A Timeline to Karen Bass’ First State of the City Speech

Cityside Column: The mayor goes big on homelessness, police hiring and a ‘new L.A.’

Every April, the mayor of Los Angeles delivers a State of the City address. It’s sort of like the presidential State of the Union, except that almost everyone in L.A. is a Democrat. so there is no partisan division.

On Monday evening, Karen Bass delivered her first SOTC in a packed City Council chambers downtown. Here’s a beat-by-beat of how it went down.

5:06 p.m.: It’s 24 minutes until the scheduled start time, and the room is about half full. Everyone seems to be looking to network. I see Councilmember Tim McOsker glad-handing, and then Fire Chief Kristin Crowley arrives. At 5:14 I spy Crowley’s public safety counterpart, Police Chief Michel Moore, and wonder if he already knows the specifics of Bass’ plan to help a department hemorrhaging officers or if it will be a surprise.

5:17: The mood and chatter are picking up, the room filling with public and civic players in business attire. A flock of council reps, including Katy Yaroslavsky and Eunisses Hernandez, continue to grip, grin and greet people with hugs. Modern cool jazz plays on the loudspeakers.

5:25: County supervisors Hilda Solis and Lindsey Horvath enter and promptly get escorted to seats at the front of the room. A minute later I see Kevin de León. At 5:28 former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa arrives. I recall his 2010 address, which was delivered amid a devastating economic downturn. It was the most depressing State of the City I’ve ever witnessed; “I’ve had more fun at wakes,” I wrote at the time.

5:42: Twelve minutes after the scheduled start time, proceedings begin. The National Anthem is performed and a trio of benedictions last eight long minutes. At 5:53 Council President Paul Krekorian makes some introductory remarks, followed by Janice Hahn, chair of the County Board of Supervisors. I’m reminded of a rock band with a pair of opening acts, though instead of hit songs each pol references the Bass catch-phrase of “lock arms.” The point is clear: It’s her event, but she is involving leaders from across the spectrum to symbolize everyone working together.

6:02: Hahn introduces Bass and everyone stands up to applaud. Well, everyone except City Controller Kenneth Mejia, who along with Krekorian, City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto, and Council President Pro Tempore Curren Price have special seats behind Bass. Later in the day, I was sent an Instagram video showing this moment — the entire room on their feet, all the council reps, and the crowd delivering 52 seconds of sustained applause, except for Mejia, who stands with hands clasped. This continues even after Bass shakes his hand.

And this does not change during the speech—there will be dozens of moments when the crowd applauds, but I never see Mejia put his hands together. Did he sprain a finger? Is he cranky about accusations by former staffers that he is a “toxic” boss? Did Bass tell him he can’t bring his corgis to the speech? Does he see himself as such an outsider that he can’t deign to applaud the elected mayor of Los Angeles? Clearly, his no clapping policy is intentional, but why?

6:05: Bass gets through the intros but doesn’t soft-pedal the overall situation. “I am 127 days into my administration and I cannot declare that the state of our city is where it needs to be,” she says, adding that everything stems from how people feel about their neighborhood or their household.

Then, in a rhyming couplet, Bass says, “Do you look over your shoulder when walking after dark? Do you feel pride in your local park?” Sadly, this is not followed by further rhymes about  green eggs and ham.

6:08: SOTCs have chapters, and Bass’ first chapter is precisely what you expect: homelessness. She spends 10 minutes on the subject that has dominated her first four months in office, detailing how she declared a state of emergency on day one, and how her signature Inside Safe effort to address tent encampments has brought more than 1,000 people indoors. She describes the intense outreach efforts required to help those on the streets, remarking, “We have finally dispelled the myth that people do not want to come inside. They do.”

Then comes the blockbuster: Bass announces that her new budget will set aside $250 million “to scale Inside Safe citywide,” and that an “unprecedented” $1.3 billion will be dedicated to homelessness in Los Angeles.

As a point of context, in his 2016 SOTC, with the issue bubbling up, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was budgeting $138 million for homelessness.

6:11: Bass continues on the topic, stressing the need to make “real and sustained treatment available for substance abuse and mental illness for the unhoused.” She says money from opioid and tobacco settlements will go to substance abuse treatment. As she did during a recap of her first 100 days, she decries bureaucratic hurdles and pleads for apartment building owners to accept housing vouchers for people experiencing homelessness.

6:18: The mayor turns to the next chapter, public safety, starting with a police department that a few years ago had more than 10,000 sworn personnel, but now is down to about 9,100. While that shrinkage has pleased progressives who want a smaller LAPD, Bass makes clear that is not her agenda. “My budget proposal calls for urgent action to hire hundreds of officers next year on the way to restoring the department to full strength,” she says, sparking a round of applause, and I assume Moore claps harder than anyone. “We are launching an urgent recruitment campaign, with incentives for new recruits.”

6:21: There’s a sub-chapter! “Safety is not just policing,” Bass says, detailing her newly launched Office of Community Safety, which aims to deploy social workers, psychologists and others to situations where armed cops are not required.

6:23: The speech turns to the mini-chapters, a flurry of subjects that a mayor touches on to show they are a priority, particularly in the upcoming budget. Bass mentions efforts to hire more firefighters and streamline the addition of paramedics. She segues to climate change and stormwater capture and flits to Metro and transportation matters; the mayor also touches on the recent rains and all the potholes the city filled.

6:28: Bass then hopscotches to other topics, including graffiti eradication and the effort to fill thousands of open jobs in the city. She references the general business environment, a labor dispute at the Port of Los Angeles, and the search for a new head of the city Department of Animal Services. It may all be important but it begins to feel feels like a band ticking off its greatest hits.

6:34: “We must all lock arms together, Los Angeles,” Bass says, marking the beginning of the end of the speech, and a sort of montage section where she requests citizen participation on everything from addressing homelessness to working with the Office of Community Safety. She makes multiple references to a “new L.A.,” which happens to be the formal title of the speech, and glances into the future, and to coming events including the 2026 World Cup and the 2028 Olympics.

6:37: She reaches the kicker, describing Los Angeles as a lure for people from around the world, and how they should experience the city. Bass says she also wants that experience for the people now here.

“I want Angelenos to experience a new L.A.,” Bass states. One that is stronger, healthier, happier and safer. One that is affordable. This is the new Los Angeles we will build together. This is the new L.A.”

The applause rings out. State of the City number one is in the books.

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