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What Eric Garcetti Might Borrow From Mr. Mayor

Ted Danson as L.A. mayor Neil Bremer gives a speech on a set that’s a dead ringer for the real L.A. City Hall briefing room. Photo: Courtesy of NBC

When the NBC sitcom Mr. Mayor debuted — the day after a failed coup was staged against the U.S. government — the show firmly situated itself as a lighthearted look at much less consequential politics. Ted Danson plays Neil Bremer, a wealthy retired businessman who makes billions in outdoor advertising, gets bored, and runs for mayor of Los Angeles to impress his teenage daughter. Here in L.A., the show aired at the absolutely non-lighthearted peak of the pandemic’s winter surge. In the very first scene of Mr. Mayor, we learn that Neil’s predecessor abruptly resigned during a nightly coronavirus briefing, bolting from the podium with a pitch-perfect depiction of city-branded signage reading, “HANG ON L.A.: WE’RE ¼ OF THE WAY THERE.” On the evening that scene aired, L.A.’s real-life mayor, Eric Garcetti, stood at his own podium (actual sign: “SAFER AT HOME”) and reported that Angelenos were dying of COVID-19 at a record-breaking rate of one every eight minutes. Mr. Mayor may have been sold as escapist comedy, but it’s honestly not very escapist for Angelenos. Even Garcetti himself was too preoccupied to watch, according to a spokesperson: “The mayor has caught bits and pieces of the program and looks forward to binge-watching the whole series when he has more time.”

For City Hall insiders, it’s the details that make Mr. Mayor hit extremely close to home. Neil lives in a grand, Tudor-style mansion that’s a dead ringer for L.A.’s mayoral residence, Getty House. The cramped Art Deco offices of City Hall, which the show’s production designers toured in 2019, are accurate down to the laminated ID badges. There’s the very Garcettian naming convention of programs like SafeLA — in this case, a helmet-sharing system for the city’s dockless scooters, which is derailed by a lice infestation. Chrissy Teigen shows up as herself at various community meetings, spouting quintessential NIMBY logic to oppose everything from energy-efficient streetlights to low-income-housing projects. (“I already have a home,” she says. “I have ten homes.”) And along the way, this L.A.-of-the-very-near-future proposes some better-than-current-day policy solutions. With the season over, here’s a look back at five good ideas from Mayor Bremer’s fictional city — and how likely they are to happen in Mayor Garcetti’s real-life Los Angeles.

Cut down all the palm trees

Why it’s a good idea: When falling fronds from palm trees planted on city land cause property damage to Neil’s daughter’s school (it happens!), Deputy Mayor Arpi Meskimen (a truly delightful Holly Hunter) is at the ready with her report “L.A. Palm Trees: Death From Above.” Besides being dangerous, she says, palms are pricey to maintain, and they’re not native to the region — as many as 25,000 may have been planted before the 1932 Summer Olympics to, as Arpi puts it, “trick people into thinking L.A. wasn’t a waterless scorpion graveyard.” This is all absolutely true, and it gets worse: Palms — which are not, technically, trees — currently line hundreds of L.A. streets that have no canopy, no evaporative cooling effects, and no shade; replacing them with actual trees would be quite transformative.

Could it happen? After years of deferred maintenance, L.A.’s Urban Forestry Division is finally working to repair the city’s canopy, starting with a tree census to determine the location and species of every planted city tree. (The 1990 census estimated there were 75,000 palms on L.A. streets.) Even though there aren’t any current plans to remove the existing ones, palms are no longer on the city’s approved-to-plant list, so they will be weeded out eventually, especially because they’re being plagued by both a fungus and weevils. But Arpi’s plan to eliminate them — “Seize the Rams stadium by eminent domain, fill it with dead palm trees, then sell the mulch” — is what many of L.A.’s sidewalk advocates, Native Plant Twitter, and anti-Olympics coalitions would prefer to happen tomorrow.

