As the famous political scientist George Carlin once said, politicians come and go… most often, never quickly enough. But after this week's primary elections in California, the city and county of Los Angeles are poised for the biggest turnover in leadership in more than a generation. Better yet, most of the candidates have a firm grasp on the importance of technology and infrastructure as economic drivers -- one of the few places where there's no partisan squabbling.
There are four prominent offices where Angelenos will see a changing of the guard after the general election in November:
Rep. Henry Waxman
This changing of the guard really began a year ago with the election of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who, at age 42, became LA's youngest mayor in more than a century. His predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, was hardly a senior citizen, but Garcetti has demonstrated more willingness to do the heavy lifting of running America's second-largest city. Also, unlike Villaraigosa, Garcetti doesn't appear to be using the office as a steppingstone to something grander.
"It's a generational change," said David Abel, publisher of the Planning Report and chairman of the green marketplace conference VerdeXchange. "It's a new generation of leaders coming to the arena who have at least one foot in the 21st century digital world we live in. And it's not as ideological as it was before where technology's concerned, and you have the Internet of Things flipping on its head everything that's unsustainable" in Los Angeles.
Gail Goldberg, executive director of the nonpartisan Urban Land Institute, said in a phone interview that LA's incoming leadership has two more basic challenges: hob creation and funding infrastructure.
"Economic development is the area of greatest need for this region, given all the jobs we've lost over the last 20 years," she said. "Other cities, great cities, have thought this out and set the table for those jobs to come in a way that isn't happening in LA."
Today's cities no longer expect financial help from federal or state sources, she said. "Cities that are doing upgrades are very entrepreneurial and are looking at public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure. Infrastructure is a huge issue for this region." She cited the area's four major airports, the port of Los Angeles, the pervasive highway network, and expanding light-rail and subway lines.
It's tempting to believe that the right politicians will get the right things built. A new stadium for a possible National Football League franchise is most likely the next big piece of infrastructure and will most likely be a public-private partnership, as Goldberg suggests. But it will be a billionaire like Philip Anschutz (and probably not this guy) who will get the job done. It's not politicians who put up the money or take on the risk.
That being said, candidates for public office in LA would be wise to campaign on fiscal responsibility between now and November as the county of 10.5 million people contemplates a new stadium, more light rail, or a fully tricked-out Internet of Things. That's what smart voters will be seeking in November. After all, they're ultimately responsible for the bill.