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And Another Thing, Mr. Mayor

What is the one challenge Antonio Villaraigosa should take on in his second term? Local leaders weigh in

D.J. Waldie
Author » Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir


From my seat on a bus bench, public transit in Los Angeles looks less like a system and more like a mismatched collection benefiting contractors, lobbyists, and politicians rather than transit users. Mayor Villaraigosa doesn’t command transit policy; the MTA does. But the mayor is chairman of the 13-member MTA board and has three appointees. Los Angeles has a lot to lose if Chairman Villaraigosa takes a wrong turn. Density and transit—under that banner, developers, the mayor, and smart-growth advocates want to remake the fabric of many of the city’s neighborhoods. Neighborhoods will get the density; they may not get the transit. If they don’t, smart growth will turn out to be just plain old-fashioned growth. Public transit and the city’s inevitable development are a tangle of related problems. Shouldn’t untangling some of them be the mayor’s job in the next four years?

Craig Hodgetts
Creative Director » Hodgetts+Fung design and Architecture

Brand Los Angeles as the creative capital of the world. Let the techies have Silicon Valley. This is where 90 percent of the world’s cars are designed; clothing, gadgets, and retail chains are created; and every kind of entertainment is conceived. The synergy between prototype and product is cemented by technicians, craftsmen, and visionaries who have their origins in the movie business but have spilled over to infuse nearly everything created in L.A.

Ron Kaye
Blogger » Ron Kaye L.A.

I  keep thinking the mayor will wake up one morning in his mansion and wonder what he’s doing there, as if it were a dream—that he’ll remember he’s just a punk from East L.A. who doesn’t put the rich and powerful on a pedestal and take such pleasure in having become one of them. So my advice is this: Forget about becoming governor. Put on some jeans, muss up your hair, and have a beer with the ordinary folks fighting to save their jobs, their neighborhoods, their families’ futures.

Bill Allen
President and CEO » L.A. County Economic Development Corp.

When compared with the rest of L.A. County, the city of L.A. has dramatically underperformed in the creation of jobs since 1980. From 1980 to 2008, L.A. added more than 1 million residents to its population while losing more than 50,000 jobs. The causes include the highest taxes on business of the 88 cities within the county, a far too complicated and political process for development, and an extraordinarily high rate of conversion of the city’s scarce industrial land to uses that accommodate population growth but not job growth. Pushing jobs off industrial land to build housing units, schools, and other amenities for our new residents has certainly proved to be a failed strategy for retaining our middle class and helping others reach it. Adding unnecessary costs to our small businesses when neighboring cities offer a more business-friendly environment only serves to drive more good jobs out of L.A. and deprive the city of tax dollars to sustain the basic services people need. The mayor must mobilize and inspire the city staff to commit themselves to the greatest period of job creation in L.A. history. That’s what it will take for us to make this city economically sustainable again.

Antonia Hernandez
President and CEO » California Community Foundation

Mayor Villaraigosa should finish as strongly as he started by committing to serving a full term. He should continue to make L.A. a place where people want to live and do business by creating a community that is receptive to both. He needs to boost key industries like entertainment and tourism to help them become more competitive. He needs to reduce the number of initiatives to focus on what L.A. truly needs. Finally, the mayor should be more visible in L.A. We need leadership that is followed by action.

David  A. Abel
President » ABL Inc.

It was urban theorist Jane Jacobs who said that a metropolitan economy, when it is working well, doesn’t lure the middle class, it creates one. The most important challenge for the mayor is to attract, retain, and grow middle-class jobs. Today L.A. is not only losing its middle class, it is without either a coherent, integrated economic strategy to reverse the trend or an accountable city department to implement one. The mayor, in response to 230,000 Angelenos already in unemployment lines, recently announced a five-year goal to train and place 100,000 people in living-wage jobs. Not yet prioritized is how to assist and incentivize our struggling private sector to create 100,000 new middle-class jobs ($20 to $40 per hour). The mayor surely recognizes that if L.A.’s economy is to once again prosper, it will not do so by relying on government-subsidized entry-level jobs (the practice of Detroit for decades). Similarly, the mayor must avoid the adoption of antibusiness regulations that position L.A. as uncompetitive in creating private-sector jobs. The vitality of L.A.’s middle class must be the highest priority, and the mayor must focus on crafting both a sustainable city economic strategy and on building a nonpolitical organization to “get to goal.”

Kerman Maddox
Managing Partner » Dakota Communications

The next four years should be about jobs, jobs, and more jobs!

