Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Los Angeles mayoral candidates talk transportation at Westside forum

L.A. mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Emanuel Pleitez and Jan Perry met for their first debate of the year.
L.A. mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Emanuel Pleitez and Jan Perry met for their first debate of the year.
Frank Stotlze/KPCC
L.A. mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Emanuel Pleitez and Jan Perry met for their first debate of the year.
Five candidates for mayor of Los Angeles debated at Beth Jacob Temple in Beverly Hills on Thursday.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

When it came time for L.A. mayoral candidates to discuss transportation issues Thursday night at Beth Jacob Temple, moderator David Suissa was clear.

“Many of us have heard over the years politicians who promise us solutions to the traffic mess,” said Suissa, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. “But we’d like to hear some new and fresh ideas.”

Beth Jacob sits in Beverly Hills, but many in attendance live on L.A.’s Westside, where drivers regularly describe traffic as horrendous.

RELATED: Watch the archived video of the LA mayoral debate

City Councilman Eric Garcetti was the most specific in his response.  He promised to start or complete 10 new rail lines, and suggested that one might be a tunnel underneath the Sepulveda Pass.

“That would allow us to get from Sherman Oaks to UCLA in 10 minutes,” Garcetti said.

Garcetti was the only candidate to outright support a subway tunnel underneath nearby Beverly Hills High School. Neighbors of that area have protested the tunnel option.

The mayor of L.A. sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board and appoints three other members.

Councilman Garcetti – who represents the Hollywood area – also proposed bonding against future tax revenues to pave 1,600 miles of roads and to create more bike lanes.

City Controller Wendy Greuel offered fewer specifics; she emphasized her past work on such issues as prohibiting road construction projects during rush hour. The controller, who regularly issues audits of city departments, said she would be best able to spend transportation dollars wisely.

First woman mayor?

“There are a lot of people who can talk about doing something. I have demonstrated that I have the management skills and experience,” Greuel said.

If elected, she or Councilwoman Jan Perry would become the first woman mayor of Los Angeles.

At Thursday night’s debate – sponsored by CivicCare – Perry said she would focus on improving traffic efficiency. She pointed to streets around U.C.L.A.

“Clean up those main campus connectors – no parking, re-pave, synchronize, restrict turning, take bus stops off street,” Perry said.  “All of that will help improve that community.”

Attorney and former late-night conservative talk show host Kevin James issued his oft-repeated attacks on Garcetti, Greuel and Perry. He said they are largely to blame for the city’s traffic problems – in part because they’ve diverted special parking tax revenue to other programs during deficit years.

“They raided those funds to pay for the salaries and contracts that they entered into that we couldn’t afford,” James said.

James also proposed right-hand turn signals for some intersections that would force pedestrians to wait 20 seconds so cars could turn and get out of the way of traffic faster.

This was Emanuel Pleitez’ first debate. Pleitez is a 30-year-old high tech executive from East L.A. who reached the $200,000 fundraising threshold to receive city matching funds last week.  He emphasized smaller solutions like better bus service and car sharing.

“Major infrastructure projects like rail are not the answer.  We need solutions today,” he said.

Early polls indicate that Garcetti and Greuel are the front-runners. They’ve also raised the most money – more than $2 million each. Perry is polling third. James and Pleitez are well behind the other three.

But most people remain undecided in a race that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

The primary is March 5. If no candidate garners a majority of votes, the top two finishers face off in a May runoff.