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Los Angeles Considers Its Priorities As The Seat For Mayor Opens Ahead Of Schedule

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, may soon trade one metropolis for another - New Delhi. President Biden has nominated him to be ambassador to India. And if confirmed, Garcetti would depart office more than a year ahead of schedule. KPCC's Libby Denkmann reports on the mayor's unfinished business here.

LIBBY DENKMANN, BYLINE: Homelessness - that's issue No. 1. The population of unhoused people in Los Angeles has escalated to record numbers under Mayor Garcetti's watch. Nathaly Medina is an attorney with the Eviction Defense Network. She's just come out of the Stanley Mosk Superior Courthouse in downtown LA.

NATHALY MEDINA: This is one of the first days of trial. We haven't called the jury yet.

DENKMANN: She says in the face of pandemic-era holds on federal, state and local evictions for non-payment of rent, landlords got creative. Harassment cases and illegal lockouts have multiplied.

MEDINA: Oh, a lot of cases having to do with parking, right? They take away a parking spot, and then the tenant parks in the parking spot, and so they're violating their lease.

DENKMANN: For Medina, it's an example of the way LA leaders like Garcetti have allowed low-income Angelenos to shoulder the brunt of COVID-19.

MEDINA: I think it's a travesty that Mayor Garcetti is leaving now. His promises have been just completely been unmet.

NURY MARTINEZ: No, I don't think it's fair. I think, you know, there's criticism from both sides on this issue.

DENKMANN: City Council President Nury Martinez will become the temporary acting mayor once Garcetti steps down. Soon afterwards, the city council is expected to vote to appoint an interim mayor to complete the rest of the term through 2022. Martinez points out that the city recently passed an ordinance to allow tenants to sue landlords for many types of harassment. And city residents facing financial hardship because of the pandemic can apply to have their rent debt wiped away.

MARTINEZ: So at every step of the way, we're trying to fill these gaps.

DENKMANN: When Garcetti first took office in 2013, he pledged to be a pro-business Democrat and usher in prosperity after the Great Recession.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC GARCETTI: These times demand a back-to-basics mayor, focused above all on our economy and on jobs.

DENKMANN: The worsening housing crunch that would feed a massive growth in homelessness was barely on the radar. This year, Garcetti budgeted nearly $1 billion to get people off the street - nearly seven times what he allocated in his first term. Another issue that's come to dominate Garcetti's agenda - reckoning with police reform and accountability in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

ISAAC BRYAN: The Garcetti administration fell short on some things that the community in Los Angeles still needs a lot of close attention paid to.

DENKMANN: Democratic Assemblyman Isaac Bryan says the mayor failed to adequately address racial justice advocates' calls to redirect funding from the LAPD towards alternatives, like mental health care and community-based conflict intervention. Last summer, the mayor backed a $150 million cut to police spending. But Garcetti's latest budget increased LAPD funding by about 3%.

BRYAN: We have to start investing in the kinds of systems of care and opportunity that uplift from the bottom and don't exacerbate those root conditions. And we need a mayor who understands that.

DENKMANN: Garcetti's ambassadorship confirmation could take several months to grind its way through the Senate. The free-for-all mayoral primary is set for next June, with the general election in November. Whoever wins will face the same entrenched problems of homelessness and LAPD funding. And just like Garcetti eight years ago, they'll have to restore LA's economy, this time after an historic pandemic. For NPR News, I'm Libby Denkmann in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.