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The LAist Interview: Councilmember Eric Garcetti

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01. Age and Occupation:

33, City Councilmember

02. What area of Los Angeles did you grow up in, and what neighborhood do you now call home?

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Straight outta Encino (from age 1-17), but I now live in Echo Park, home of the city's first Jewish cemetery, first oil discovery, and newest library.

03. You’ve lived in other major cities such as New York and London. What brought you back to Los Angeles, and what motivates you to stay?

I'm a fourth-generation Angeleno. I grew up in the Valley, my parents in South L.A. and West L.A., my grandparents in East L.A., so this city is in my blood. I really never considered settling down anywhere else. No city in the world has what L.A. has—our diversity, our growth, our fame, our weather, and the lack (generally) of any attitude. It's a city of great wealth and huge problems, but it feels like we are unafraid to do things differently here. This will always be home for me.

Besides, where else am I gonna find a kosher burrito?

The interview continues after the jump!

04. In addition to the extremely difficult city budget cuts, which issues so far have proven to be among the most challenging during the time you’ve served as District 13 Councilmember?

The toughest two experiences I have dealt with personally were thirteen back-to-back homicides in the Chevy Chase area of north Atwater Village in 2001 and comforting the husband of a woman who died saving their two kids during the Palomar Hotel fire. Rebuilding the north Atwater Village community—getting people engaged in their neighborhood, making it safe, making it clean, reinstilling pride—took months and months, but we were able to do it and to help turn that neighborhood around. We worked closely with the man who lost his wife to help rebuild his life and his children's lives as well and he stops by the office every so often and still calls me on holidays. It's very humbling when people entrust you with the most intimate and often-heartwrenching moments of their lives, but it makes you see and feel this city in an immediate and daily way. In broader terms, dealing with the crisis of affordable housing in our city is probably the biggest challenge I have faced.

05. Please share some the best things about your district, other than the fact that you’re very close to Downtown and therefore have one of the most desirable commutes of all the Councilmembers.

It’s true—I am spoiled by my commute.

Some of the best things about my district are:
* Over 100 languages are spoken in the district
* The first full-length movie ever filmed was shot at Sunset and Vine
* Thai Elvis
* Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple
* The lotuses in Echo Park Lake (the largest collection outside of China)
* Park Drive is the most beautiful street to live on in L.A.
* The Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood is the largest GLBT organization in the country
* The music scene and art scene is strong, edgy, and unpredictable
* The Anahuak Soccer League has more kids playing soccer than any other league in the city
* The first wi-fi park in the City is a former city street next to the historic Bimini Baths Hot Springs behind the Vons on 3rd and Vermont
* Thai Town, Little Armenia, and Historic Filipinotown

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06. Your pre-Council career was spent mostly in academia, so you’re uniquely qualified to discuss the complex question of theory vs. practice. How might political practice best inform academic policy studies, and vice versa? Can academia have an impact, or do you find the Ivory Tower myth/stereotype to be largely true? To better illustrate this issue can you point to any "best practice" examples of effective collaborations between higher education institutions and grass roots community development efforts?

I think that the two can and must interact but oftentimes don’t do so enough in local politics. I have had great interactions with academia since I have been in office around pressing issues from Big-Box development, affordable housing, business tax reduction, city "branding", and environmental issues. I have relied on studies from professors and students at UCLA, USC, and Occidental College, among others. For instance, a graduate class at USC helped us understand cities like New York that have raised money for park and recreation and other city programs through corporate sponsorship to assess whether or not Los Angeles wants to do something similar in tough budget times. The Progressive Los Angeles Network’s 21-Point Agenda, drawn up by academics and practioners together (and led by my partner, Amy Elaine Wakeland), has been one of the single-most important documents to me while in office.

07. Enough of the wonky macro questions. What are some of your favorite places to eat in CD 13?

Off-the-beaten track: Tigeorges’ Chicken, Spain, El Caserio, Baracoa, Café Coco

More familiar: India Sweets and Spices, Alegria, Maroush, Zankou Chicken, Skooby’s Hotdogs, Picholine, Gingergrass, Rambutan Thai, Netty’s

Splurges: Twist, Ammo, Shibucho, Tantra

08. What's your preferred mode of transport?

Electric car.

09. How often do you ride public transportation?

I try to ride public transportation at least once a week.

10. What's your favorite movie or TV show that's based in LA?

It was "Boomtown," though Valley Girl is a close second.

11. Favorite LA-themed book?

Stories, TC Boyle (partially LA-themed).

12. What's the best place to walk in LA?

Down Hollywood Boulevard.

13. It's 9:30 PM on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?

I am home from a meeting with Chief Bratton and Sheriff Baca about Measure A (this fall’s initiative to add some 3,000 more police officers to LA) and hosting a couple dozen friends at the house for a drinks party to introduce them to Marjorie Decker, Vice-Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

14. If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

Twenty years from now.

15. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA,
where/which would you choose?

Chemosphere House or the Paramour (see below).

16. What is the city's greatest secret?

The Paramour in Silver Lake. A 20,000+ square-foot mansion, it is the most stunningly situated home in Los Angeles, and has a history stretching back more than eighty years. Now a private home that is used for weddings, filming, and other events, its history includes silent film star Antonio Moreno and his wife oil heiress Daisy Canfield-Danziger (said to haunt the place), wayward girls and nuns in a convent, and much, much more. Perched atop the highest hill in Silver Lake, there are 360-degreee views of the entire city.

17. Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

True, true. What we are working on in Hollywood is a new shuttle bus service that the city will run along Hollywood Boulevard to allow club hoppers to park their cars for the evening at a city lot (or take the Red Line into Hollywood) and which will act like a limousine service along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards between Vine and La Brea so that people can drink safely.

18. Describe your best LA dining experience.

For atmosphere: Valentine’s Day 2003 on a dining bed in the back room at the Pig and Whistle with my partner Amy.

For food: I am currently obsessed with the Bahn Mi roasted pork sandwiches at Gingergrass on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake. I think I have had about five in the last couple weeks. They are so good it is difficult to think of a better dining experience, or quite frankly, to finish this interview.

19. Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and/or long winters?

Earthquakes. They’re quick and you have no advance warning. Hurricanes and cold winters are pretty miserable in comparison and cause much more damage year-to-year.

20. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

Emergency Operations Center, 5 floors below City Hall East. Failing that, at Jack Nicholson’s house up on Mullholland.