Opinion: Don't pack your suitcases just yet, Mayor Garcetti

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Kerry Cavanaugh
·3 min read
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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 19: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti holds his annual State of the City address from the Griffith Observatory Monday, April 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti holds his annual State of the City address from the Griffith Observatory on April 19. (Los Angeles Times)

For months now, the rumor mill has been churning out regular reports that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was going to quit his job and take a position in the Biden administration.

The latest one? According to Axios, President Biden is considering sending Garcetti to India as an ambassador. (To India now, when it's being consumed by COVID-19? Doesn't Biden like Garcetti?) The mayor is reportedly one of several people under consideration for that post.

It’s also possible he could be considered for other ambassadorships. There had been talk that Garcetti — the city’s first Mexican American Jewish Italian mayor — could be the ambassador to Mexico.

Garcetti’s aides aren’t commenting on any appointments, and the Axios report is speculative. So here’s a little more speculation:

There are certainly some Angelenos who’d happily chip in for the airfare to get Garcetti out of town, and pack his suitcases for him, too. But it would be a bad move for the mayor and the city.

Garcetti has a year and a half left in his five-year term, and so much unfinished business. To exit now, leaving an open seat and a political scrum to fill it, would just mire the city in limbo until next year’s election. There would be little progress on critical decisions that need to happen now, not 2022.

The city is facing an order from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to house or shelter all of skid row’s homeless residents in a matter of months. The judge also wants a full report on how Garcetti intends to spend $1 billion from his “justice budget” on homelessness, including the number of people to be housed and completion dates for housing.

Carter’s order was particularly critical of Garcetti, essentially saying the mayor was all talk and no action. It’s a fair criticism. Garcetti is great at making plans and launching initiatives, but he often fails to follow through or be the taskmaster needed to execute on the ideas. This is the moment to be that leader. With federal dollars and a judge breathing down the necks of elected officials, the city should have the money and the political will. It can turn underutilized city lots into housing. Get more hotel beds. Loosen land-use rules and expedite permitting so it’s easier to build affordable apartments across the city.

If Garcetti departs, where does that leave the city’s homeless strategy? To the City Council to figure out? Yikes. L.A. will end up with 15 different homeless czars, each with his or her own opinion on how much homeless housing is sufficient and when to start to clearing tent encampments.

And there are other big decisions on the horizon. The city has both a $1.3-billion windfall in federal pandemic aid and a longer-term deficit that will force hard choices about how the city should spend its money. There’s a healthy debate needed on the future of the police department and how to develop a corps of crisis counselors, mental health experts and other non-law enforcement teams to respond to nonviolent 911 calls.

There are also important decisions looming on housing policy, climate resiliency and how to support businesses and communities emerging from the pandemic. The choices made this year will set the course for L.A.’s future. Garcetti should relish the opportunity to burnish (or as some critics would put it, rescue) his legacy.

Garcetti told reporters in December that he turned down offers to serve in the Biden administration, saying his city needed him. Why would that change now? Besides, there will still be jobs in the Biden administration after November 2022.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.