David Sefton
Executive and Artistic Director » UCLA Live

Now might be a good time to remind anyone in high office in Los Angeles that even if you’ve never set foot in a theater or concert hall, even if you disregard all the producing theater companies, dance groups, and orchestras currently paying thousands of people, and even if you ignore the enormous tax implication of the performing arts, there is something so much more fundamental to this town and that even the proudest Luddite needs to wake up and smell the skinny latte. Let us look for a moment at that other arts industry—you know, the really big one. Guess what? The film industry is an arts industry, too. Without its set designers, composers, cinematographers, screenwriters, musicians, costume designers—every person who ever lifted a camera, paintbrush, or pen—it would be just as screwed as the rest of the arts. So by messing with arts education, as well as depriving our children of a proper education and the chance to grow from the experience, all you’re doing is killing off your talent pool and savagely mauling the hand that feeds you, which in turn jeopardizes the future of the one money spinner we’ve got left. Which would seem like a dumb idea on every imaginable level.

Lisa Watson
Executive Director » Downtown Women’s Center

With more homeless than any other city in the country, Los Angeles has the opportunity to be a national leader or a national disgrace. I hope that Mayor Villaraigosa continues to take on the challenge to lead the country in ending homelessness by providing affordable and permanent supportive housing to the area’s 70,000 homeless people.

William Deverell
Professor of History  » USC

Los Angeles has been the global epicenter of automobile culture for nearly a century. That has been a mixed blessing. Given the convergence of a number of things, including the recessionary economy, the state of American car manufacturers, the precarious oil market, and the paired threats of global warming and emission pollutants, there’s a huge opportunity—obligation—to redesign our love affair with the car. The state has taken bold steps in some arenas related to pollution and atmospheric warming. L.A. can, and I think should, get out ahead of the revolutionary thinking on cars: how many, how big, where they can go, how they are powered, and what they must share the road with. So much of L.A. life and lifestyle is beholden to the car and to our collective embrace of it, now four generations deep. Old habits die hard, and our infrastructural indebtedness to the car is sunk deep in the culture. But the 21st century doesn’t have to replicate the 20th century’s capitulation to automobility; L.A. can, should, must, and will have to embrace new (and even plenty of old) ideas about transit and transport. Why not take the lead in California, in the West, in the U.S., in the world?

Joel Kotkin
Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures » Chapman University

Stop the yammering about downtown, the greenest city, and start cutting the regulatory bloat. Focus on job creation.

Aaron Paley
President » Community Arts Resources

The mayor should create something visionary for the city in the short term that has long-term implications. Close Wilshire Boulevard on Sundays and other contiguous boulevards to create a Ciclovía modeled on the highly successful example of Bogotá, Colombia. In that city, public streets are closed each Sunday to create 70 miles of car-free zones for pedestrians, runners, and bicyclists. The challenge was to create an immediate impact that would benefit the vast majority of the city’s population—a constituency that is mostly poor and without easy access to parks and recreation (sounds familiar). The Ciclovía showed that people are the priority in that city, not cars. Here in L.A. we need solutions that go beyond the zero-sum game of wider streets, synchronized lights, and left-turn signals. Let’s create projects that allow the city to be knitted together in a new and novel way.

Andy Lipkis
President »TreePeople 

The critical problem the mayor should take on is water. Three factors are creating a perfect storm of water shortages in L.A. First, although rain in most years could provide nearly half the water we need for all uses, we send most of the rainwater we receive into the ocean. Second, we are inefficient in our use of the water that is piped here from hundreds of miles away. Third, our traditional sources of water are being threatened by environmental degradation and climate change. With this perfect storm comes a perfect opportunity to adapt Southern California to be water resilient and sustainable. The mayor can meet much of his environmental agenda (from tree planting to creating parks within walking distance of every resident to green-collar jobs) by making L.A. a leader in the use of “smart green infrastructure” that engages nature and nature-based technologies on every parcel of land to capture, cleanse, and store rainwater. Smart green infrastructure means strategic tree planting along with the use of forest-mimicking technologies such as permeable surfaces, mulch, berms and swales, engineered soils, and cisterns. These can yield tremendous benefits—harvesting rainwater to replenish our aquifer and prevent pollution of our waterways and ocean as well as filtering air pollution, creating oxygen, saving energy by shading buildings and asphalt, sequestering carbon dioxide, and improving mental, physical, and economic health. These designs and technologies are within reach. The mayor can provide leadership for a green L.A., one that can remain so for decades to come.

