Mayor Eric Garcetti’s record in Los Angeles should disqualify him from a political future.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been schmoozing with President-Elect Joe Biden so long, it’s not surprising that his name has been floated for a cabinet position. The two departments most frequently mentioned in these conversations are the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Either of these positions would be disastrous, given Garcetti’s record in Los Angeles. A subsequent article will cover the reasons he would be ruinous spearheading the USDOT, but this article will focus on why Garcetti would be destructive as the head of HUD.
As Yashar Ali recently reported, Garcetti consistently enabled Rick Jacobs, one of his top advisers, to sexually harass and assault their coworkers and peers in the City office. This disquieting news should, on its own, disqualify Garcetti from being appointed to higher office.
It’s telling that Ali, often viewed as an establishment liberal, broke the news on this sexual misconduct. In the article, Ali explicitly says of the high level officials interviewed over three months, “None of [them were] willing to speak on the record, either because they fear reprisal from Garcetti” and others. Yet, he does mention his own negative experiences with Jacobs — a powerful implication to how bad the situation truly is. It’s important that he came out now, and an important reminder that we cannot tolerate sexual predators terrorizing powerful political circles.
However, beyond being complicit in sexual assault, the Mayor’s record on housing is also, at best, a study in negligence and incompetence. Garcetti is the antithesis of a good candidate to advise the President on sustainable housing strategies, and represents many of the issues with the neoliberal approach to housing and development.
While Dr. Ben Carson is also not a qualified leader for HUD, and the Department’s 2018–2022 Strategic Plan is itself woefully inadequate, it provides a framework to examine Garcetti’s record. Even against Dr. Carson’s staggeringly low bar, Garcetti would still be a terrible HUD nominee.
The Carson plan lists three overarching goals for the department, with several objectives under each one. We will examine some of these main goals — with their associated sub-goals — and explain why Mayor Eric Garcetti is not only woefully under-qualified, but would also be actively harmful in this position.
Goal 1: Advance Economic Opportunity
Supporting fair, sustainable homeownership and financial viability
With absolutely no move to protect homeowners during the coronavirus pandemic, let alone any move to enforce renter protections, Garcetti does not support homeownership that is fair or sustainable. Additionally, his push to host the 2028 Olympics in LA will likely severely disrupt homeownership rates among many Black and Brown Angelenos by increasing displacement, gentrification, and housing insecurity, among other things.
This point is where Garcetti has the worst record. Under Garcetti’s “leadership,” the number of unhoused residents has increased by 80% since he took office. With 41,290 unhoused people in the City of Los Angeles (and growing), the Mayor has, for the better part of a decade, alternatively ignored and harassed unhoused residents. Even though the sweeps of unhoused encampments conducted by the City of Los Angeles have been ruled unconstitutional, Garcetti has allowed them to continue during the pandemic. Even when Governor Gavin Newsom stepped in with Project Roomkey to turn hotel rooms into emergency housing, Garcetti (along with county leadership) barely fulfilled a third of their promise to provide shelter to 15,000 Angelenos.
Some might call that a lack of empathy, but how can we truly know the heart of a man who once compared LA residents to horse shit he had to clean up?
Removing Lead-Based Paint Hazards and Other Health Risks from Homes
The City of Los Angeles has received $445,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically for lead prevention (in LA County, around 2,000 children are diagnosed with unsafe levels of lead in their blood every year).
However, there hasn’t been a concerted effort to conduct the program, even though they’ve allowed some K-12 schools to reopen (in the middle of a pandemic) for students taking English as a second language, and those who need assessments or require specialized in-school services. Those children should not be exposed to lead or COVID-19, but Garcetti is allowing both. Through Garcetti’s inaction, children are being hurt and could die.
Enhancing Rental Assistance
Garcetti has made it more difficult to live in Los Angeles as a renter during his tenure. He has had every opportunity to step up and create meaningful tenant protections and squandered them all. For example, he could have enforced a right to counsel if a tenant is being evicted. Even Measure HHH, which provided a $1.2B bond for 10,000 homeless housing units, could have been an easy way for Garcetti to succeed at housing and protecting people. Yet, only 118 supportive housing projects have been built, with a hypothetical 5,873 expected supportive housing units, practically half the original goal — and all of the bond money is already allocated. With COVID-19 exacerbating the number of evictions facing impacted Angelenos, and with the number of unhoused residents growing accordingly, Garcetti has repeatedly chosen to ignore the issue and shift blame, rather than attempt any sort of meaningful action.
Reducing Barriers to Affordable Housing;
Garcetti often says that he supports affordable housing. However, he very rarely puts pressure on specific councilmembers or other land use officials to actually build it. And while Los Angeles has a strong-council, weak-mayor system (something Garcetti loves to bring up when asked about inaction on essentially any issue), the Mayor of Los Angeles does exert influence over the city he governs.
For instance, his office has, despite regular pressure from activists, refused to explore the use of eminent domain in converting existing property, including vacant residential units, hotels, and commercial buildings, to affordable, public housing. This refusal signals to others in the city government that affordable housing is not a priority of the administration.
