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We Talked To Mayor Garcetti About Street Trash, Running For President, And Where He's Been

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on July 20, 2018. (Signe Larsen/LAist/KPCC)
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Mayor Garcetti was in our house today. We had an hour to ask him any questions we wanted -- on the record -- including questions from our readers. We asked people on Twitter and Instagram whatanswerstheywanted from the mayor. Here's what he said.

Answers have been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

You've been out of California a large portion of your time as you explore a presidential bid. What do L.A. residents get out of that travel, and what city business is not being attended to while you are out of state? Will you be releasing travel and security cost information as requested by the Los Angeles Times? (Question from LAist/KPCC reporter Mary Plummer, and @calwatch on Twitter)

I would kind of reject the premise that I'm out of state because of exploring a presidential bid. I've been out of state for five years to places like Washington to make sure we get our subway funded. To go, obviously in-state, but to go to Sacramento to make sure our priorities are met on homelessness. And around the world to do things like winning the Olympics or to make sure that we have tourism records, trade records, that are producing jobs here locally--that's a really necessary part of the job.

I occasionally do political trips. I've done that for five years, whether it was on behalf of presidential candidates or others, but, really, it's a very, very small part of the job. But when I do, I make sure that I cover my own costs on that outside of taxpayer dollars.

[On releasing travel and security costs,] I deferred to Los Angeles Police Department, who is in charge of my and my family's security, as they have for every mayor before me and now. That is something that I defer to them, and it is their policy not to.

How many calendar days have you actually spent in L.A. this year? Are you running for president? (Questions from @FarmAndHammer on Twitter and @the.real.dr.phil on Instagram)
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I'm not running for president. I've spent an overwhelming majority of the days here. And very few days were either personal or political, most of my travel days are always business for the city of Los Angeles.

And when I'm here I usually work Saturdays and Sundays. And often I'm working Saturdays and Sundays when I'm travelling on behalf of city business.

Why did you leave town during a record heat wave? Do you think mayors should be available to their constituents in emergencies? (Question from @samhellohi on Twitter)
Absolutely. And I was talking to constituents while I was there, neighbors even. I left town for my first family vacation with my wife and my daughter in a year. And I think it's important to take a couple days off.

But I should say one thing on the heat wave. There were a couple things that I think we learned and that I was dissatisfied with. One is, while we had amazing workers that were out there, sometimes in 150 degree temperatures -- I inherited two decades of a grid that had not been invested in.

And we've been, very heavily, $2.3 billion in the last two years for instance, investing and upgrading that. This was a weird heatwave. Five to one, the outages were on the westside of Los Angeles, where we have usually more underground and more secure [equipment], but when they go, much more expensive, slower, and hard to find the outages.

So I've asked the department to do two things. One, is this a new normal? Should we be looking at equipment that's more rated for the desert and other places, not just for the city of L.A. that we've used traditionally?

And two, can we launch a portal that can give people better realtime information about how long -- and these are always guesstimates -- but how long it's going to be?

That's said, 20-30% lower outages in this past year than the year before. So the investments are beginning to pay off, but if your power's out, I am sorry, and loud and clear, we hear what people went through.

With over 100 California cities banning styrofoam, why hasn't the city of L.A.? (Question from @letitbeamg on Instagram)
We are looking at it -- banning styrofoam, straws. I think we absolutely should. One hundred percent full support today from me, and I hope the city council moves that as swiftly as possible. We're reaching a crisis with waste, even [with] our own recycling efforts.

Our reporting found thousands of beds are going unused in homeless shelters every night, but your plans call for more shelter beds and temporary housing. How will you ensure those beds are actually used? (Question from LAist/KPCC reporter Rina Palta, and @sheltershock on Twitter)
Los Angeles city doesn't run almost any of those shelters. We now are getting into that business because I was so frustrated with how bad those shelters are. And the county recognizes this, as well as the Homeless Services Authority.

Today, you've got shelters that essentially are just overnight beds, oftentimes with very little service, no storage, strict rules so you can't bring a partner or a pet, they might kick you out at 7 a.m., and they're usually across town. They're rarely in the neighborhood where you are living, even if you are living on the street or someplace else. We needed a new model, and that's what A Bridge Home, the city's initiative, is all about.

First of all, they need to be serving people in the neighborhood, so that somebody will trust that they can go to it. Most people are homeless in a neighborhood that they know, and where they have lived, and usually been housed, and oftentimes grew up.

Second, they need to be 24 hours. That doesn't mean 24 hour stop-in shelters. That means where you can live for 24 hours and stay for a period of weeks or even months to get your life back on track.

