[HOT] – A Rite of Passage for a Los Angeles Mayor: A Natural Disaster



LOS ANGELES – There is had visits to two fire sites. Meetings with firefighters at command posts and two press conferences 15 miles from each other

On the way, Mayor Eric M. Garcetti, sitting at the back of his SUV, Thursday offered a tour of the city with an apparently intimate knowledge of the geography of what was, by far, the most serious fire in his six years as mayor. "There is one lost house," he said, showing a ridge along Highway 405 while he was heading for a television interview in Glendale. "Right there but they saved one at the end."

As the car crossed the crest of the hill, opening onto a breathtaking view of the San Fernando Valley And especially the clear blue sky, Mr. Garcetti noticed how much The conditions had changed since he had made his first visit here Tuesday morning, heading for a fire that had exploded overnight in Sylmar. That day, he could barely see through a valley filled with black smoke.

"Look at this," he says. "When we got here two days ago, it was the thickest fog imaginable, I'm going to show you pictures, I've never seen anything like it."

Over the past four days, Mr. Garcetti has found himself overcoming what appears to be an inevitable rite of passage for any Los Angeles Mayor: Responding to a Natural Disaster

When Fires Begun Mr. Garcetti, who has experienced his share of fires and earthquakes, sought to reassure a city by observing the rapid spread of uncontrollable fires, beaten by the winds of Santa Ana, with the possibility of inflicting catastrophic damage in large areas of the city.

"These are days that break your heart," he said. "These are also days that show the resilience of our city."

On Thursday night, with the smoke cleared and most of the flames Mr. Garcetti appeared relieved of the way Los Angeles had been, at least

It was hardly the most serious disaster that California has endured – fires in other parts of the state were more difficult for its elected leaders – and if we believe the predictions of geologists, the worst may be coming. But it gave a glimpse of that mayor's style, a bit of a test after almost five years of service – and at a time when Mr. Garcetti encouraged a bit of national attention by suggesting that he might want to get himself present to the presidency.


In Los Angeles, especially in times like this, there are few jobs as critical as the fire chief. And Ralph M. Terrazas, whom Mr. Garcetti promoted to fire chief shortly after he became mayor, was present by his side, offering technical updates on fire conditions and reporting how he was sending his 3,200 members on 500-mile-mile city, where the speed of an answer can determine whether a fire is a passing brusher or a fire that forces the evacuation of thousands of houses.

At the height of the disaster, 900 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department were spread throughout the region, fighting three large fires and battling dozens of other explosions. They were part of an army of 2,000 firefighters, many of whom had come from the other side of the state to help with the effort. Six hundred members of the city's police department were also assigned to the fires.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, said that this episode had he highlighted, at least for the The close relationship that Mr. Garcetti had with his police commissioner and the fire commissioner. These relationships have often been strained with mayors in the past, and this has caused problems when the city has had to meet.

"When the relationship between the mayor and the chief is toxic – thinks Bradley-Gates – that's not good," said Mr. Sonenshein, referring to Tom Bradley, who was mayor from Los Angeles from 1973 to 1993, and Daryl Gates, his police commissioner.

At the time Mr. Garcetti arrived Thursday morning for a private briefing by firefighters and police officers at the Command Center for the Skirball fire, the fire – which at one time potentially threatened a major threat to some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles – was considered far away, less of a threat.But the danger persists.

The command post of the West Los Angeles Veterans Campus, just off Highway 405, was led by firefighters and police officers. "Mr. Garcetti, wearing a blue jacket of the town hall decorated with his name, mingled with firefighters in front of the post office of command, compared the photographs of the fire on their phones and exchanged information on what they had heard on the ground

M. Garcetti headed for a fire card taped to the wall as a deputy chief, Corey Rose, updated him. The Mayor dutifully scribbled notes, asking questions that reflected the resolutely technocratic spirit he had brought to the mayor's office. (Example: "What is confinement in Rye, do you know?" Asked the mayor, informing of the Santa Clarita fire.)

The Mayor's Role in Los Angeles is almost vague, reflecting a cumbersome system of government in Southern California that seems to confuse any attempt to handle a complicated crisis.

There are 88 cities in Los Angeles County, with Los Angeles being the largest. The county is controlled by a five-member supervisory board. This means, most often, that it is the mayor who becomes the face of a crisis. But the mayor does not have the general authority on the answer.

So, when millions of Mr. Garcetti voters were surprised on Wednesday night by their phone buzzing with an emergency warning of "extreme fire danger," the mayor It has nothing to do with this: This alert has been sent by the state.

Not that he would have blocked it, said Mr. Garcetti

"I said too much communication," he said. "You saw how many people died in the north," he added, referring to the Northern California fires in October.

Garcetti has never been a showman, at least in the tradition of, say, Edward I. Koch or Rudolph W. Giuliani, two mayors of New York who are regularly identified with the greatest crises of their cities.

But when he came on Tuesday morning for the first fire, he was wearing protective gear – the yellow jacket – and an official fire helmet "mayor". It was out of necessity, he said later, reminiscent of embers raining from the sky. In the opinion of this mayor, politicians in such places should wear civilian clothes and leave the uniforms to the officers. While he was talking, he took his fire helmet off the seat, and moved it to the rear of the SUV

Correction :

An earlier version of this inaccurate article how long Eric M. Garcetti was mayor of Los Angeles. He has been in charge for nearly five years, not six.


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