In a high-school auditorium packed with public education advocates, community leaders, and a veritable who’s who of the Los Angeles political scene, Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti posed a surreal question: “Who cares how many potholes we fill if Venice is underwater?”
On Wednesday night, the city’s executive marked a milestone in his life as a public servant by delivering his annual “State of the City Address,” focusing in on an assortment of topics. A bulk of his speech was comprised of subject-matters like the flailing of climate trends and the sprawling predicament of the city’s homeless population.
He also discussed the impending challenges the Los Angeles Unified School District is slated to confront, just months after District’s employees converged onto the steps of City Hall, demanding high-ranking officials to mollify the teachers’ union’s series of complaints.
Shining a spotlight on environmental and educational shortcomings, the Mayor lamented that “schools have become places where we warehouse our poverty and trauma.”
In this vein, last year Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez set out to examine the fermenting impact of poverty on L.A.’s students. His reporting of teachers’ witnessing “hungry kids, tired kids, kids without a change of clothes, kids with bedbugs” unsurprisingly mirrors the Mayor’s complaints in a tangible, defining manner.
Stopping short of a full-fledged endorsement for Measure EE, a commercial parcel tax that will be affirmed or rebuffed by Angelenos during the June 4 elections, the Mayor advocated for legislation he says would, “help create resources for more supportive services for families.” This could, perhaps, remedy the privations of communities where fiscal resources are drying up.
Still, even with this exigency on the Mayor’s front burner, this issue never surfaced during District-Union negotiations that occurred in January, which stemmed from a disagreement over the District’s appropriation of funds into schools. Garcetti emerged as a successful mediator during these critical bilateral talks, even in the midst of a historic teachers’ walkout and widening backlash from parents.
In his hour-long speech, Garcetti extolled both parties’ efforts, recounting the slew of moments that permitted that District and the union to form a ‘coalition’ for the benefit of students. Along these lines, the Mayor also pledged to work in tandem with L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu to enact the legislator’s proposal to “create a higher education savings account program for LAUSD students” that would deposit 50 dollars into kindergartners’ accounts, and be matched by private donors, thereafter. Governor Newsom has rallied behind a program oriented by a similar model in Sacramento.
Second only after education, the Mayor expressed his zeal to better the environment, whereupon he teed off his version of the “Green New Deal” to placate climate change and rejuvenate the local economy.
His plan, set to make its official debut in the coming weeks, seeks to wipe out carbon emissions by 2050 by mandating “zero carbon buildings” and even constructing a “zero emissions transportation network.” The Mayor will install a commission in City Hall dubbed the “Climate Emergency Council” that will be tasked with implementing these ambitious goals. Taking a broader look, much of the plan emulates a proposal Congressional Democrats introduced in Washington, one that is likely to be punted on by the Republican Majority in the Senate.
Prior to openly contemplating the long-term ramifications of “climate refugees,” or folks forced to migrate due to extreme weather conditions, the Mayor brought forth an emphatic message to U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration has been adamant in materializing its hardline immigration stances.
“Immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers are people, not pawns,” Garcetti proclaimed to an ebullient crowd. His oppositional tone comes in the wake of the President’s visit to the California border town of Calexico, where he hailed his administration’s completion of a section of fencing originally ordered by his predecessor, President Obama.
To “root out discrimination in our communities” Garcetti said City Hall will open another forum, termed the “Los Angeles Civil and Human Rights Commission.” The purview and magnitude of this body was not specified at the time.
The reduction of homeless individuals on L.A.’s streets also constituted a significant portion of the Mayor’s report. He listed off his governing achievements that have ushered hundreds of unhoused people into dwellings, arguably scoring him a tidal wave of political points.
His “A Bridge Home” program has contributed to a 60 percent decrease of encampments in the town of El Pueblo, a result he contends was birthed from voters’ belief in Proposition HHH. The Mayor claims this proposition, plausibly combined with other policies that fund temporary housing developments, will build “nearly 7,000 new units” in the coming years. For decades, the shortage of housing, the influx of addictive substances, and the rising prevalence of debilitating mental health conditions have astronomically grown the count of those occupying freeway underpasses, residing ‘on the streets,’ as the Mayor fittingly described.
The 48-year-old progressive returned to the overarching theme of education and highlighted the burgeoning enrollment rate of LAUSD students in community colleges. Garcetti called the 56 percent, two-year increase, “breathtaking.”
Before parting with some of his strongest supporters, he rattled of yet another pledge to the children watching.
“Starting next school year, every L.A. college promise student will have free rides on our DASH buses” and “a laptop they can take home every night.” The ovation, which followed shortly after these promises, was unrelenting; the students in attendance were quite pleased.