LA Mayor Garcetti’s legacy as LA’s first “high-tech mayor”?

When the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, took office, he pledged to be the city’s first “high-tech mayor”, but President Joe Biden’s choice for the next ambassador to India has t he kept his promises?

Biden officially named Garcetti as his choice for ambassador last week, after months of speculation. If confirmed by the Senate, the mayor who oversaw a growing homelessness crisis and drew the Olympics to Los Angeles will shorten his term ending in December 2022.

Paul Bricault, co-founder and chief executive of venture capital firm Amplify.LA, said Garcetti was the city’s most engaged mayor on tech in at least the past 25 years.

“He has frequently used his bully chair to promote LA as a technology hub and he has made himself widely available to spark interest in LA technology,” said Bricault, who sits on the board of LA. technological innovation from Garcetti.

But has that engagement produced results, or was Los Angeles ripe for a tech industry explosion on its own?

Bricault said it was nearly impossible to measure, but said the mayor’s proselytizing towards the technology had helped.

Elected in 2013, Garcetti took the helm before designer houses emerged in the Hollywood Hills and the Uber-fueled concert economy upended the state. Once confined to “Silicon Beach,” the tech industry exploded across the region during his tenure.

Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Netflix have opened offices in Los Angeles in addition to local giants like SpaceX and Snap Inc.

Garcetti called it a “once in a lifetime” for this tech capital of the world. In some ways, it’s true that the forces that shaped Los Angeles during his tenure also reshaped the world.

And he didn’t hesitate to inject himself into the industry and push for public-private partnerships such as Urban Movement Lab, a transportation accelerator that has encouraged the development of delivery robots. Amid a fury in Hollywood over the lack of diversity, he created “LA Collab” with Eva Longoria last year to lobby for more Latinos in the industry.

But part of the trip was a lot like those electric scooters that dot the street corners from Venice to Eagle Rock – loved by many, but questioned by others who have seen Garcetti’s grand vision spiral out of control at times.

At times Garcetti has faced backlash from residents who are not ready for some of the innovations he has enacted, and city council has been forced to respond to disgruntled voters by passing regulations to curb these technologies.

Photo by David Vives on Unsplash

And civic issues that plagued Garcetti’s tenure, such as homelessness and housing affordability crises, have kept the tech industry from thriving, observers say.

“The only failure I would say political leaders have made in Los Angeles is really to create a really affordable city to make sure you have talent that wants to move here and really thrive,” Taj Eldridge said. , who led the investments at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and has now started his own venture capital fund. “We should have learned from what is happening in San Francisco with a lot of travel not only of employees, but also of employee support staff.”

Top talented UCLA and USC graduates might rethink their plans to stay and work by the beach in sunny Los Angeles, as the visibility of roaming has increased beyond Skid Row these past years, Eldridge said. And many of these tech companies and venture capital funds are drawn to LA because of the region’s elite universities, not necessarily because of what the mayor has done, he said.

Garcetti has championed private efforts like LA Tech Talent Pipeline, which brings together the public and private sectors to expand training and employment opportunities for future tech workers, as well as PledgeLA, an effort to encourage diversity in the technology industry.

Open data, scooters and the shared economy

Less than a year after Garcetti took office, he appointed the city’s first head of innovation technology to implement “new tools and technologies” within city hall and also to work with the city’s technological leaders to “deploy innovative technology and promote local job creation. “

A self-proclaimed “hobbyist coder,” Garcetti said he would release data such as city employee payroll records to make city hall bureaucracy more transparent. But its data manager, Abhi Nemani, left a year after the city launched its open data portal in 2014. Garcetti’s office boasted of including more than 100 datasets, and although the cache data has increased, some of it is outdated or incomplete.

Worse yet, said Dana Chinn, a senior lecturer at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the datasets weren’t useful.

