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#DearMayor: Mayor elect Garcetti shares his priorities for the city

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LA Mayor elect Eric Garcetti says education, infrastructure and economic development will be the three key areas his administration will focus on.

During the transition, Garcetti says he's been out meeting with Angelenos.  The answers to the city's problems, he believes, won't come from experts at City Hall, but from people who live and work in the city.  "They have the answers," he says.

Do you have a suggestion for the mayor?  Or a good idea?  Share it with us in our special web feature, Dear Mayor.

Interview highlights:

On his top two priorities: Well, my first priority is to get out there and listen to Los Angeles. Not to go behind close doors as we've sometimes seen in past transitions and figure out all the answers to L.A.'s problems in a back room in City Hall, but to go out with six different meetings and a seventh one online where I'm listening to Angelenos.

I'll talk about my two top priorities, which are getting the economy back on track and making City Hall work for the people again. In other words, reforming City Hall, our culture, our customer service, technology and our systems. And also just really focusing on making this a more business-friendly place and a place where more jobs will come and will grow and a place where people will feel that prosperity that I grew up with in Los Angeles.

On education, a key concern for participants of Dear MayorI'd focus in two or three areas: One, being a strong voice in Sacramento for a higher level of education funding. We cannot continue to be near the basement in America. That is not the way to prepare the workforce for tomorrow.

Second, though — a real emphasis on vocational education. Preparing kids for good careers. That may be computer coding in a classroom that allows somebody to graduate without a college degree earning $70,000 in Silicon Beach at a start-up, or it may mean looking at aerospace and some of the aviation mechanics programs. We badly need to hire aviation mechanics. So a real emphasis on vocational ed.

And lastly, a real emphasis on technology in the classroom. I heard the president speak on Friday. He and I met when he was in Los Angeles, and he talked about a school district in North Carolina that was the second-poorest in the state but was the second-highest in performance because they had ditched the textbook altogether and given every kid a laptop. I think it's really important for us to prepare our children for the way we will learn and the way we will work in the future.

On infrastructure, another key concern of Dear Mayor participants: Well I ran on a platform of being a back-to-basics mayor — of getting those small things. In my own district, we've seen a remarkable transformation because we focused on the street-level health of the community — that basic infrastructure that attracted businesses and people to spend time in their neighborhoods again.

But I'm also going to be honest with Angelenos. This is a problem 70 years in the making. It will require money to pay for it. It will require us to be more efficient. Certainly we can boost the number of miles we pave, for instance, of streets, and I've promised 800 miles. But if we really want to attack 70 years of neglect, we're going to have to figure out a way to more comprehensively pay for that. Maybe with a bond in the future. Maybe with looking at a way we can take some money away from other things and pay it forward.

To me, that is the symbol of the decline of Los Angeles. The potholes that we have, our cracked streets. We have to invest in that as well as in public transportation. It's not just for cars — but the bike lanes and the walkable communities, the sidewalks. I was talking to a woman at our forum in South L.A. this weekend and she said, "I can't go for a walk in my own neighborhood. I am disabled and it's literally too dangerous." That's unacceptable in Los Angeles. 

On L.A.'s financial situation and city technology: Well, I would say our [financial] problems are in remission. But they're not completely gone. Or to use another metaphor — we came pretty close to the cliff of bankruptcy and we backed away significantly. But we can still see that cliff. So while this year we've reduced what was the projected deficit by 90 percent, in the coming two or three years, we're going to see that deficit balloon again if we don't keep up the progress that we have of making sure we have pension reform, and that we have reasonable salaries and benefits for our employees.

But I also don't want to just go to our employees and say hey, what can we give up? I want to change the culture at City Hall to say what can you do to increase our efficiencies and revenues? How can we save money? I joked that we have cutting edge technology in Los Angeles during the campaign. But it's cutting edge from 1982. And if we can just do some simple things, for instance, to move our e-mail as we did a couple years ago away from city servers to the cloud — well, that saved us a million bucks that year that we can put into other things like tree-trimming or street-paving.

I think that we have a very backward city hall, so to do the things that I want to do — I've talked to our new controller Ron Galprin and our city attorney and the city council about what can we do to update city hall so we don't have to just ask taxpayers for more taxes or our employees for greater cuts. But we can actually look at a more efficient operation. And then second, boost our economy.

