Garcetti urges USC’s involvement in city
Before Eric Garcetti became Mayor Garcetti at his inauguration on June 30, many USC students knew him by a slightly more academic title: Professor Garcetti.
A visiting instructor at USC’s School of International Relations from 1998 to 2000, Garcetti taught a class on humanitarian intervention and human rights, as well as a course on developing countries in world politics. While teaching at USC, Garcetti helped form a chapter of University Watch, a program of Human Rights Watch, and brought a group of students to meet then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, according to the School of International Relations’ alumni magazine.
While his tenure at USC might have been short, Garcetti has had a long relationship with the university.
In fact, Garcetti has appointed some of his former USC students to serve as city commissioners, he said during an interview with the Daily Trojan, and came back to campus in 2003 to deliver the commencement address for the School of International Relations. As a three-term city councilman representing Hollywood, Echo Park and other communities, Garcetti said he worked with USC on everything from homelessness to rebranding Los Angeles.
But, for at least the next four years, Garcetti will work with USC in a more direct capacity as Los Angeles’s leader.
And as newly elected politicians adjust to their new roles in city government, so too must USC and other stakeholders.
“[A change in government] does affect the university because even though we’ve known a lot of these folks for years, they’re in a new role,” David Galaviz, USC’s executive director for local government relations, said. “We have to reach out to them, we have to be proactive in explaining to them USC’s role, both as a community partner and a partner with local government.”
The university’s lobbying efforts extend far past the mayor’s office. Perhaps no one is as important as the university district’s city councilman, Curren Price, who, after working as a state legislator for seven years, is beginning his first term as Ninth District City Councilman.
Since taking office, Price has met with university officials to discuss USC’s $1.1 billion renovation of the University Village and a project to improve the Figueroa Corridor. Last March, Price served as the keynote speaker for a student leadership conference hosted as part of USC’s EdMonth.
“I think ‘SC brings a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of intellectual power to problems and to opportunities in the area,” he said during an interview with the Daily Trojan. “Overall, it’s a very positive resource and we hope it continues being a good neighbor for the community and the businesses that surround it.”
Price said that he’s looking forward to working with the university, noting several shared priorities: beautification, public safety, economic development and youth empowerment.
Garcetti is also focused on youth empowerment. Since Garcetti’s tenure at USC, the university has become increasingly active in civic life, he said.
“I think that every year USC becomes more and more integrated, not only with their neighborhood, but with the city of Los Angeles in the wider sense,” Garcetti said.
When it comes to city politics, USC has considerable influence.
“The university has access,” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the USC Price School of Public Policy, said. “And you don’t ignore the largest employer in the city of Los Angeles. That doesn’t mean you cave in every time that employer breathes. But that employer will certainly get a hearing.”
Several of Garcetti’s commission appointments have USC affiliations, Jeffe noted. On Aug. 14, Garcetti named Steve Soboroff, who sits on the Price School’s Board of Councilors, to the commission that oversees the police department. Robert Saltzman, associate dean and professor at the Gould School of Law, already serves on the panel.
But Galaviz said his office is careful not to treat USC-affiliated officials differently in its interactions with the city.
“We have to approach them like any other constituent,” Galaviz said. “We cannot assume nor do we think that just because a certain community leader has a tie to the university they’re going to do everything the university wants.”
When an issue does arise, Galaviz said the first call is always to the university’s councilmember, one reason forming a strong relationship is so crucial. Over the next few years, USC will collaborate with the city on priorities as small as fixing potholes and as large as the University Village renovation, Galaviz said.
Price, like Garcetti, isn’t new to working with USC. Recently, as a California state senator, Price criticized an agreement that gives USC a 98-year lease to manage the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Though he supported USC managing the Coliseum, Price was part of a group of critics concerned that museums in Exposition Park would suffer from a loss of parking revenue during several university events. Since the letter was written, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has said the state plans to compensate the museums.
“My concern was there would be some reimbursement, either from the state, the university or from somewhere,” Price said. “These are important cultural resources in the community and we didn’t want to turn over the Coliseum to ‘SC at the expense of decreased access by citizens.”
The Coliseum isn’t the only area where the university and the city have worked together. In recent years, public safety has become an issue that has required greater collaboration with the city. After an on-campus shooting in October, the university installed additional gating around campus and placed restrictions on visitors after 9 p.m.
Though Garcetti said safety in South Los Angeles has improved in recent years, his administration plans to do more work in the area.
“I do believe it’s tremendously safe,” Garcetti said. “Certainly compared to 20 years ago, 10 years ago, it’s better. But there’s still too much crime concentrated in South Los Angeles and it will be a focus of mine, particularly with youth intervention and gang intervention, to give young people other pathways.”
Despite USC’s efforts to extend its reach beyond the University Park Campus, many students remain reluctant to get involved in city life. After all, turnout in the mayoral election stayed at a low 10.2 percent for 18-29 year olds, according to an exit poll sponsored by Loyola Marymount University.
Garcetti hopes to change that. As mayor, he plans to make volunteering easier by creating a forum that lists opportunities. But he also said he recognizes that increased involvement requires a change in attitude.
“L.A. is a complicated place to get engaged and involved civically but it’s my goal that not only do we build an easier way to do that but we build a new culture,” he said.
As for USC, Garcetti hopes that the university’s presence continues to increase beyond its campus gates.
“The university is much less of an island than it’s ever been,” Garcetti said. “But it’s still too much of an island. It reaches its arms out regularly, but I want to see ways in which, specifically with City Hall, we can engage graduate students and professors in coming up with the solutions to problems we all face.”
Follow Daniel Rothberg on Twitter @danielrothberg