Julie A. Su
Litigation director » Asian Pacific American Legal Center

In 2010, the mayor will be able to make critical decisions about what standards taxicab companies have to meet. He should use this opportunity to promote the rights of the overwhelmingly of-color and immigrant workforce who serve as ambassadors at the airport and help keep L.A. moving. The mayor should combine his commitment to low-wage workers with a bold transportation plan, including buses, rail, and taxi.

Steve Barr
Founder » Green Dot Public Schools

I would say the same to my friend the mayor as I say to all leaders: I want all of Los Angeles public schools to pass the only test that matters: “Would I send my children to these schools?” It follows a simple idea: “How fast would public schools improve if private schools were illegal?” I know this is not happening anytime soon, but please play along. Or if you will, what would the focus in this city of all our leaders be on education if their kids had to attend Locke High School? What would Governor Schwarzenegger's “year of education” look like if his children could not attend a private school and instead had to attend an LAUSD school? What would the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools look like if instead of Loyola, his son had to attend his old high school, Roosevelt? Now Mayor Villaraigosa gets huge thanks from me and my fellow Angelenos for taking on this issue as no other mayor has. But I would suspect that the schools would get much smaller, much more accountable, and most important, the debate would be more about “how do we make our schools the best,” which sounds like the conversation we all have about our own children.

Stewart Kwoh
President and Executive Director » Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Mayor Villaraigosa has shown significant leadership in his first term in addressing education achievement in Los Angeles. In the mayor's second term he can step up and increase his leadership to empower parents to play a greater role in student achievement and in schools. He should focus on developing an education agenda that recognizes parents as powerful student advocates. Parents must be valued as an essential part of the planning and implementation of school programs.

In the midst of the education cuts, parent involvement with their children's education is even more crucial. I believe that better parent engagement builds better schools. The challenge is to ensure that school accountability is strengthened in fostering parent engagement. Communicating with parents should not be limited to notification of negative action of their children. Engagement should be on different levels, including welcoming parents, sharing materials in different languages, parent-teacher communication, training for teachers and administrators on how to involve parents, and training for parents on how to navigate the education institution. Mayor Villaraigosa has already begun to work with groups such as the Parent Organization Network (PON), which is a group of 20 independent organizations dedicated to improving schools and student achievement. I encourage him to build even more support for parent engagement in his second term.

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra
Executive Director » Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

The mayor has big dreams. As a faith leader, I believe in dreams and visions; without a vision, the people perish. All the mayor’s dreams are wonderful. However, it is unlikely that he will be able to do all that he dreams; he will in the end have to prioritize. At that point, it will be easiest to leave behind those with the least power and visibility—the working poor and their families—particularly the immigrant workers who labor in the shadows. My message to the mayor would be the same call that the leaders of the earliest Christian community gave to the Apostle Paul: “Remember the poor.” I would actually go one step further, however. Do not just remember the poor as victims. The poor are often God’s agents in history, the members of our society with the clearest understanding of the change that we all need. Listen to the wisdom of the poor, particularly those who are victims and warriors at the same time, the leaders of community and labor struggles for justice. Find creative ways to tap into the creativity of the people who quietly keep Los Angeles working—the hotel workers, janitors, security officers, nursing home workers, and millions of others who take care of us all. Lastly, remembering the poor also means amplifying their voices in effective ways, such as through incentives for businesses that respect the workers’ right to organize and invest in workers as their most valuable asset. The economic storm that we are in is causing real panic and anguish; it is a critical time for the mayor to prioritize the poor. May God bless and strengthen him toward this purpose!

Lynda Resnick
Owner » POM Wonderful, FIJI Water, and Teleflora

As a business owner committed to improving educational outcomes through the programs we support and operate, including a new charter high school and a green preschool in the Central Valley, my priority for the mayor is to continue to work tirelessly to improve L.A.'s public schools. Our schools need to have an environment where every student, regardless of background, has the genuine opportunity to achieve his or her fullest potential. Bringing this type of dramatic improvement to our public schools is going to require unprecedented commitment of community resolve, community action, community resources, and most of all, passion and leadership from our political leaders.

Katherine Aguilar Perez
Executive Director » Urban Land Institute

The greatest challenge facing the mayor is that he is running a city that lacks a vision of its future. The city of Los Angeles is poised to be a national model for green industry initiatives, expansion of a burgeoning transit network, and creation of housing that is affordable to all Angelenos. But there is a failure to connect the dots, to weave the parts together into one compelling image of a great city. Instead, it looks like a series of unconnected story lines propped up for media purposes rather than rebuilding a city. Los Angeles is a great city with great neighborhoods, and it deserves to have a grand vision that commands international attention, that compels investors and start-ups to take root in our business districts, and that inspires its residents to work hard for its future because it is their future. There is no problem too great for a motivated people to overcome. But Los Angeles needs to be motivated, to rally behind a bold new vision that will carry it into the 21st century. The mayor has the choice to engage Angelenos to craft a vision for the future of the city of Los Angeles. That is the mayor’s biggest opportunity in his second term.

