Los Angeles mayor delivers ‘State of the City’

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L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti (AP Photo)

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Hoping to give a new look to a city where the car is king, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday that he planned to add plazas, trees and artwork to some of the city’s busiest streets to lure walkers, cyclists, new cafes and shops.

A more walkable Los Angeles? The city has long privileged cars over pedestrians, bikes or baby strollers, but Garcetti said greener, more attractive streets are a pathway to a better future. He plans to start with improvements to 15 thoroughfares across the city, including a main artery that cuts through downtown.

“These great streets will be the standard-bearers of a revitalized city, one main street at a time,” the first-term Democrat said in a speech to City Council members and business, government and civic leaders.

“We are going to bring back the glory days on our storied … boulevards,” he added.

But the car was not forgotten.
The mayor also announced an expansion of the notoriously clogged Interstate 405 would open in May, months ahead of schedule. It earned him some of his loudest applause of the night.

The speech, informally known as the state of the city, was part boosterism, part defense of his first nine months in office, part agenda for salving a city struggling with a litany of problems, from strangled freeways to a looming pension crisis.

Among his plans, Garcetti said he wanted to slash a business tax that he says chases away jobs; allow residents to conduct more business with the city online, rather than travel to City Hall; and stop Hollywood jobs from fleeing to others states and countries.

After several smaller earthquakes rattled nerves in recent weeks, Garcetti said the city would develop a rating system to catalog the earthquake safety of buildings, as part of a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey. Plans would also be made to protect water and communications systems and make improvements to older buildings, he said.

The 43-year-old mayor said his budget to be released next week would erase a projected $250 million shortfall, but he provided no details on how he closed the gap. He also said he would block any attempt by the city-run utility, the Department of Water and Power, to raise rates this year.

Garcetti said he planned to pave more streets – a key campaign promise – but not how many. In an interview in January, the mayor said it could take a decade and as much as $3 billion to do a good, if not complete, repair job on hundreds of miles of cratered and cracked roadway in Los Angeles. It’s not clear where the financially struggling city will get the money.

His speech comes a day after a city commission that previously warned that Los Angeles was drifting toward decline made sweeping proposals that included unifying the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, forming a new regional agency to lure more tourists and finding a way to slow runaway government-pension costs. Garcetti did not directly address those proposals in his speech.

During his nine months in office, Garcetti has succeeded in differentiating himself from his predecessor, fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcetti’s retiring personality and back-to-basics agenda stand in contrast to the former mayor, who was known for his headline-grabbing lifestyle and ambitious, if sometimes out of reach, goals.

At several points Garcetti defended his low-key approach, contrasting it with gridlock in Washington. “We’re about getting results, not about getting headlines,” he said.

The speech was not a make-or-break moment for Garcetti, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

“He’ll be judged by what kind of difference he makes for people who live in the city over a longer period of time,” said Sonenshein, noting that Garcetti had been on the job less than a year.

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