Environment — 13 July 2013

By Ed Coghlan

Eric Garcetti is off to an impressive start as Los Angeles Mayor. The man who ran a campaign about economic development and government efficiency is hitting all the right notes initially.

Garcetti is having each of the city’s 35 directors and managers reapply for their jobs, and he has even appointed two of his opponents, Kevin James and Jan Perry, to high ranking positions in his administration.

But these are just the early days. Four years from now, how will we know how good a job Eric Garcetti is doing as the Mayor of Los Angeles?

Let me suggest one way is to take a trip through Griffith Park.

512px-Griffith_observatoryThe city’s sprawling, impressive 4,300 acre park is one of the nation’s largest urban parks. It has a robust wildlife population of bobcats, mule deer, coyote and other animals. It has the famous Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory. It is a great park.

Let me say that if actions speak louder than words, then Griffith Park wasn’t a major priority for Garcetti’s predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa. During his eight years, the park was not neglected, but it has languished.

And as Garcetti talked about during his campaign, much of what can make the park better are the “little things.”

Take a look at the hiking trails — a 53-mile network of trails that are fun and, in some spots, even challenging. Little things could make it better. Where are the signs? There is no signage from trail to trail. The number of hikers in that park is staggering. Can’t tell you how many times my family and I have hiked there that we’ve been asked for directions. What else could improve the experience? Ask us.

Then we have 3 golf courses–the elegant Wilson, the charming Harding and the smaller Roosevelt. Ask any L.A. golfer what he thinks of those courses (and others in the city) and they’ll generally tell you they could be so much better.

As an example, go play 18 holes at Wilson and then go play 18 holes at River Ridge in Oxnard. The experience– how you are treated, how the courses are maintained– is so different it’s hard to believe both are municipal courses. The money that people pay to play L.A. city golf (and, in fairness, it’s a bargain) should be dedicated to the golf courses.  Wilson and Harding in particular could use a little TLC.

I recently visited the L.A. Zoo (The tigers put on a show!) It really is a pretty cool place, and potentially can be much more. Understandably, it is obscured by the giant shadow cast by the world class zoo in San Diego. But the experience at the L.A. Zoo is a good one.

Like the hiking trails and the golf courses, one has the feeling the zoo can be so much better, with less confusing signage, more helpful employees and some basic marketing. The idea of privatizing the zoo has been kicked around for years — not an easy topic for a city whose employee unions wield great power — but whatever is decided about how it’s managed, it can be better.

Mayor Garcetti talked about delivering a recovering economy and an emphasis on job development. The city’s aging and neglected infrastructure needs attention. And, like Griffith Park, the whole city government just needs to be energized, to be remind that the city’s residents are their customers.

And many of those customers use Griffith Park.

When the curiously named Griffith J. Griffith gave much of what it is the park to the city of Los Angeles in 1896, he did so because he felt that every great city needed a great park.

“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the people,” Griffith said. “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner and finer city.”

It was a good idea then and it is a good idea now.

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About Author

Ed Coghlan

Ed is a former television news director at KCOP in Los Angeles and the Montana Television Network. He writes on health, economic and public affairs issues.

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