Joseph T. Edmiston
Executive Director » Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

Please finish planting those million trees!

John B. Emerson
President »Personal Investment Management, Capital Group Companies 

While California's unemployment rate is skyrocketing and the Los Angeles economy is reeling, it is tempting to say that "job creation" ought to be the mayor's number one focus. The fact is that improving the regional economic and jobs picture requires the coordinated efforts of all our elected officials as well as the state and federal governments. Put another way, as a practical matter job creation is something that is largely beyond the direct control of the mayor. Issues that are more within his control that impact the economic health of Los Angeles are the quality of our education, traffic and transportation, and public safety.

Of these three, the one that is most within the power of the mayor to concretely impact is public safety. Why is that so important? Fear of crime not only paralyzes neighborhoods, but also chases away businesses. The kind of media attention that a high crime rate engenders reduces the number of free-spending tourists, depresses property values, and tarnishes Los Angeles's image as a work-friendly environment. And public safety, broadly defined, also includes the kind of after-school and neighborhood activities that give kids an alternative to gangs—something to say "yes" to.

The mayor, together with Bill Bratton, his extraordinarily talented police chief, are off to a great start. He is close to meeting his promise to add 1,000 more police officers to the streets, notwithstanding the challenging fiscal environment; gang crime and homicides are down sharply over the past couple of years; crime overall has dropped to its lowest level on a per capita basis in over 50 years; and the youth-oriented Summer Night Lights program resulted in the safest summer L.A. has experienced in four decades—with gang crime down nearly 20 percent in the neighborhoods surrounding participating parks.  The mayor's recognition that gang reduction and youth development are inextricably linked has yielded positive results.

So if things are going so well, why should public safety be a top priority for the mayor's second term? It is axiomatic that the rate of crime increases as the stresses and frustrations of high unemployment and economic hopelessness increase. In this environment, the last thing that should be cut is the community aspect of community-based policing (which requires more cops on the streets, working in neighborhoods) and programs that give alternatives to kids (who could otherwise be seduced by the camaraderie and easy money of gangs) such as Summer Night Lights, the L.A. Conservation Corps, City Year, L.A.'s Best, and similar outstanding efforts. Put another way, with the economy on the brink, we cannot afford the downward spiral that would be triggered by a well-publicized, fear-inducing crime wave. Hence, the mayor's principle focus during his second term ought to be to build on the successes of his public safety record.

John Chase
Urban Designer » City of West Hollywood

The city of Los Angeles sometimes seems like a collection of feifdoms run by individual councilpersons. The collective citywide good frequently gets lost in a welter of individual neighbor selfishness and NIMBYism masquerading as self-righteousness. To counteract this, pump up your leadership on behalf of public transit and the increased density necessary to support it. As part of your support for public transit, reform the CEQA standards that Los Angeles uses to measure the negative impacts of development. Current thresholds only measure auto congestion, without any consideration of other modes of mobility or bus riders and pedestrians. The mayor should make the standards that came out of the Green Streets Committee the norm for the city and not the exception. These criteria create streets that are good for pedestrians as well as cars. At the same time, you need to hold developers to a higher level of design integrity. Your administration created an innovative Urban Design Studio in the planning department, tasked with creating a vision for what the city looks and functions like. The studio should be empowered to implement its acclaimed Urban Design Principles. It should be part of the review of key development, infrastructure, and transit projects. Green, humane cities don't just happen; they are designed.

Daniel A. Rosenfeld
Senior Deputy for Planning, Transportation, Environment, and Economic Development » L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Mobility.

David Bohnett
Chair » the David Bohnett Foundation

The mayor has supported innovative transit programs, including everything from mass transit with the “Subway to the Sea” to implementing the Los Angeles Bicycle Plan. He’s been a big supporter of those areas not just because L.A. is so congested, but because he believes that transportation is a social justice issue and that people who live in the greater Los Angeles area should always be able to affordably get from their home to places of employment. I have been pleased to partner with the mayor on several transit initiatives with the goal of better access to jobs for all Angelenos.

READ: Dear Mr. Mayor, an open letter to Antonio Villaraigosa by Ed Leibowitz