A Time for Action: New Solutions?

by Jeremy Loudenback

Earlier this year, Los Angeles was stirred by the publication of a report that painted a dire portrait of the city’s woes, from congestion to economic stagnation and growing pension-fund troubles. Last week, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission followed its assessment of the city’s challenges with the “A Time for Action” report, an attempt to propose solutions for the problems facing Los Angeles.

Headed by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission focused its suggestions around several topic areas that corresponded with problems identified in January’s “A Time for Truth” report. In that report, the commission described the economic crisis facing the area, highlighting the fact that the Los Angeles metropolitan region has shown a net decline in jobs over the past 20 years, ranking with Cleveland and Detroit as the only cities to share that dubious distinction. Public education, congestion, chronic budget shortfalls, and poverty were also singled out as part of the city’s problems, causing the city to tread water “while the rest of the world is moving forward.”

With such a grim diagnosis of the city’s prospects, the release of a sequel with solutions to deal with many problems facing the city was eagerly anticipated. On tap? Fewer big picture ideas and more modest suggestions aimed at restoring the city’s luster. Among the recommendations:

  • The creation of an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability
  • A “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance to better understand the longer-term consequences of policies and legislation
  • A new utility rate commission to curtail political interference of the city council
  • Merging the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports
  • Increasing the minimum wage
  • Updated community plans to encourage smarter growth
  • Changing municipal elections to coincide with state and federal elections

But much like the earlier report, the “A Time for Action” report drew mostly skeptical and underwhelmed reactions. The Los Angeles Times wondered why boosting Hollywood jobs were left out of the report, the Los Angeles Business Journal would have liked to hear more discussion about reducing taxation on businesses, and officials from Long Beach were none too keen on the commission’s recommendation to merge the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The L.A. Weekly saw the whole exercise as misguided, with the commission’s recommendations largely supporting the interests of the institutions represented on the panel, including the Department of Water and Power, labor, and others.

And what did Mayor Eric Garcetti make of these ideas? Just a day after the new report was released, Garcetti addressed Los Angeles as part of his first State of the City speech, promising no new rate increases for water and power and touting his Great Streets program. Like the 2020 Commission report, Garcetti’s ideas for changing the city were mostly piecemeal, reflecting his back-to-basics approach. According to the new mayor, business taxes should be slashed to keep more jobs in the area, and bureaucratic barriers to setting up businesses here should be reduced. LAX should be linked by rail to a growing public-transit network, and more potholes paved over, as he promised during his election campaign. And as part of his plans to “change the culture” of City Hall, Garcetti pointed to a greater opportunities to conduct transactions with the city online, part of an effort to make city government more accountable.

Neither Garcetti nor the 2020 Commission proposed any concrete ideas to address pension reform, education, or the endemic effect of poverty across the city. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, innovative answers to these and other pressing questions must wait for another day.