Stop drilling for oil

Why it’s a good idea: Throughout the series, the progressive vision for L.A.’s future is often proposed by Arpi, a vegan, zero-waste, foldable-bike-commuting career politician; for every problem Neil confronts, she’s got a binder-bound plan for it. When she presents her plan to stop oil drilling in the city, she notes that “L.A. has over 1,000 drilling sites, many within a hundred yards of schools and homes.” Neil agrees with her — “Oil’s dumb,” he says. “We’re California, we should be leading the way on this stuff” — and sends her to Sacramento to get approval.

Could it happen? Los Angeles stopped oil production on city-owned land in 2019, but Arpi’s facts about the location of its other oil wells are 100 percent correct: The city hasn’t quite banned private drilling in residential neighborhoods. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground wouldn’t require a yes from the governor, though; the truth is that L.A. could restrict oil-and-gas drilling on its own, without any state intervention. But many of L.A.’s councilmembers still accept donations from oil-and-gas companies and will likely not stand down from drilling until they’re voted out of office.

Ban flying-taxi services

Why it’s a good idea: For years, Arpi has been lobbying hard for her pet project to ground the private aircraft serving the wealthy so they will stop traveling between the city’s small airports. As her report “Private Plane Paths Over Residential Neighborhoods” — with the questionable acronym PPPORN — explains it, the flight paths of the rich end up creating noise pollution that damages the health and safety of low-income neighborhoods.

Could it happen? Flying taxis — electric, vertical-landing-and-takeoff vehicles — are still way off, but last December, the city announced its plan for a flying-taxi division that could soon be prepping new landing sites for the Ubers of the skies. In the meantime, there are already plenty of services offering short-hop helicopter rides for astronomical prices, and while some small airports in and around the city have successfully been closed by advocates citing both air and noise pollution, it’s clear the battle for L.A.’s airspace is just heating up.

Build in rich neighborhoods

Why it’s a good idea: When a recycling plant is proposed for Brentwood as a way for the tony community to share the burden of combating the city’s climate crisis, the rich neighbors turn out in force to oppose it at a meeting. Neil, a longtime Bel-Air resident, thinks he can convince them otherwise, but he’s charmed by Andie MacDowell, playing herself as the president of the Brentwood Homeowners Association, who thinks the trash — a metaphor here, surely — should stay east. “The taxes that we pay,” she says, “we don’t deserve this.”

Could it happen? The forces of NIMBYism remain robust. Contrary to Neil’s neighborhood pride, the Westside is not the “best side” when it comes to adding more housing, transit, or any type of city amenity that might help lower greenhouse-gas emissions. The Brentwood Homeowners Association in particular has been actively trying to stop what it calls “bad housing bills” that would allow more homes to be built on land zoned for single-family houses and increase the amount of housing that could be built around mass transit. It has also fought for decades against expanding transit through the area.

Add more bus lanes

Why it’s a good idea: Neil does have one solid policy proposal of his own: “I am committed to expanding and improving public transit because it’s hardworking Angelenos like these that are the lifeblood of our city,” he says while riding on an actual Metro bus. But later, when he appears on a talk show to promote his big plan to build a single dedicated bus lane (the show is hosted by fictional former L.A. mayor Chet Danville, played by noted transit enthusiast Ed Begley Jr.), Neil is reminded that the city’s busted budget has no money for transportation infrastructure expansion.

Could it happen? Despite COVID-19 austerity measures, here’s one area in which real-life L.A. has rolled out in front. Last summer, Garcetti cut the ribbon for two new downtown bus lanes and another in October, and at least a half-dozen more have been proposed. As the current chair of Metro, the regional transportation agency, Garcetti wields the power to direct even more investment to bus riders, an idea that falls directly in line with his strategy to help Angelenos drive less as part of his climate goals for the city. No word if Mr. Mayor will be back for a season two, but Garcetti won’t be renewed — he’s termed out in 2022 — and leaving the city with faster, more reliable buses would be quite a legacy for car-clogged Los Angeles.

What Eric Garcetti Might Borrow From ‘Mr. Mayor’