Mayor Garcetti discusses early warning system, status as sanctuary city

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Mexico City earthquake turns attention to Los Angeles preparedness, and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is focused on both an early warning system and an emergency plan all residents should have.

While the county has a response team in Mexico, the city's firefighters are home from Houston and Florida hurricane response, "one of the largest and longest deployments in American history." They may go to Puerto Rico next.

Southern California has earthquake sensors, and other parts of the state are expanding their systems. Appearing on Eyewitness Newsmakers, Garcetti said by the end of next year, we should have a phone app sending the earthquake early warning. In the meantime, the mayor said, "You need an analog plan in a digital era." He said every family and workplace should drill where to go and what to do if communications are lost.

North Korea's renewed nuclear threat, now saying it will test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, is very worrying to the mayor, who said Pyongyang may have the capability to reach Los Angeles. He said the city is relying on the Department of Defense and federal authorities for information.

Viewers wrote in questions for this Ask the Mayor program. One asked how citizens can get involved in the 2028 Olympics. There is a volunteer section on the website Since the announcement L.A. will be a host city in 11 years, 14,000 people have already signed up. The mayor was pleased the promised Olympic money for Los Angeles youth sports is coming in soon so "a 7 or 8-year-old can compete in her backyard in 2028."

Many viewer questions focused on affordable housing and homelessness. Garcetti is pushing the city council to approve his linkage fee. It would charge luxury home developers a fee that would fund affordable housing. Developers say it will drive up housing costs even more.

To viewers who say the city is too crowded already, the mayor said he's sympathetic to preserving neighborhoods, but density needs to increase in transit corridors. He said rents are high because the city hasn't built enough, and density has to go somewhere. Using new funding sources, Garcetti talked about tripling the pace of affordable housing.

See more from his interview below:

Is Los Angeles sending any rescue teams to Mexico?
Yes. We have on the ground firefighters from Los Angeles County who are one out of two counties in the country who are authorized to leave the country when we have foreign aid. Our Los Angeles city firefighters were both in Houston and in Florida. One of the largest, if not the longest, deployments ever in American history. They may go to Puerto Rico. We just see so many events happening in so many places.

What is L.A. doing about an early warning system?
Well, earthquake safety has been a strong priority of mine. First, passing the toughest ordinance to strengthen our buildings that collapsed in 1994 and in 1971. But second, we do have an early warning system now on the ground, which is more sensors here than anywhere in the country has funded. We have it in many schools. By the end of next year, we think we will have it so that it can push to people's phones using cutting-edge technology so that we can get alerts that can save us precious seconds of time to get under a table, protect our family, protect our friends. But the last thing is people need a plan, and I keep saying this. I'm a broken record. I think especially for new generation of folks who just think our equipment will help us, you need an analog plan in a digital era. Where you're going to go whether you're at work, you're at home, in neighborhood, what's the safest place to be? Practice with your children. Practice with your family. Practice at work because that is literally what will save your life.

When the plan rolls out and gets to our phones next year, that would be just for earthquakes in the Los Angeles area. Is the West Coast system still waiting for funding?
Yes, it's actually for Southern California, so not just L.A., but we have sensors throughout Southern California. Northern California hopes to build theirs and to catch up in other parts of the state. And then yes, to link it in to the western United States as well, but for now the stuff that is here in Southern California. We will get those warnings, and we want to tie it in, like they do in Japan, to things like elevators that can shut down, that can go to the next floor, let people off so you're not stuck in between floors. Some of our subways or light rail would stop so that they don't derail in the middle of something like that and lose lives. So we're going to also tie in the technology, not just the sensors.

North Korea has threatened a nuclear strike test over the ocean. Is L.A. doing anything? Can the city do anything to prepare should any missiles get launched our way?
It is very worrying. It seems like the technology is probably there for North Korea to reach the western United States, the West Coast, maybe even as far down as Los Angeles. We monitor very closely. We're in touch with the Department of Defense and our federal authorities. I've been in the Navy for 12 years working in the Pacific fleet area, so I am well aware of this threat. I hope that our diplomatic means and sanctions can be exhausted. Sometimes rhetoric can ramp things up, and it can be crazy. I'm hoping that we can ramp down the rhetoric, figure out a way to be strong, to defend our interest so to use whatever means we can to make sure it doesn't end up as a tragedy.

Do we have any kind of defensive system here in Los Angeles?
Not that the city of Los Angeles owns. The Department of Defense does have a defense system for the western United States.

