L.A. Story: Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

Tomorrow Eric Garcetti will be sworn in for his second term as mayor of Los Angeles. Like those who have come before him, he will stand on the steps of City Hall, raise his hand, and affirm that he will work to improve the quality of life for all Angelenos.

Forty-four years ago, it was Tom Bradley who raised his hand to take that oath of office for the first of his five terms as mayor. Throughout his 20 years in office, Bradley shaped the future of Los Angeles in ways that still reverberate today.

Bradley was the son of a sharecropper and a grandson of slaves, who had to pioneer his own path to power and influence: he was an honor-society student and track star at Polytechnic High School and UCLA, then a Los Angeles police officer for 20 years, earning a law degree at night. He got involved in politics after retiring from the LAPD, and was elected to the L.A. City Council in 1963.

His leadership skills had always set him apart and helped propel him to victory in 1973. But more importantly, the way he mobilized a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-generational coalition to support his campaign and agenda provided a future case study for other leaders from minority groups to attain higher officer across the nation.

Bradley understood the historic nature of the moment of his swearing in. He asked Earl Warren, the former California governor, chief justice of U.S. Supreme Court and civil rights champion, to issue the oath of office. As the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, a city long dominated by a white-majority, Bradley sought new ways to bring equality to L.A.’s segregated communities, starting with the revitalization of shops and small businesses wiped out during the 1965 Watts rebellion. He also fostered initiatives that would drive economic prosperity and job creation for all Angelenos.

His big picture vision, however, was to transform L.A. from a collection of neighborhoods and suburbs into a world-class city. He saw Los Angeles as a future unofficial capital of the Pacific Rim.

Within a year’s time he pushed through a major redevelopment plan based on a concept of multiple dense urban centers connected by transit. Warner Center and Century City were developed, but his transit dreams had to wait. He lead efforts to invest in L.A.’s top two economic assets – the Los Angeles International Airport and the Port of L.A.. He oversaw the development of downtown’s financial and business districts. He created a water conservation campaign called “Don’t Be a Drip” in 1977 to get more Angelenos to conserve water during CA’s historic drought. He lead the effort to secure the 1984 Olympic Games. And before he left office in 1993, his dreamed world class transit system – a subway and light rail – were finally getting under construction.

It’s striking how this decades-old agenda continues to serve as a road map for public policymakers today. The Mayor’s leadership, with the support of the L.A. Coalition, and a diverse mix of business, labor and civic groups, has been instrumental in directing much needed Investments in LAX, the Port and the Metro system. These initiatives are once again driving economic growth and the jobs that come with it. Measure M, passed last November, will invest more than $120 billion in the region’s transportation network. ​​The campaign to capture the 2024 or 2028 Olympics and the City’s water conservation efforts are also beneficiaries of lessons learned throughout the past four decades.

Indeed, one could argue that Bradley’s vision when he took office in 1973 – bring economic prosperity to L.A.’s neediest neighborhoods – is still the most important agenda item. The question we need to ask is – how do we achieve that today? What has not worked over the past four decades? Where can we innovate?

Current public policies linked to housing, economic and workforce development, healthcare and education, continue to be inadequate in addressing our region’s greatest challenges. The Mayor, City Hall and the County are making great strides in developing and targeting the necessary human and financial resources to address these initiatives. Now it will require what Mayor Bradley learned 40 years ago, one needs to mobilize a broad and diverse coalition in order to get things done.

The cranes dotting the skyline and billions being invested, are incredible steps forward, but every unemployed and underemployed Angeleno represents a failure of our entrepreneurial imagination. Every Angeleno should have a role to play in L.A.’s economic success story.

After all, the source of Los Angeles’ real economic power is its people. We cannot let up until we’re providing jobs that pay good wages, affordable housing and educational opportunities for skills development. And the best education for every student. We can’t afford to waste entrepreneurial energies, either, and need to make it easier for small businesses to get up and running in low-income areas.

“Los Angeles is the city of hope and opportunity,” Bradley said upon winning his fourth term by a landslide. “I am a living example of that.” May we all aspire to explore all of L.A’s neighborhoods to seek out opportunities to develop and implement initiatives and public policies that will help develop the next generation of leaders.

Until then, tomorrow is a day of celebration and recognition of today’s leaders whose great work and achievements have been recognized by the voters – Mayor Garcetti, City Controller Ron Galperin and City Attorney Mike Feuer and Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Joe Buscaino, Mitchell O’Farrell, Gilbert “Gil” Cedillo, Bob Blumenfield, Paul Koretz, Monica Rodriguez, Curren D. Price, Jr.

Congratulations to them all and the L.A. Coalition’s role will be to continue to find ways to work with them all to improve the lives of all Angelenos for years to come.