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Why Los Angeles Activists Don’t Want Their Mayor In Biden’s Cabinet

Eric Garcetti, who may be considered for a position in the administration, is out of touch with the city’s working class and poor people, activists say. And they fear he’ll bring that sensibility to national politics.

Demonstrators in support of Black Lives Matter protest outside the residence of Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

In the midst of the coronavirus-driven recession, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti offered a $20 discount on parking citations—but be sure to read the fine print.

On Oct. 30, Garcetti tweeted, “We’re delivering assistance to Angelenos facing economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting Monday, with our new Early Pay LA program, @LADOTOfficial will offer a $20 discount on parking citations paid within 48 hours.”

Local progressive activists say Garcetti’s tweet revealed a broader disconnect with his constituents. “At a time when people can’t afford to pay their rent and haven’t been able to pay rent for months, Garcetti thinks offering a $20 [discount] on parking tickets would be helpful,” Ricci Sergienko, an organizer for People’s City Council and Sunrise Movement Los Angeles, told The Appeal in a text message. 

The mayor, he said, “has no clue what’s going on with working class and poor people in LA.”

Garcetti, who was co-chairperson of President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, is reportedly being considered for a position in the administration, possibly as transportation or housing secretary. For over a week, under the banner of “Block Garcetti,” Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles has been leading demonstrations outside of the mayor’s home to protest his potential appointment. 

“He failed Los Angeles,” Sergienko said in a phone interview with The Appeal. “We’re going to be out there every day to make sure he doesn’t get appointed to those positions.”

One of those failings, activists say, is his handling of the city’s homelessness crisis. In January, when the homeless count occurred, there were 41,290 unhoused people in Los Angeles, a 16.1 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. 

“It’s an eviction crisis, it’s a displacement crisis, it’s a criminalization crisis,” said Anne Orchier, an organizer with NOlympics LA and a member of the LA Tenants Union. Garcetti, she said, has made Los Angeles into a “playground for the rich.”

In 2018, Garcetti announced that the police could once again begin enforcing the city’s sit-lie ordinance, which ordered that “no person shall sit, lie or sleep in or upon any street, sidewalk or other public way.” At the time, the mayor told the Los Angeles Times that the law is “a tool that we have before us, that we can and will use.” 

As part of the 2007 settlement in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, the city agreed that, with few exceptions, police would stop enforcing the ordinance until 1,250 more units of permanent supportive housing were built for chronically homeless people. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the National Lawyers Guild had filed the suit in 2003 on behalf of several people without homes. In 2018, Garcetti said the city had met its obligation, so arrests could resume. (The Los Angeles ordinance is in flux because of a subsequent circuit court ruling that struck down a similar law in Boise, Idaho. The City Council is considering amending local policies.)

In a written statement to The Appeal, Garcetti’s office defended the mayor’s response to the pandemic and his record on homelessness and housing. 

“The Mayor is deeply concerned for Angelenos who are struggling during this devastating crisis, and he is focused on doing everything possible to help lift them up,” Alex Comisar, the mayor’s deputy communications director, said in the statement. “The City has put hundreds of millions of dollars toward homelessness and rental assistance programs since the onset of the pandemic, and the Mayor will always keep looking for more. 

“The Mayor has been clear that we absolutely need more funding from Washington to address the scale of this economic crisis, and he is advocating for that assistance aggressively.”

In response to the pandemic, the mayor’s office has initiated several programs, including free COVID-19 testing for all Los Angeles County residents. As of Nov. 20, the city had tested over 2.24 million people, according to the mayor’s office. At the start of the pandemic, the mayor also imposed a limited moratorium on evictions. “Residential tenants in the City of Los Angeles may not be evicted during the declared local emergency in the City of Los Angeles if the eviction is a ‘no-fault eviction’ and any member of the household is ill, in isolation, or under quarantine,” reads his March order. 

He also temporarily halted evictions for tenants who can show they are unable to pay rent because of circumstances related to the pandemic. Housing rights activists have criticized these types of moratoriums for placing the onus on the tenant, and have demanded a cancellation of rent and an across-the-board moratorium on evictions. 

The mayor’s office says progress has been made on the homelessness crisis, and that Garcetti has proposed record investments in permanent housing, shelters, and services. 

But advocates say criminalization of the homeless has taken precedence over housing and services. In 2016, the Los Angeles Police Department made 14,000 arrests of unhoused residents, a 31 percent increase from five years earlier, even though arrests overall decreased, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times. Two-thirds of those arrested were Black or Latinx, according to the Times. 

“We don’t want [a HUD secretary] who sees police as a viable response to homelessness,” said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.

The mayor has also been widely criticized for criminalizing protest, including the most recent demonstrations in front of his home. Police have threatened to arrest protesters for using bullhorns and banging on pots and pans, according to Abdullah. 

“We’ve been met with a militarized police presence every single day in front of his house,” Sergienko said. “Police in riot gear show up.”

And while Garcetti condemned the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officers, activists say he emboldened his own police department to brutalize protesters. 

“Eric Garcetti is willing to point to what’s happening in Minneapolis and what’s happening in Louisville, but not look at Los Angeles,” Abdullah said. 

On June 2, he took a knee with demonstrators outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, the Associated Press reported. “I hear you,” he said. “I hear what you are saying about the police.” That same day, the mayor reinstituted a curfew, and just days earlier he had called in the National Guard. During the demonstrations, the police beat protesters and shot projectiles at them. Between May 29 and June 2, police arrested more than 2,500 people, the Los Angeles Times reported

In the spring, more than 20 local groups and over a dozen City Council members sent a letter to Garcetti condemning his response to the protests. “Under your leadership, the city chose to further escalate tension and police violence by allowing officers to tear gas and beat grieving but peaceful demonstrators, calling in the National Guard and enacting citywide curfews with little warning and leaving hard-working Angelenos stranded,” they wrote. The signatories also called for a reduction in the police budget by at least $250 million.

In April, Garcetti had proposed raising the LAPD’s budget to $3.15 billion, which would constitute more than half of the city’s unrestricted general fund. In response to public pressure, he advocated for $150 million in cuts to the department’s budget, which was still significantly less than what activists had demanded. 

“Garcetti has been absolutely terrible for the city of Los Angeles and we don’t want his policies to become national policies,” Abdullah said. “We don’t want Garcetti failing up.”