The New Mayor of Los Angeles5 min read
Another big issue, we’ve had some crazy weather, and we will continue to have some crazy weather, but even just this week: pouring rain, power outages, floods. How are you thinking about climate change?
I think the previous mayor put the city on a great road map to becoming carbon neutral. My job is to evaluate the progress, make whatever adjustments are needed, and continue the path forward.
Is the city’s infrastructure able to cope with it?
If we had had a better infrastructure for rainwater capture, can you imagine? And, I mean, we certainly do have an infrastructure for that, but not what it should be. I’m hoping that we had so much rain that maybe it took us out of the drought for a minute. We had more rain in January than we did in all of 2022.
What is L.A. going to look like in twenty years? I think it’s in a kind of inflection point where its car-based identity, the single-home thing, it’s really changing.
I think you’ve already seen a huge change. I’m always amazed when I drive around town at all of the apartment buildings going up. And it makes me wonder who lives in all these places. It seems like so much housing is being built, and it really makes me wonder what the vacancy rate is because it’s so expensive now to live. So you ask me, What does L.A. look like in the future? It’s up.
What about transit?
There will be much more public transit, but the biggest issue with public transit right now is homelessness. You know that, right? After the interfaith breakfast, I went on the Red Line, which is the line that’s most severely impacted. Twenty-[one] people died on the Metro last year. This year, twenty-two people died [since] January. That’s shocking.
Is it known how they died?
I asked that. I’m on the Metro board. I’ve only been to two meetings. The majority of both meetings were about homelessness. When they gave the report of how many people died, I know one was a murder, but I asked them because I don’t want to make the assumption that twenty-one were overdoses. And I say that because the health status of the unhoused population is so poor that there could be a lot of natural causes that could have been prevented. So I don’t know. We will have to wait to see what the coroner says, but I asked for the coroner’s report.
So everything comes back to homelessness.
In this city, it does. Ridership is up now, but there’s a gender difference. There is still a decline of female riders, and, when people are asked, it’s because they don’t feel safe. And, when I say they don’t feel safe, I don’t mean they’re worried about somebody robbing them. They are, but that’s not the only reason. They don’t want to sit on the bus because it’s dirty, and they don’t know who sat there before. You know, just riding it today there were people all stretched out sleeping. There were people sleeping in the station. You see the impact of homelessness. Right now, the plan is to build up the social-service piece in the Metro, so people ride the trains all day until the trains stop and wait for the buses to start up. When they all get off the train, that’s a good place for contact with service providers.
Do people want that help?
Well, just like I said with the people in the tents, I think we’ve proved very easily that, yes, people want that. But my only exception is drug treatment, and I say that because we don’t have any drug treatment to offer them.
We’ve talked a lot about homelessness, but is L.A. still a middle-class city?
It’s a tale of two cities. It’s a tale of unbelievable wealth and unbelievable poverty.
And what has your experience of that wealth been as mayor? Does it have an outsized influence?
Of course wealth has influence. It does, but I think the campaign proved it wields a lot of power but it’s not decisive.
How do you support the middle class?
Well, I certainly don’t want more people to leave, but I think that’s contingent on people feeling safe and people being able to afford to live here. My focus is on homelessness, but we have to get all kinds of housing built.
How do you do that?
Some of that is happening, but it definitely needs to be much, much more. But everything I’ve talked about is how that happens: me expediting the process, having the process not be so onerous. When you talk to developers, they don’t want to deal with L.A. because of all of the bureaucracy, so my first days in office were about addressing that bureaucracy. What makes it easier to permit also makes it faster. The speed is what’s most important, because, if a person is trying to build something and they don’t know how long it’s going to take to get a permit and it’s months and months and months, the time raises the cost. So, if L.A. is going to be affordable, L.A. has to be able to build housing much quicker.
O.K., and then just as a last question, to get back to the idea of what the future of the city is, for some people it’s very dystopian. Maybe people on the right paint this dystopian picture of L.A., but even on the left, with climate change, there’s this idea of an unsustainable city that can’t adapt to the future, that doesn’t have the water, that doesn’t have the housing, it doesn’t have the transportation to be a place to bring it into the next phase. What do you say to that vision?
My responsibility and the responsibility of other elected officials is to restore people’s hope, address their despair and their fear, then I think people can see a light at the end of the tunnel. So I consider that my responsibility, but I paint L.A. in the exact opposite way. I think this is a city with tremendous resources, unbelievable knowledge and skills. And my job is to marshal all of that together. We can conquer all of these problems. We have the capacity to deal, but the capacity needs to be marshalled, organized, and directed. And I view that as my responsibility. ♦