knows that homeownership is the basic goal of the “American Dream”. Not only has the mayor worked with HHH to bring forward about 11,000 new homes. But he is also working with the city to amend zoning ordinances to allow for more units as long as some of these units are built and priced to be affordable. The mayor is also a big proponent for the building of ADUs, which allows current homeowners to build additional units on their existing property to create a rental unit and help Los Angeles achieve a sense of affordability. The mayor says that not only must you look at what you are building inside of cities, but you also have to look closely at how you zone areas to make the building of new units easier, more affordable and more accessible to everyone.
The mayor acknowledges “George Floyd and so many others have lost their lives at the hands of our law enforcement officers. This points out how far we still have to go.” The mayor also believes that we have to stop throwing so much on to the shoulders of our police department and assume that we are going to receive the outcomes we want.
“If something doesn’t need a gun don’t send a gun.” The mayor says look at how effective our gang reduction youth development ambassadors’ program has been. These are former gang members working with youth in our communities who have reduced crime an additional 40% beyond what officers have been able to do on their own. Right now, who do we call at 2am if someone is going through a mental health crisis? He says we no longer need to send police or fire to address a non-violent situation because, we now have a 24-hour mental health response team who can actually help that person get well. He points out that we have to co-own public safety. If we think just reforming the police department is going to solve the problem then we are abdicating our collective responsibility. We are being affective because we are using this method for homeless outreach, suicide prevention, domestic violence, as well as sexual assault. So now have civilians who can roll out and address these issues and make the community safer. We have boosted our intervention by adding 80 peace ambassadors in the street of L.A. “It’s not just the responsibility of the police department it’s the responsibility of all of us.”
One bad shooting is one too many. It is time to daylight those police officers’ disciplinary hearings. Right now, we have a police chief who wants to fire bad police officers, but that decision gets overruled by a civilian board and we can’t even see the reasons why the decision has been overturned. “This law has got to change.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti and his administration have about 18 months remaining before he is termed out. He feels that he has accomplished a lot during his tenure. But he also believes that he can do so much more. He envisions a better city for us all and he remains committed to the promise of inclusion and equity for every Angeleno. He believes that is what a leader does.