Third, they need to have counseling and services, which many shelters don't anymore. They weren't given the funds, in fairness, to do that. We have a commitment from the county to bring in mental health professionals, anti-addiction specialists, social workers, people with lived experience who have been out on the street, domestic violence counselors, all the things that we're going to need.

Fourth, they need to have a place where you can have food, where you can have common spaces, where you can take a shower, where you can do laundry. And so, these are a very different model, so all the faults of the old shelter model should be in the dustbin of the past if we do this work right.

A lot of shelters do fit these criteria, but still aren't even close to filling their beds. How do you solve this issue?
We haven't had a very high level of expertise in the people that are working. We haven't had standards, we haven't had oversight. The voters gave us money from Measure H, and have hired and are hiring what will be 1,000 new professionals to do outreach teams, to do mental health care, anti-addiction programs, etc. And I want make sure they're effective.

I've gone out with a lot of outreach teams, and really well-intentioned people were given metrics of like "How many people did you talk to?" That's what we measure success by. How many toothbrushes you hand out and conversations you had. I don't care about that, I care about how many people you moved out of homelessness and into housing. And so there is a new level, I believe, of training.

What will you do to not just add lines to our public transit system, but foster all the other conditions that encourage commuters to actually get out of their cars and take the Metro?" (Question from @steamyporkbuns on Twitter)
As the chair of Metro this past year, [I launched] the first kind of customer service committee, led by Mike Bonin, and for the first time we're looking at the actual experience of riding transit, the connectors to and from transit. And looking what we can do to expand the network of those lanes that are given to transit.

For instance, the Vermont line is essentially going to be taking part of Vermont and giving that to what will probably be buses, just like we have with the Orange Line, or to some limited extent on Wilshire, with the 721 rapid lines as well.

We're looking at all-door boarding -- we launched that for the first time on Vermont, soon we'll be doing that on Wilshire -- to have faster boarding, saving people time on their commute and on getting on and off the bus. We're also looking at new modes of transit: micro-transit. Which is something between an Uber and Lyft and a full bus, that can help us really move people better. And we're doing the first full-scale re-analysis of all of our buslines in the last 40 years. Houston did this recently, made it more effective, efficient, faster, and L.A. simply hadn't done it.

There's all sorts of other conditions I could go into, from the technology we're bringing it, to the electrification of buses. And making sure, too, that we build housing near transit. We recently enacted the boldest in the state -- maybe in the country -- transit-oriented communities program, which is essentially allowing, along those main stops of transit, the upzoning of adding density. So we don't want to build these lines and push people away. The conditions of people riding is that it's right there.

That's where we should add density. And already in the first few months of this, 5,500 units have come to the city to be approved. And this is the kicker: because we mandated affordable housing, 800+ of those units are affordable housing, of which 36 percent are extremely low-income units that nobody builds at all anymore. And that is going to be very important to help stop homelessness, to break the back of this rent crisis, and to reduce traffic.

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Street trash seems to have increased in the past year. Any plans for abatement? (Question from @completisttraveler on Instagram)
Yes. Street trash is a passion of mine. Not causing it, but solving it.

And we actually have an entire website set up. We're the first city in the country where we go on every single block on every street in every neighborhood, and if you Google "Clean Streets L.A.," [it] will give you the rating on your own street. We have more than doubled, and this coming year we'll triple, the amount of strike teams that go out there.

Before it was just wherever the calls were coming. Now we know where the trash is, and we're going there over and over again. And a lot of the trash that you may be speaking about too comes from our homeless crisis, which is around encampments. And so we're actually engaging people who live in those encampments for the first time, Caltrans and others, to make sure that we can, while we're helping them get out of homelessness, in the meantime clean up those streets. So, go to "Clean Streets L.A."

Last year, actually, we got rid of all three streets which were the ones that were completely trashed, and now they're ranked 2 or 1. My goal is for everybody to have a 1, that means a clean street in Los Angeles, and we finally have put resources behind that.

Why are you accepting Trump's federal Countering Violent Extremism grant? Some opponents say you're asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars to racially profile and spy on Muslim youth. (Question from @JoshuaSmith1983 on Twitter)
I'm fundamentally opposed to [the idea of spying on Muslim youth] and absolutely agree, we would never use money to do that. [W]e are going after everything from right-wing extremists and anti-Semitism. I'll take that money and we will use it to reflect our values, not mandated by anybody else. And that's important, we have that independence, we will spend that independently, and we will use it to resist.