Supporting Effectiveness and Accountability in Long-Term Disaster Recovery;
COVID-19 is a disaster on an incalculable scale, and by all measures, Garcetti has failed to protect Los Angeles from its fallout. His failure in housing residents during two public health crises: record heat waves and a pandemic, should be disqualifying. He refuses to open an adequate amount of cooling shelters and public restrooms. When cooling centers are few and far in between, as they are in Los Angeles — with one study estimating only 3% of households can access cooling centers in LA — and COVID-19 ensuring even fewer open places with A/C , people make life-endangering decisions. By September, the number of unhoused residents who died this year was over 960, with 19 people experiencing homelessness dying over Labor Day weekend alone.
Garcetti also shut down COVID-19 testing centers when county numbers were continuously rising, some say as a punitive measure against protesters. He then proceeded to send in the National Guard. As public health experts have noted, police tactics exacerbate the spread of disease and COVID-19 on various levels. Every choice Garcetti has made during this public health disaster endangered the public more than the last.
Garcetti has also been largely absent from Los Angeles for the duration of the pandemic, mainly campaigning for Biden. To be fair, when he’s here, it’s worse, as when he recklessly re-opened businesses in May — directly leading to the unnecessary deaths of many more Angelenos. Now with LA County reporting over 353,000 COVID-19 cases, with up to 15% of those cases being caused by people dining in restaurants and bars, we can definitively say Garcetti’s plans have been disastrous.
Fostering local economic development, neighborhood economic improvement, and individual self-sufficiency.
For self-sufficiency, neighborhoods need to have access to resources, and the residents themselves need to trust each other and help each other. Garcetti has made community solidarity impossible by over-policing neighborhoods and ignoring residents’ needs. He has bred distrust. As he has increased the LAPD budget consistently, he has routinely divested from these communities and made it impossible for residents to access adequate resources and improve their material conditions.
Bolstering Growth in Opportunity Zones (which facilitate investment in distressed communities to allow low-income areas to tap into the gains of a prospering economy.)
Garcetti routinely prioritizes wealthy communities, and displaces people in low-income areas to make room for more wealthy people — and stadiums. Although he does support economic growth, Garcetti’s patronage is limited to wealthy developers and business interests. Roughly 54% of homes in the LA metro area occupied by renters and 14.2% of Angelenos have an income below the poverty line — a measure which itself far underestimates those who are truly struggling.
Garcetti also supports Opportunity Zones — but therein lies the trap of this strategic plan. Opportunity Zones supposedly incentivize investment into low-income communities. Instead, they are an effective way for people to delay paying taxes for years while creating luxury developments. Most investors in Opportunity Zones have ties to the 45th President, and they stand to reap billions in untaxed profits.
Goal 2. Protect Taxpayer Funds
Strong stewardship of Federal resources by streamlining and improving its financial management.
Garcetti and the city used public funds to pay hotels during COVID to house the unhoused, then refused to follow through in housing people. Since 2005, LA City Council has granted around $1 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to eight hotel developers in Downtown LA. And beyond the hotels themselves declining to participate in Project Roomkey — 16 of which are publicly-supported — Garcetti himself has categorically refused to compel nicer hotels to be used for housing people in need.
Meanwhile, several thousand people continue to live outside during life-threatening temperatures, fires, and a deadly pandemic. Among the $100 million granted by the state in COVID-19 Emergency Homelessness Funding, $10.5 million was granted to LA County. In early September, 4,100 rooms were filled out of 15,000 promised by Garcetti, one example of a gross mismanagement of public funds. Investing in displacement and policing despite massive public will against both is another way he has mismanaged our resources.
Goal 3. Streamline Operations
Gaining access to Mayor Garcetti has become increasingly impossible over his tenure if you are not excessively wealthy. While one could argue this is a “streamlining of operations,” it’s also a guaranteed method of shutting out the voices of the most marginalized constituents. Meanwhile, if you are rich — say, like Casey Wasserman (the billionaire in charge of the LA 2028 Olympic bid, and Jeffrey Epstein affiliate) — fraternizing with the Mayor is easy. In turn, you can use that proximity to power to accrue still more influence on public policy. We have seen far too many billionaires buy their way into influential political circles in the past four years. Biden’s election is an indictment of that practice. One would think Biden would be wary of bringing up the specters of cronyism in his cabinet appointments.
This is a way Garcetti has complicated the operations of the city government, supposedly his operations. If he cannot streamline his job, then he cannot be trusted to streamline any “operations” the HUD position would throw at him.
Given Biden’s noted lack of support on progressive issues, his association with Garcetti is not exactly surprising, and we’ve seen this pattern play out elsewhere. Similar to appointing former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as head of the EPA, or Theranos investor and private education lobbyist Betsy Devos as the Secretary of Education, Garcetti’s potential HUD appointment is not only contrary to the interest of Housing and Urban Development, it will also lead to the destruction of any meaningful protections of affordable housing, as well as tenants’ and unhoused people’s rights. He is the antithesis of the right choice.
And again, it’s critical to underscore that Biden, a man with credible sexual assualt allegations made against him, is considering appointing to his cabinet a Mayor embroiled in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal.
We reject Mayor Eric Garcetti as an appointee to the Housing and Urban Development position with the Biden-Harris administration, or any future public office.