Success and Failure in the Villaraigosa Administration


This will be my last column on Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles. He’ll be leaving his office in a month, and since I’m 86 years old, it’s a cinch I won’t be writing about City government much longer. Thus, I regard this as an opportunity to write about under-reported aspects of the Mayor’s performance.

Like all his predecessors, Mayor Villaraigosa has been an imperfect leader. Some of his four million constituents have been greatly disappointed with his overall job performance; others say they’re quite pleased. But few can identify any specific successes, or any individual failures. That’s why a column like this one is needed.

If you were to ask the Mayor about his major accomplishments, he’d probably group them under several headings, including: Transportation, Job Creation, Public Safety, Education, and Environment. The next five paragraphs touch on these accomplishments. Then, a final paragraph discusses a huge failure.

The Mayor’s initial accomplishment related to transportation was getting a ½ cent tax increase approved. That measure is letting the City create a first-class public transit system, and pay for it over the next 30 years. It lets the City double its rail transportation network, build a new infrastructure at the Port of Los Angeles, and improve transportation at the Los Angeles Airport. It’s a real success.

To create private sector jobs in Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa worked with the City Council to establish a New Business Tax Holiday. That legislation encourages new start-up businesses in Los Angeles. The Mayor also signed an Auto Dealership Exemption ordinance to encourage auto dealerships to stay in — or to come back to — Los Angeles. By efforts such as these, Mayor Villaraigosa brought jobs to L.A.

Public safety has always been one of the Mayor’s main concerns. With this in mind, he’s added 800 new sworn positions to the LAPD, giving Los Angeles a police force of over 10,000 officers. Moreover, he created the Department of Gang Reduction and Youth Development as part of his office. And it’s working!

In Los Angeles, the Mayor has no legal authority over the public schools. Still, Mayor Villaraigosa worked to improve the education of children in some of the City’s poorest communities. He created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which serves 16,000 children in 22 schools. Also, he raised millions of dollars and helped elect a progressive majority to the Board of Education.

And with respect to the environment, the Mayor’s record is clear: he created a non-profit to plant trees all over the City. The goal was to plant a million trees, and 380,000 were actually planted. The Mayor launched a Fifty Parks initiative to build parks in neighborhoods that need them, and actually opened 650 acres of new parkland. And during the Mayor’s tenure, the Department of Water and Power quadrupled its use of renewable energy! It did that through the use of new solar, wind, and thermal energy sources!

Based on the accomplishments presented here, one would have to say Mayor Villaraigosa deserves the City’s THANKS! But the other side of this story — his failures — must also be told: And four million Angelenos can decide for themselves whether the Mayor’s failures hurt the City more than his achievements helped it.

I would say Mayor Villaraigosa’s most serious failure was that he participated in an illegal scheme to dismantle the City’s civil service system. Instead of following the Charter, he embraced a radical plan to let each department manage itself. For eight full years, he enforced that plan, and dismissed documented evidence of HR mismanagement — and of the waste which accompanies such mismanagement.

Hopefully, Mayor Villaraigosa’s failed approach to Human Resource Management will not be a model for the next Mayor of Los Angeles!

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