James Hahn Proposes Joint Powers Authority to Build Schools, Seeks Cutting of Business Red Tape

The Business Journal presents the fourth in its weekly installments of interviews with the six major candidates for L.A. mayor. This week: James Hahn, son of the legendary Kenneth Hahn, who has held the City Attorney post for the last 16 years. Hahn met with Business Journal editors and reporters last week to discuss his reasons for running, his recently announced plan to form a joint powers authority to speed school construction, the need to implement reforms at the LAPD, and plans to consolidate the city's economic development functions.

Question: Why are you running for mayor?

Answer: I thought long and hard about running for mayor in the first place. It's not a decision to be made lightly. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I love this city, but I'm concerned about its future. I believe that with my skills as City Controller and City Attorney, I'm the one person qualified to make things happen. A lot of people have good ideas, but it's important to flesh those ideas out and actually accomplish things. I want to make Los Angeles work as a city for everybody. It works now for some people, but others have been left behind. For many young people in Los Angeles, going to school, getting a good education and then getting a good job is more of a myth. We need to change that.

Q: When Antonio Villaraigosa got the endorsement of the County Federation of Labor, it was seen as a setback for your campaign. What went wrong?

A: Nothing went wrong. It was Antonio's to lose from day one. He was going around town saying he was going to have this wrapped up since before the Democratic Convention. I understand he's "family" and I'm a "friend of the family;" after all, he was a teachers' union organizer. I have a lot of strong support from people who work with me at City Hall, from the employee unions there and the building trades. I've got support from labor, I've got support from business and from people all over the city. I'm more than a one-dimensional candidate.

Q: Speaking of labor, do you support any expansion of the city's living wage law?

A: I would like to expand our living wage law to cover the proprietary departments (Los Angeles World Airports, Department of Water & Power, the Port of Los Angeles) and the redevelopment agency. Basically, if you want financial benefits from a city, we're going to require you to make sure your employees make a living wage. And yes, that does include subcontractors.

Expanding the living wage law beyond that, to businesses in general that don't receive financial benefits from the city, I don't think that's appropriate at this stage.

Q: There's been a lot of talk that you represent the "old L.A.," with your strong support in the African-American community and many of the city's traditional downtown or legal elite backing you. What are you doing to reach out to the "new L.A.," the near-majority of Latinos, the other immigrant communities, the high-tech entrepreneurs?

A: I've picked up support from all sectors, because I'm the only candidate who is really running a citywide campaign. I'm not going to cede any piece of real estate in this campaign. I have support from many Latino elected officials, like Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas and Councilman Alex Padilla. I've also got strong support in new immigrant communities, like the Korean-American community. They are vital drivers of the economy.

I'm also reaching out to the multimedia and high-tech communities, offering to make the city a better partner in helping these industries grow.

Q: You have a reputation for being less than charismatic, especially when compared with some of your opponents, like Antonio Villaraigosa. Won't this be a problem for the leader of the second biggest U.S. city?

A: I think people are looking for somebody who can get things done. I think my whole career I have emphasized substance over style. My personality is the one I was born with. I'm more interested in getting something accomplished as mayor. When people get to know me on a one-to-one basis, most end up liking me. I think people are getting tired of flash; they are looking for substance.

Q: If you are elected, what would your first action be as mayor?

A: The first thing I want to do is to form a better partnership between the school district and the city. I have proposed a joint powers authority where both entities appoint real estate and construction experts not politicians and have that authority to build the 100 new schools that we need in L.A. over the next 10 years.

I also want to talk to the school district about expanding after-school programs so that we can keep our kids out of gangs.

The first day I'm in office, I also want to meet with the Police Chief and talk about what we should be doing to make this community safer. I'm going to discuss with him what our community policing partnership should be, how we improve morale at the department and how we fill those vacant positions. And most important, I will go over with him how we implement the consent decree.

Q: What do you say to those who would see this proposed joint powers authority as just another layer of bureaucracy?

A: We have a good model for what a joint powers authority can do by looking at the Alameda Corridor. For years, people talked about building it, but it wasn't until the joint powers authority between L.A. and Long Beach that things really got rolling. It is a single-mission agency that doesn't get bogged down in politics. Look at what the school board has to deal with: the curriculum, teachers' salaries, busing kids, school lunches the whole works. They haven't built a high school in 30 years and the one that they did try to build at Belmont was an unmitigated disaster. They don't have a good record in building schools, so I'd like to take that off their plate and allow them to focus on all those other issues.

Also, this authority would have the resources of both the city and the district behind it, so it can get these schools built. The other feature I like about it is that it can build new schools quickly, without having to get permission from the state.

Q: What are the main steps you would take to assist businesses in the city?

A: I want to reduce business costs by cutting the red tape at City Hall, streamlining the permitting system, getting business tax reform passed. Under a Hahn administration, you would see a net decrease in business costs.

I also want to coordinate all the agencies here that deal with economic development: the CRA, the Community Development Department, the Housing Department, the Planning Department. We need a coordinated approach instead of the fragmented approach we have now.

Q: Mayor Riordan tried that and it didn't work. What would you do differently?

A: Almost anything Mayor Riordan wanted to do that involved the cooperation of the City Council, he was unable to accomplish. He never figured out how to work well with the Council. That's going to be a major difference between our administrations. Leading is about convincing people you are right, not about trying to beat your perceived opponents into submission. Look at what happened with the Mayor's business tax reform plan. He came down from Mount Olympus with his plan and presented it to the world, rather than working with the Council to craft it. Of course, the Council didn't pass his plan.

Q: Let's talk about the LAPD. Some have argued that your office deserves some blame for the Rampart scandal for failing to push through Christopher Commission reforms, like the tracking of problem officers. What is your response?

A: We did begin moving on that front, getting a tracking system in place. We put the system in place in our office, but the Police Department was a little slower. That's because the contract that our office worked on sat in a council committee for over a year, further delaying things. There was no indication people were asleep at the switch. It's just that things didn't move as quickly as we would have liked.

Q: Would you support reappointing Bernard Parks as Police Chief?

A: Chief Parks is going to be evaluated on how well he implements the consent decree, what's the state of officer morale, what's the state of public safety in Los Angeles, how strong community policing is. I would evaluate Chief Parks the same way I would evaluate any general manager.

Q: What if the evaluation was due today?

A: Well, it's not due today. If it was, I'd want to sit down and evaluate all these things. But it's not, and the key is to see how much progress can be made in the next 18 months. Chief Parks is an intelligent, capable manager who has rooted out a lot of bad officers already. He's moving in a positive direction. Whether that's sufficient is a decision I would make next year as mayor.

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