Every April, the mayor of Los Angeles delivers an update on how the city is faring. Timed to the release of the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the State of the City serves as a combo chest-thumping for what has been achieved and a roadmap of upcoming political priorities. On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti dropped his eighth SOTC, and his second in the coronavirus era. Here is a timeline of what went down.
5:13 p.m.: Back when the world was normal, the SOTC attracted a cascade of the city’s political and power players, and in the minutes before the speech began, council members, department heads, and others gladhanded, chit-chatted, and generally ignored the loudspeaker calls to take a seat.
None of that is happening this year. Instead, those watching on channel 35 or the mayor’s Facebook page see an image of a sliver of the Griffith Observatory with the downtown skyline in the background. I wonder if this hints at a theme, perhaps: Los Angeles: This Year We’re Going to the Moon!
5:15: The camera rolls and Garcetti is outdoors at the Observatory, Los Angeles splayed behind him. He begins listing accomplishments since he took office in 2013, among them raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and securing the 2028 summer Olympics (which many don’t exactly see as an accomplishment).
5:18: “Then, 13 months ago, our journey turned and everything changed,” he pronounces, and somberly reflects on the pandemic and the city’s response, from ordering businesses to close to addressing an early racial gap in COVID-19 deaths. As he discusses the budget he will deliver to the council, be begins detailing inequities in the city.
5:24: Watch enough SOTCs and you learn that there is usually a theme, a policy or financial priority that will serve as a guidepost for the current administration. It might be education one year, or public safety the next. This is the moment that Garcetti’s focus crystallizes: “I’m presenting you a justice budget,” he states, and the theme of reinstalling a sense of equality post-pandemic will never be dropped.
The speech will last for 47 minutes, which is massive. Last year’s funereal address ended in a tidy 28 minutes. The 2018 SOTC lasted an hour, but that was punctuated by 58 applause moments (yes, I counted, and yes, I am that kind of geek), which breaks up the flow. This time, no crowd means no clapping interruptions. It is full of big declarations. It is also a grind.
The 47-minute speech is full of big declarations. It is also a grind.
5:26: State of the City addresses have chapters, and Garcetti shifts to detailing efforts to help COVID-battered businesses. He asks the council to reduce the time it takes for restaurants to secure alcohol and other permits, and suggests, “Let’s make al fresco dining permanent.” He details a plan to offer $5,000 “comeback checks” to 5,000 city businesses, and announces a $1.3 million program to help street vendors. There is a pledge to direct more funds to Angelenos who have had trouble paying rent.
5:31: “When it came to homelessness, this pandemic had lessons for us,” Garcetti declares, and reaches a central part of the speech: efforts to help the more than 41,000 Angelenos experiencing homelessness.
This is nothing new. In his 2017 SOTC, Garcetti announced Los Angeles would spend $176 million addressing homelessness. The 2018 State of the City brought a super-sizing, as the mayor said Los Angeles would drop $430 million on the crisis.
Call this a super-duper sizing, as Garcetti declares that the city will spend $950 million to help people experiencing homelessness. He details a litany of efforts, then asks the state to provide even more money to help create housing. As he touches on the topic, he mentions working with council members Kevin De León and Mark Ridley-Thomas, and this too is something of a theme: during the address, Garcetti will name check all 15 council members.
For the 1st time, with new money from our budget, we'll dedicate nearly $1 billion to ending homelessness.
When I became mayor, that number was $10 million.
We are putting our money where our heart is to bring our neighbors indoors. #SOTC2021
— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) April 20, 2021
5:36: The mayor twists to transit, detailing progress on some Metro mega-projects, then mentioning that coronavirus-propelled cuts to bus service will end in September. This feeds into another speech highlight: a plan to let low-income Angelenos ride public transit for free. Few details are offered, but if this were a (that word again) normal State of the City, the applause would be long and loud.
5:38: He swivels to infrastructure upgrades, and unveils one in a line of programs with catchy names: Operation Next is an $8 billion plan to recycle and distribute water across Los Angeles. Later Garcetti will detail L.A. REPAIR, which stands for Reforms for Equity and Public Acknowledgement of Institutional Racism. They are all serious subjects, but I wonder if his office has a rewards system where the staffer who conjures up with the catchiest title gets a gift card to Pink’s.
5:43: After touching on programs to help youth and families, Garcetti raises another tent pole in his speech: “Los Angeles will launch the largest guaranteed basic income pilot of any city in America,” he states, the progressive chestnut involving giving $1,000 a month to 2,000 households for a full year, “no questions asked, wherever poverty lives in our city.”
Again, cue the unheard applause.
This year, Los Angeles will launch the largest Guaranteed Basic Income pilot of any city in America: providing $1,000 a month to 2,000 households for an entire year, no questions asked, wherever poverty lives in our city. #SOTC2021 pic.twitter.com/pNJuOovn0M
— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) April 20, 2021
5:45: Speaking of progressive chestnuts, Los Angeles has heard calls from activists to eliminate the LAPD. Garcetti kicks that to the curb, and hard, declaring, “If you want to abolish the police, you’re talking to the wrong mayor.”
Yet he also makes clear that reforms are expected, including a need to send unarmed responders to mental health-focused calls and other situations. Naturally, this comes with an acronym, as the TURN efforts stands for Therapeutic Unarmed Response for Neighborhoods.
5:49: Is the speech wrapping up? No! Instead Garcetti rolls out a veritable serving cart of issues springboarding off the justice theme. He touches on boosting WiFi in internet-poor communities, mentions clean energy efforts, discusses creating COVID-19 memorials across Los Angeles, and proposes studying looking at slavery reparations for Black Angelenos. Each of these topics could (and one day likely will) fill its own news conference. Here, they spill one into the next.
6:02: He builds toward the end, and after circling back to the theme of the Observatory telescopes, the mayor looks at the opportunities and the challenges facing Los Angeles.
“The state of our city is strong, and bruised,” he pronounces, “bursting with joyous possibility, while it cracks with sorrow.”
A State of the City naturally engenders praise from some and fierce critiques from others, particularly if they have access to social media. But the high-low post-pandemic view of Los Angeles? Garcetti gets that one right.
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