Daunting challenges face L.A.’s next mayor

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THE HUTCHINSON REPORT

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Writer

It was a foregone conclusion that a lot of big and little names in local politics would jump into the 2022 race for Los Angeles mayor.

It’s a plum job. L.A. is the nation’s second largest city. It has a budget and an economy that surpasses that of many nations.

It is the glamor capitol for entertainment, music and now sports. It’s the gateway to the big, economically muscular China, Japan, the Pacific Rim nations and Mexico. The names of L.A. mayors are sometimes bandied about as possible presidential timber or as national administration cabinet officials.

However, beneath the glitter, glamor and prestige, there are problems — lots of them — that will confront the next top City Hall occupant.

The candidates all make the obligatory promise that they are the best to tackle the problems. But that’s easier said than done.

Start with the problem that is the greatest eyesore and has defied every plan, solution, program or action to eliminate it. That’s homelessness.

On any given day or night, many of L.A.s streets, parks and freeway overpasses look like Calcutta at its worst. There have been bond measures, ramped up spending, hotel and resident vouchers, and sheltering, ordinances banning the homeless from this or that place, plus police crackdowns. Yet the battered makeshift tents and encampments that dot L.A. are everywhere.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who is a leading candidate for the mayorship, minced no words when she said in announcing her run for the office that homelessness is not just a problem, but THE problem that must be a priority for anyone sitting in the mayor’s seat. It will take a mix of ramped-up approaches — strategic spending, land-use changes, housing subsidies and the expansion of support services — to dent the problem.

The homeless crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has a nefarious twin that is virtually unchecked. High rents make housing and apartment affordability in L.A. a bad joke and swells the homeless numbers.

The new mayor must craft and push the City Council to enact a solid land-use plan to rein in upscale development. That means taking checkbook politics out of the development process while ensuring the building and subsidizing of more affordable housing.

Next is getting a handle on L.A.’s rampant sprawl that has turned freeways and streets into stalled parking lots for hours on end. The answer is the continued expansion of light transit, busways, traffic signal coordination and synchronization, traffic flow monitors at major thoroughfares and carpooling incentives.

Then there’s the always thorny issue of police misconduct. How a mayor manages it is perennially the issue that mayor’s walk a tightrope on.

The trick is how to balance the ongoing fight for police reform, continue to prod the department brass and the police commission to maintain vigilance on the issue, while also dealing with citizens’ fear of gang and criminal violence.

The operative words on this remain firm direction, oversight and rigorous discipline.

The next mayor must understand that there are legions of voters who are fed up with the malaise, the fog of government and the self-serving that has often enveloped the mayor’s office.

That means clamping down on special interest deal-making cronyism, in and outside City Hall, trimming a bloated city bureaucracy and sneaky tax increases that smack of old-fashioned political pork barreling.

 Put bluntly, there must be no “for sale” sign on City Hall. A major key to ensuring the smooth, effective, resident-friendly, operation of city government is tough, hard monitoring, oversight and review, and accountability of city agencies.

This starts with keeping a tight rein on the men and women who run these agencies. The mayor’s job is to make the right choices to head those agencies. In the absence of that, city agencies turn into top-heavy bureaucratic leaden, inert, wasteful, crony ridden entities.

This became a major point of contention with the Department of Water and Power and its colossal bureaucratic management, spending, waste and cronyism. Mayor Eric Garcetti continually fought with the DWP to publicly commit to a timetable for reform and arbitrary rate increases, with varying degrees of success.

The next mayor will likely have the same fight given that the DWP operates as a fiefdom with its board and own set of rules. Still, the mayor must keep the heat on.

Garcetti trotted to Washington to lobby for more funding for housing and business development in grossly underserved South and East L.A. The next mayor will have to do the same, becoming a vigorous advocate for the city.

It will take someone who knows the levers of power and has the savvy and political connections to ensure L.A. gets the best deal it can out of Washington.

The candidate with the ability, know how, and political smarts to ably tackle these challenges must and should be L.A.’s next mayor.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Bring Back the Poll Tax!—The GOP War on Voting Rights” (Middle Passage Press). He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.

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