“It was as if the datasets chosen to be on the portal were the most user-friendly as opposed to the ones we really needed to tackle social issues,” said Chinn, who researched them. open data in Los Angeles County. . “No one was paying attention to the quality of the data, whether or not we were getting the datasets we really needed.”

And she said Los Angeles is struggling to engage the tech community in the way New York has been able to.

Garcetti encountered similar problems when he adopted electric scooters. Critics decried the city for its myopia.

At first, zippy scooters were praised, but soon they flooded the city streets largely focused on the Westside. Residents complained that wheeled vehicle users were accelerating, colliding with pedestrians, or parked in front of gates or in the middle of sidewalks.

It took months to develop regulations as residents’ frustration increased.

Garcetti said that “people loved” the scooters, but acknowledged the safety concerns.

Garcetti faced an even more critical hurdle in the sharing economy.

Before short-term rentals were legalized, the Garcetti administration negotiated an agreement for landlords who rented their residences on platforms like Airbnb to pay a 14% tourist tax to the city. It was estimated that in 2017, rentals would generate $ 37 million per year.

But outrage ensued in many residential areas as short-term rentals proliferated.

And after three years of debate, city council members heeded the calls from those voters and approved bylaws limiting hosts from renting their homes to 120 days a year. Under pressure, Garcetti ultimately backed the new rules, even though Airbnb said the city would lose millions of dollars.

Play in Nice

Garcetti’s optimism about technology sometimes conflicted with the conciliatory tone the mayor often took.

“Sometimes he was willing to say, ‘Okay be mad at me,’ like Airbnb, and sometimes there were times it seemed like he didn’t want to make the tough calls,” Jessica Levinson said. , professor at Loyola Law School.

The Airbnb battle is an example of how LA’s weak mayor system hampered Garcetti’s power and forced him to lean on the pulpit of bullies, she said. It has attracted businesses with promises, but in the end, it was city council that made rules and regulations that could undermine those relationships.

Judith Goldman, co-founder of Keep Neighborhoods First, which is part of a larger coalition working to monitor the city’s housing sharing ordinance enforcement, accused Garcetti of working behind the scenes to lure Airbnbs and others in Los Angeles to generate tourism dollars.

“I think he encouraged him and I think he was hypocritical because he knew we were trying to regulate him and he obstructed the regulations and he obstructed the enforcement,” a- she declared.

Green initiatives

Garcetti, who co-founded Climate Mayors, promoted himself as steward of the environment. Shortly after taking office, he appointed Matt Petersen to a new role of Director of Sustainability.

And in 2019, he introduced a “Green New Deal” that would make the city’s power supply 100% renewable by 2050. But it has been criticized by activists who said it was not going far enough. .

A year later, he updated the plan to speed up the city’s goals.

With LA’s legendary traffic and pollution generated by gasoline-powered vehicles, Garcetti looked for ways to reduce emissions.

The city made history last year by purchasing 155 electric buses last year, making it the largest electric bus order in the United States and Garcetti has pledged to return the bus fleet to LA completely emission-free in time for the 2028 Olympics.

“Mayor Garcetti has really prioritized inviting the world to deploy his innovations in Los Angeles and I think he has lived up to that,” said Petersen, who now heads LACI.

Last year, Garcetti announced the formation of a new Transportation Technology Innovation Zone, under the auspices of the Urban Movement Lab, at the Warner Center in the West San Fernando Valley. Described as a proving ground for new mobility technologies, it helps develop robots and drones that will deliver food and other goods throughout the region.

But already, there are questions about the technology taking jobs from people and what it will mean for robots to flood communities.

Still Valley Industry Commerce Association president Stuart Waldman gives Garcetti credit for making technology a problem.

“I can think of a lot of failures, but not in the context of the tech industry,” he said. “When the bar is so low because of previous administrations, doing anything would be considered a move and it has been quite successful.”

Rachel Uranga and Francesca Billington contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to correct Taj Eldridge’s former role at LACI.

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