August 14, 2014
by Jeremy Loudenback
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti garnered national scrutiny this month, thanks to a cover story in Governing magazine. In his first year on the job, Garcetti has received mixed reviews, according to the profile.
He has largely eschewed the lofty ambitions of his predecessors. Antonio Villaraigosa championed big-ticket public transit projects and unsuccessfully battled the Los Angeles Unified School District in an attempt to gain greater control over low-performing schools. And Jim Hahn made police reform, including a contentious switch of police chiefs, the focus of his time in office.
But so far Garcetti has steered away from loftier causes and instead toward more low-profile concerns that are more frequently associated with CEOs than mayors: performance reviews, creating a system of metrics for further analysis and an emphasis on efficient use of resources. This “back-to-basics” focus has impressed some, while leaving others confused.
What has been notably absent, in the opinion of many, is vision. That’s puzzled some longtime observers of Los Angeles politics. “I have no sense of what he is trying to do,” says political commentator Joe Mathews. “I don’t think there has been any vision or action toward a vision that I can ascertain.”
Garcetti believes that such criticisms miss the whole point of what he is doing. Far from playing “small ball,” as his critics assert, he believes he is engaged in the most wide-ranging and important of all enterprises. He says that by demonstrating that city government can handle its primary responsibilities effectively, he will be able to convince one of America’s most skeptical constituencies to trust government again.
The Los Angeles Times mirrored the article’s assertions, calling Garcetti’s agenda in his first year “low risk.” And other voices are much less pleased with Garcetti’s accomplishments and failure to address the big-picture problems outlined in the Los Angeles 2020 Commission. But the mayor has worked to push his small-ball approach forward. Bill Boyarsky noted DataLA, the Garcetti-engineered open-data website, has expanded its offering of data, allowing residents to make better judgments about the effectiveness of city services than ever before.
It is still early in Garcetti’s tenure and too soon to know whether his focus on performance management metrics will resonate with voters. But even with many skeptical observers, Garcetti maintains that improving how Los Angeles operates is more than small potatoes: “The basics is big ball these days,” he said in the Governing profile. “If they were so easy, they would have already gotten done.”