Los Angeles’ leadership in global affairs is growing stronger at a time when the federal government’s role is diminishing, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told Pacific Council members in his 2nd annual State of the Global City address in downtown LA. The discussion was made possible by the generous support of the RM Liu Foundation and was moderated by Ms. Karen Richardson, former deputy assistant secretary of public affairs at the U.S. State Department.
Watch the full address and conversation below:
"Fourteen months ago, I came before you for the first ever State of the Global City address," said Garcetti. "I was full of both unabashed hope locally and confronting a growing uncertainty nationally and globally. I talked about the progress we are making in international trade and jobs, in our Olympic bid, in our aspirations in the world. I came and spoke to you three days after the inauguration of our new president. I spoke to you about the growing divides between people, cultural, economic, geographic fissures, not unique to just our country but around the world, that threaten the peace, social unity, and security of our world."
This year, he added, his assessment of the State of the Global City is the same as last year, but even stronger.
"Locally, I can share even more positive news than we had last year," he said. "On the flip side, nationally and globally, there is even more negative news that threaten our collective progress."
"Our city won the largest cultural and athletic prize a city can win in the world, and we will in 2028 host our third Olympiad in the city of Angels. LA will be a game changer in 2028."
Garcetti laid out the progress made in Los Angeles since his address last year.
"Locally, it’s an extraordinary picture," he said. "In this past year, we set new trade, tourism, and foreign investment records. We are the third largest municipal economy in the world now, with Tokyo being first and New York second. We’re nearly a trillion dollars in gross municipal product. It puts in perspective just what a huge presence Southern California is on the world stage. Our arts scene is exploding. Our city won the largest cultural and athletic prize a city can win in the world, and we will in 2028 host our third Olympiad in the city of Angels. LA will be a game changer in 2028."
Garcetti also delivered a rebuke of the Trump administration’s policies, without pointing fingers or naming names.
"The bad news is that the state of the globe and our nation’s foreign policy is described at best ‘in flux’ and at worst ‘quickly disintegrating,’" he said. "We’re unclear on our policies, from trade to security, multilateralism and our defense commitments. We’re unpredictable in our stances, from the Korean Peninsula to Europe and toward our adversaries. And we’re undependable in our friendships. One day we’re fascinated and friendly with you, the next day we’re not. We seem obsessed with strongmen more than our long-time relationships. We’ve taken sides from the Middle East to the Philippines in ways that often undercut the values that America has stood for, for a long time."
"I am so excited to see the next generation of Angelenos strengthen global ties at a time when it feels like our country is withdrawing into itself."
Garcetti said that the question many people are asking is, "Who are we as Americans?"
"We must continue to show the world who America is, which is never defined by one person or even single political administration, but by an entire nation," he said. "At the same time, we must prepare for a rapidly changing world and our role in ensuring that there is peace and prosperity in that world for our people and the people of all nations."
On Los Angeles as a global city
He argued that the past decade has resulted in a successful expansion of Los Angeles as a global city, pointing out that foreign investment has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in Southern California; tourism has decreased nationally but increased in LA with 50 million visitors because of the city’s open and inclusive values; LAX became the fourth busiest airport in the world with 70 new nonstop international flights added since Garcetti was first elected; and the Port of LA is the busiest in the Western Hemisphere with 9.3 million TEUs, the equivalent to about $470 billion of goods.
Culturally, Garcetti pointed out that LA’s art and museum scene is thriving, with The Broad, LACMA, and others setting attendance records. The city recently broke ground on the largest single cultural gift in American history, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. LA’s entertainment industry and food scene are also second to none in the world, he said.
With the 2028 Olympics secured, Garcetti said it was the right time to add a deputy mayor of international affairs to his team. In August 2017, he named Pacific Council Director and former U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN Nina Hachigian to the new position.
"Nina oversees this city’s first office of international affairs, with trade, diplomacy, and the Olympics under her portfolio," he said. "We are also working to make sure the next generation of Angelenos feels those ties, not just on the streets of LA, but in their opportunities to actually visit and be a part of cultures globally. In collaboration with the Pacific Council and with support from the RM Liu Foundation, College Promise students will join some of the Pacific Council’s trips over the next five years, which will enrich their lives. I am so excited to see the next generation of Angelenos strengthen global ties at a time when it feels like our country is withdrawing into itself."
On U.S. foreign policy
Garcetti laid out his vision for U.S. foreign policy and argued that America needs to focus on three A’s with its global interactions: aspirations, allies, and actions.
"I believe we should aspire to have a shared culture internationally, in terms of how we act and care for one another," he said, adding that that means having faith in the global family, ensuring economic freedom, and investing in the future to mitigate some of the disruptive changes on the way. "We have to build a network of allies. Friendship matters, in life and in international relations. We know that in Los Angeles. We have the most sister cities, leading to investment, cultural exchange, educational collaboration, and environmental action. And our actions, ultimately, are what we should be judged by."
He said that the foundation of post-WWII and post-Cold War global relations faces its toughest challenge yet, both domestically and internationally. Those challenges include the existential threat of climate change, which he called perhaps the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, as well as the rise of nostalgic nationalism and, in some parts of the world, a new authoritarianism.
"Instead of realism, I would say what we see coming out of Washington is what can best be described as ‘American surrealism.’ We can only keep a leadership deficit at bay for so long before we actually start to weaken this country and the world itself."
