Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti listens to Northridge residents discussing… (Los Angeles Times )
In Los Angeles, city government has often been a sideshow, remote from a population of hardworking, creative people who can't quite see how elected officials could add much of value to their lives or work. But visibly or otherwise, City Hall is intimately intertwined with the city's people, affecting their pocketbooks, their commuting patterns, their leisure choices, their safety, their access to electric power and clean water — in short, that assortment of services and protections that together help define the quality of life. Regardless of how many people voted for mayor, city attorney, controller and City Council members in March and again in May, the changing of the guard downtown in ceremonies Sunday evening — and, in actual fact, Monday morning — affects everyone who lives, works, learns or shops in Los Angeles.
Incoming Mayor Eric Garcetti is both action-oriented and philosophical, experimental and pragmatic. City Atty. Mike Feuer is hardworking and keenly intelligent; Controller Ron Galperin is perceptive, detail-oriented and bracingly impatient. Together they are an unusually intellectual bunch. At their best, they combine the zeal of youth with the wisdom of experience. They will be interesting. And with luck, they will lead a promising new era at City Hall.
They come in during a period in which services have been cut and workers laid off. Bankruptcy has been discussed. It's a time to regroup, to recover, to re-create the city — with a government that is innovative, productive, efficient and service-oriented.
Immediate challenges start with the city's fiscal health. That, in turn, implicates employee compensation and benefits, both under existing contracts and under new ones that are scheduled to be negotiated next year. There is an emotional gap between the city's taxpayers and its service providers, and one of Garcetti's chief tasks is to ensure that neither side is exploited. He was elected over much public employee union opposition, but as council president, he commonly referred to labor as being a key member of the "city family." That's fine as far as it goes, but he must remember that the city family is large and includes those who consume the services and pay the bills.
There are new resources and new techniques to be put to work serving residents. What can the city do, for example, with all that data — on traffic patterns, energy use, crime, school attendance, service calls? Which decisions could be crowd-sourced, and which should be left to experts? The rest is mostly nuts and bolts: responsiveness, fairness, value, hard work.
There will be four years, at least, to critique and complain, and maybe even to applaud. Sunday is for speeches and parties, and for celebrating the messy, sprawling and wonderful city that is Los Angeles.