Eric Garcetti took the reins of the L.A. City Council presidency last week from Alex Padilla, who agreed to give up the post as he campaigns for a state Senate seat. The son of former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, he was elected to the council in 2001 to represent the Hollywood area. During his first term, Garcetti chaired the economic development committee, where he pushed for developers to set aside affordable housing in their projects. He has assumed the presidency at a time when the City Council is under fire from the L.A. business community for approving a controversial ordinance in which a buyer of a big grocery store is required to retain the store's employees for 90 days.

Question: Do you think that the council's recent passage of the grocery worker-retention ordinance sends a message that L.A. is not hospitable to businesses?
Answer: I think when you look at the City Council as a whole, it's a more pro-business body than not. As of this past week, most businesses in the city are no longer paying business tax and for the rest, it's going down 3.1 percent. That's something the council passed more than a year ago. But (economic) growth has been uneven and what this ordinance attempts to do is to address that unevenness. This ordinance is a chance for us to look at these grocery store transformations, to make sure that workers have a little time to land on their feet and plan their lives. It's not a permanent protection for workers.

Q: But don't you think that grocery store operators will think twice about buying stores in L.A., especially in underserved areas?
A: Look, when the big grocery store chains look at buying or opening up a site, they look at a five-year or 10-year time horizon. This only covers the first 90 days. So I don't think it will make a substantive difference in their plans.

Q: Do you intend to take steps as council president to make the City Council more business friendly?
A: As council president, I have three broad priorities: addressing traffic and transportation, building more housing and addressing homeless issues and improving public safety. The first two are intimately connected: we have a jobs/housing imbalance in this city that forces people to drive everywhere. I want this council to look at where the job growth is in the city and approve the building of housing where those jobs are. I also want to make sure the $1 billion housing bond the mayor proposed last summer gets passed that would be a huge stimulus to the local economy. We need to build 10,000 units of housing each year just to keep pace with growth.

Q: Any other initiatives aimed at improving the business climate?
Yes. I'm going to urge the council and the city as a whole to look at working with the School District to set up job training programs for Angelenos. Also, I'd like to see us leverage a key source of capital for the region: the $150 million in federal Section 108 funds that come into our city for economic development in underutilized areas. If we can convince the private sector to kick in some money, we could easily build up $500 million or more for economic development projects.

Q: Developers are concerned about your proposed inclusionary zoning ordinance, requiring them to set aside parts of their projects for affordable housing or pay an in-lieu fee to a city housing fund. What's its status?
The inclusionary zoning ordinance is alive and well, but it's only one of the tools to address the city's housing crisis. Right now, I'm focusing on the housing bond. On inclusionary zoning, we're about to begin a study on the environmental impacts, which I expect to take a year or so. In the meantime, we're probably going to test this out in a pilot program aimed at a transit corridor or some other specific community. This is to show both neighborhood groups and developers that it can work.

Q: The city is facing a projected budget deficit of nearly $250 million for the upcoming 2006-07 fiscal year. Might there be new fees on businesses to help offset this deficit?
I don't expect to see new fees on business or anybody else to run existing programs. We've had deficits at least this big over the last several years and each time, we've been able to manage by using the previous year's savings and cutting back on spending. I expect the same this year. However, if there are any new programs, we do have a policy that those programs must have an ongoing revenue stream.

Q: There's some concern that Mayor Villaraigosa's plan for LAX puts off most of the major overhaul that's needed, especially the ability to handle increasing cargo volumes. What role can the council play addressing this?
It is critical for us to build an airport that meets the needs for the 21st century. We have to be able to accommodate the Airbus 380 (super jumbo) jets, which will be a good thing because it means more passengers on fewer planes causing less pollution. The Tom Bradley International Terminal also needs to be completely revamped. Also, there's consensus that the rest of the "green-lighted" projects, like the consolidated car rental facility and the connection to the Green Line, should move forward. The City Council can have a big impact by making sure these projects move quickly through the approval process.

Q: The deal to build a Convention Center Hotel has come unglued as one of the primary financiers, Apollo Advisors, has dropped out. Can the City Council do anything to put it back on track?
As tough as some of the metrics are on this, I don't think it's going to be difficult to find someone to provide the financing. It's a really good time for the hotel industry and this is too good of an opportunity to pass up. From the council's perspective, it's up to the councilmember in that district and I know that Jan Perry is on top of this. We're not going to take extra steps beyond the subsidy package that we've put on the table.

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