Vickie Mays of Los Angeles asks, "The 2028 Olympics is a great time for a planning process that can benefit not only sports, but education, neighborhood development and civic engagement. How can the average person get involved?"
We're so excited the Olympics are coming home. Just last week I was in Lima, Peru, and it's going to be the third time and only the third city to have that, and what I was blown away in the lead up is that we had 14,000 people sign up to volunteer already even though it's 11 years in the future. Our plan is to use that volunteer base to get engaged, to get involved, to do exactly what our viewer was saying, to adopt a school, help us with homelessness, clean up a neighborhood, be a coach and help maybe train a 6 or 7-year-old who could maybe train who could compete in her backyard here in the 2028 Olympics. Our first payment from the International Olympic Committee because we negotiated so well to have dollars for youth sports will start coming in the beginning of next year, so in 2018 we will start to see the fees in city's parks lessened, make it universal access to all sports for kids. I want to work with high schools and have that baton pass so that a kid could get involved in swimming at 5 years old and by the time they're 18 can have great coaching, great opportunities without having to worry about the cost.

Lorie Rust from Palmdale asks, "We don't want a sanctuary city, and we don't want our tax dollars used on illegal immigrants. We would like the mayor to reflect the views of his constituents, not just a certain sect or political party."
Everybody has a definition of what a sanctuary city is. I bet under her definition, which is a place that protects criminals and if you're an undocumented citizen bonus points. We're not that. But what we are and have been since Daryl Gates was our police chief, five different police chiefs, and I guess I'm too pro-cops to stop listening to them, is that we have a system that does not deputize essentially our cops to be immigration officials. That is the federal government's responsibility not ours. To build trust in our communities since for instance we just took down MS-13 in a huge two-year long operation, very dangerous gang, we were able to do that because we have trust in those communities where some people are documented and some aren't, that LAPD is somebody they can trust and tell them 'oh that is where the bad guy lives' or "hey check it out over there in that apartment." It makes us all safer when people come out of the shadows and are able to report crime and participate with LAPD.

City Council wants to declare L.A. as city of sanctuary, not as a sanctuary city. Will you support that if that vote takes place?
Yes, I've used that term and I always say that if being a city of sanctuary means that our cops do their job and the feds do theirs and we abide by the Constitution because we can't hold people longer than the Constitution allows, then yes that's what we are and proudly so. But I think that there is a misconception. A lot of people think a sanctuary city are mayors in the country saying "Please come here if you are a criminal." And that couldn't be further from the truth. We all want to get the bad criminals, and I'm worried that our federal policies are casting a wide net now. Not catching the bad sharks in the sea but are instead picking up a bunch of fish that are causing no harm.

John C. of Long Beach asks, "When and where will affordable housing be built? How many single units?"
Well it's being built already. You can go to the housing community investment department in our city to look where it is. We have a regular list. You can sign up to get on the waiting lists as well to get in the housing. It's not enough though. It's one of the reasons I am pushing our city council to pass as soon as possible. It's in its last phases so viewers can call their council members. Something called a linkage fee so whenever we see one of these large, luxury condominiums or apartment buildings come up in Downtown or Koreatown they'd have to pay a fee that we would then put aside to then build affordable housing for the rest of us, something that would subsidize literally thousands of units throughout our city.

Theresa Ramirez of Los Angeles asks, "Why do you support the overbuilding of housing units in Los Angeles, and specifically in the Echo Park, Frog Town areas? Our streets, roads, and freeways cannot handle the added traffic congestion that is caused by building for more units on a lot that used to have one unit."
"I think housing needs to be built, but it does need to be built in the right place. There is no one neighborhood or one place that I say automatically give a green light. So I'm sympathetic with people who want to preserve the single-family character of neighborhoods, but the tradeoff is that we have to along those corridors where we are investing public transportation, along the Wilshire corridor, places like the Crenshaw-LAX line that we are building now. Density has to go someplace and if we build nothing like we did in the '90s, it's not that people don't come here. They make it even worse in the traffic in the neighborhoods because they cram in what looks like one home might have four families in it. We need to build good, quality, affordable housing, but I do think we should put it where there is transit and public transportation so we don't have bottlenecks in all of our neighborhoods."

Phoenicia of Los Angeles asks, "With the current increase in the homeless population in Los Angeles, what steps are being taken to house this population, as well as housing for displaced families due to the increase in rent prices?"
It's my No. 1 concern. It's where I spend the most time. I have a war room that I've convened in City Hall where I spend hours each week on this. We, thanks to the voters, have HHH dollars which are 10,000 units worth of new housing that we will build, thanks to the voters of Los Angeles. Measure H which was countywide will also give us additional dollars to help with subsidizing and things like rapid rehousing, which is a fancy way of saying if you're on the verge of homelessness and you call the county or the 511 service they have there, you can get assistance.

And now we've seen Hepatitis A starting to show up in Los Angeles.
It really exploded in San Diego, but there's a couple cases here. I've really encouraged our county officials and our fire departments working for them to declare a public health emergency before it spread widely, especially in the encampment areas of Downtown and other places. We're giving our first responders and others who live on the street access to getting vaccinations as well. It's much worse down South, we saw it also in Santa Cruz, but we want to stop it before it spreads here.
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