"Those threats and changes have resulted in some real dislocation for workers and in new conflicts in what we thought were previously stable regions," he said. "Unlike what we hear from Washington these days, there is no dichotomy between patriotism on one hand, and global purpose on the other. Just as America can lead the world for a common good and deliver for its people, so can LA be a global city and do well for ourselves."
He further criticized current U.S. foreign policy as unfocused and unhelpful.
"Our response hasn’t been a strengthening of our idealistic realism," he said. "There isn’t even a zero sum game world of strict realism coming out of Washington. Instead of realism, I would say what we see coming out of Washington is what can best be described as ‘American surrealism.’ The only rule is there are no rules. We can only keep a leadership deficit at bay for so long before we actually start to weaken this country and the world itself."
Garcetti argued that no matter who was elected president in 2016, his work and that of the city of Los Angeles would have continued.
"I spend 95 percent of my time on transportation and housing issues in LA, both of which are an articulation that this is still a city that people want to be in."
"It’s nicer when the city is congruent with the national government, but whether it was going to be President Trump or President Clinton, most of the work I’ve described we’d still need to be engaged in," he said. "When Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, I worked to get nearly 400 cities to commit to implementing it locally. Americans do care about climate change and we are moving forward. Mayors and cities—nationally and internationally—are getting together and communicating in ways they never have before."
He also argued for the return of a strong State Department.
"From a security standpoint, diplomacy is critical and can save lives," he said. "I hope our next Secretary of State reinvests in State Department jobs. At its best, diplomacy transcends formal discussions and is really about human connections and friendships."
On transportation and homelessness
Garcetti also addressed the two major issues that he deals with as the mayor of a city like Los Angeles: transportation and homelessness.
"I spend 95 percent of my time on transportation and housing issues in LA, both of which are an articulation that this is still a city that people want to be in," he said. "It’s a failure of us to build the infrastructure to accommodate the amazing growth, investment, and popularity that we have here. I understand people’s impatience. We went to the voters with two 10-year initiatives: Measure H, a countywide sales tax, and Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion city bond aimed at building 10,000 units of supportive housing in the city. A lot of people say, ‘Why do we still have homelessness? Didn’t I vote for that last year?’ The money only started coming on October 1 from the county measure. We hired 1,000 outreach workers; there were only 25 homeless outreach workers when I became mayor. On the transportation front, we got Measure M passed, which is the largest transportation measure in this nation’s history. Now we finally have resources for both of these issues, which people will begin to see in the second half of 2018."
He pointed out that about 25-30 percent of the 99,000 people a year who are coming out of jail or prison into the city of LA are homeless. The city needs county, state, and federal help to intervene in the first few hours after their release to prevent homelessness.
A week before his speech, the city and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles launched the "Everyone In" campaign.
"We’re finding that two thirds of Angelenos say they want housing in their own neighborhoods for homeless folks," he said. "That’s a sea change from a decade ago. We have to house people where they are, where they know. We’re looking at every parking lot, every piece of surplus land that we have [as a possible location for more units]."
On public transportation, Garcetti said Metro moves 1.5 million people per day. He argued that bus and train lines are a critical piece of the city’s transportation puzzle, but that there still aren’t enough rail lines yet. There are now 15 rapid transit lines that will be expanded or built as a result of the recently passed Measure M. He also pointed out that affordable housing must be built alongside the new lines.
"I feel more optimistic than I’ve ever been that those two things will radically change the look of the city," he said. "By 2028—and I want people to have realistic expectations—we can end homelessness on the streets of LA. It will require all of us stepping up. We need to ask ourselves the question now: ‘Who do we want to be in 2028? When the world comes to our city, what Los Angeles and what America will they find?’"
"Here in Los Angeles, we practice a municipal pragmatism that’s rooted in a Pacific optimism. In other words, we get things done and we know we still have a long way to go."
He laid out his vision for the Los Angeles he would like to see in 2028.
"I want to see an LA that creates economic prosperity for all of our people," he said. "I want to see LA as a place where the world belongs. LA is the number one choice for people to visit, study, and invest. We need to keep that momentum going. I also want to see LA leading Pacific engagement. The Pacific Council is a huge part of that. Make no mistake, without this organization our leadership would be greatly diminished. The Pacific Council is fulfilling an absolutely critical role, not just in our world today but in our region as well. This organization continues to set the standard in a moment in which you are so badly needed. But we need to be hosting more gatherings such as G8, G20, and other multinational meetings right here in LA. And I want to see LA as a place that is busy solving the world’s problems, such as urban infrastructure, health concerns, global warming, air pollution, and more. Our engagement as a city has been a conscious city foreign policy."
He concluded with a message based in his signature optimism.
"Here in Los Angeles, we practice a municipal pragmatism that’s rooted in a Pacific optimism," he said. "In other words, we get things done and we know we still have a long way to go, but we are seeing the turning of a page, a great decade of investment in the physical and human infrastructure of our proud city. In LA, we build tunnels, bridges, and terminals while others pursue their surrealist fantasies of impenetrable border walls. In LA, we protect our citizens while others divide and denigrate them. In LA, we fight fires and drought brought on by climate change while others deny that it’s even happening. We see the world as it is, and we seek to make it better."
Learn more about the Pacific Council’s Global LA initiative.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.