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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Pumping Up the Political Muscle

The recent visits by Mayor Eric Garcetti and all the L.A. Councilmembers who serve the Valley might rack up there as a classic example of “be careful what you wish for” because it might come true. OK. So I’m exaggerating more than a little bit, but there is a point to be made. The Valley has long felt like the neglected stepchild of Los Angeles – though one could easily argue that South Los Angeles bears that title. Either way, there is little doubt the focus of city energies these days is on downtown, and, as always, the Westside, where most of the power base resides. But at this point, the campaign for Valley cityhood flamed out more than a decade ago, so Valley business leaders continue to try other methods to gain attention and services the area needs. The Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce laudably was able to attract all seven councilmembers whose districts either wholly or partially serve the area at what it called the first-ever State of the Valley. The Sept. 18 event, which by the way showed off the newly renovated Garland Hotel in North Hollywood, gave the councilmembers a forum to express their views on a wide variety of subjects important to business – from the mayor’s planned hike of the minimum wage to the permitting process and neighborhoods in need of assistance. (See OpEd by Nancy Hoffman Vanyek on the opposite page.) By all accounts, it was a friendly affair. It followed by a day the mayor’s visit to Warner Center, where the United Chambers of Commerce held its annual Mayor’s Luncheon and hundreds of business leaders greeted him with applause. The problem is, you couldn’t really blame them if by the end, they couldn’t manage to get down their lunches. While Garcetti said all the right things about improving permitting, educating youth for tomorrow’s jobs, where it really mattered there was no deal. The mayor reiterated his support of establishing a citywide minimum wage of $13.25 an hour, something fiercely opposed by business leaders on this and that side of the hill. What’s more, the next week all but two of the councilmembers who attended the Valley summit voted in support of the ordinance supported by the mayor that will raise the minimum wage of LA. hotels with more than 150 rooms to $15.37 an hour – despite fierce opposition from the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. Of course, it’s easy to see that the wage issues go far beyond the Valley, and that the mayor and councilmembers are responding to labor interests that are powerful in Los Angeles. And to be fair, labor nationwide has made increasing the minimum wage a core issue at a time when there is rising inequality in the country. Then again, the votes appear to demonstrate something else: even as many applaud Garcetti for his effort to improve the basic functions of City Hall, the core political dynamics in Los Angeles haven’t changed much, with labor still calling many of the shots. And if that’s so, what is the evidence that any other element of the dynamic has changed, including the power of downtown and Westside interests? It’s trite to say time will tell, but there are key issues coming up that will indeed determine how much political clout the Valley can muscle up these days. Perhaps the biggest is the effort to get billions, yes billions, of dollars to replace the barely adequate Orange Line bus way with a legitimate light rail system, as well as make other mass transit improvements, including a second north-south light rail line and a rail tunnel through the Santa Monica Mountains. Being realistic, the project that has the greatest shot of moving ahead is the Orange Line transformation, but even that won’t be easy. The construction of the Orange Line in its present form as a busway was a self-inflicted wound, brought on by Valley opponents of light rail who feared noise, congestion, whatever. So convincing county transit leaders that a line opened less than a decade should be replaced will be an uphill battle. But it certainly will be telling if the Valley can get the project funded. If not, let’s hope at least our potholes get filled. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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