If we have people working, if we have businesses that want to stay, everything is possible. Which is why, that really is my number one emphasis: becoming a business-friendly place, getting to know our local CEOs, going to places like Texas and China and bringing business to L.A., instead of just seeing those places come and take business from us. So that will be really my No. 1, my No. 2, my No. 3 emphasis — is getting the economy back to work. 

On union negotiations: I approach it in the same way that I did before the election when I was city council president: very respectfully, very collaboratively, but also very tenaciously. I think that — I don't care who's with or against me. I'm going to be a mayor in three weeks, and I'm here for everybody. And I'm going to have to work closely with our unions as well as every resident in Los Angeles. But what I will say is I'll tell the truth — both to the people of L.A. and to our unions, sit down like I did a few years ago when we were about to go off that cliff and say, "Look, these numbers are bad. If we don't something together, we will literally go bankrupt." And credit to those unions and to people of L.A.

Everybody realized we all had to sacrifice a little and we did back away from that cliff. Our work isn't done. So I'm going to go back to them and ask how can we together control our healthcare costs. How can we together make sure that our pensions don't balloon again? And what can we do to create a more efficient operation in the city of Los Angeles so we don't have a culture of no, a culture that lacks innovation?

I'm going to have a chief technology officer for the first time. We can negotiate things at the table that aren't just about salaries and benefits. We can negotiate collaboration. And to me, that's to some degree what's been missing. We've gotten through the tough times. Let's figure out how to get on track for the next decade, so that the next mayor after me doesn't look at a mess that he inherited.

On his former competitors, Jan Perry, Emanuel Pleitez and Kevin Brown: I've asked them to help me out moving forward. I just didn't want just their help in the campaign. I think Jan Perry, Kevin James, Emmanual have great things to offer this city in education, environment, and business. And I welcome the participation of all Angelenos. In fact, if I can plug our transition website: If anyone out there is interested in working or being on a commission, finding out information if you have an idea to send to us, really I do want to listen to all the people, but those three folks will be intimately involved whether as a formal part of the administration or just close advisors. I hope that each or all will plan on staying in City Hall or coming to City Hall.

On his Transition website and ideas from citizens: It's remarkable how much wisdom is out there on the street. I've always said City Hall doesn't have the answers. But somebody who lives on a particular block, or works on a given street, or who drives through a particular intersection — Angelenos know the answers. And so we're going to continue that process. I'm going to look into continuing to do office hours like I've done for 12 years as a council member, as mayor, where people can come to meet with the mayor face to face. I'm going to continue to do my neighborhood walks that I've done as a council member, so don't be surprised if you live in the city of L.A. and I knock on your door one day and say, "Hey, it's the mayor, what can I do better and what are we doing well and what ideas do you have?" Because I think that's what keeps you continuing to innovate and most of the ideas I get come from everyday Angelenos.

On ending the gross receipts business tax: That [projected $400 million dollar] hole would only exist if we got rid of the tax and it had no impact on businesses staying or coming to Los Angeles. And in fact, we've shown research that if we keep this tax going, little by little, businesses leave. And if you talk to any accountant in the L.A. area and as somebody incorporating a new business, almost every accountant says, "Hey, why don't you do it in Beverly Hills, why don't you do it in Glendale, some place that doesn't have a gross receipts tax?" And for your listeners who don't pay that or know what it is, it's literally a tax that taxes your gross receipts — so you may lose money, and we still tax you. So why would you come to L.A.? Why would you stay in L.A. if you have an option to move?

We put forward a plan already as a council member through our business tax advisory committee, to get rid of this over the next decade and a half. But to cut it in half in the first few years, to send a really strong signal that we won't be No. 88 out of 88 cities in L.A. County anymore, that we're open for business. And in our past experience, when we cut it in particular areas, like in Hollywood, we are able to waive the gross receipts tax for entertainment companies when I was a council member there, and we attracted Technicolor, TV Guide, a whole host of folks — Jimmy Kimmel Show — to Hollywood, because they knew they didn't have to pay that high rate or pay it at all. So we got much more money in our coffers from the sales tax, the property tax, the economic activity that comes from people actually being in L.A. So it will pay for itself as long as we do it carefully over time and I'm very committed to making sure that happens.

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