Garcetti courts the tech sec­tor

Mayor has helped en­tice firms to city, eased ac­cess to data, touted the in­dus­try.

Los Angeles Times - - MONDAY BUSINESS - By David Pierson david.pierson@la­times.com

Few may­ors em­body the dig­i­tal zeit­geist like Eric Garcetti, a self-pro­fessed math geek and am­a­teur coder who has made the L.A. tech scene a cor­ner­stone of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I spend a lot of time with tech CEOs, just on the phone. I reach out to them [to say], ‘Hey, I’m the mayor, what can I do for you?’ ” Garcetti said in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Times to talk about the tech sec­tor.

For ex­am­ple: white glove treat­ment that’s helped net the city plum com­pa­nies such as Riot Games and the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia of­fice of Ya­hoo, which chose L.A. when they out­grew their digs in Santa Mon­ica.

For the lat­ter, Garcetti wrote a let­ter to Ya­hoo Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Marissa Mayer of­fer­ing in­cen­tives in­clud­ing a three-year busi­ness tax ex­emp­tion and a build­ing per­mit fast track for the new Playa Vista cam­pus.

The mayor also ad­vised Riot Games on how to ex­pe­dite the com­pany’s cam­pus ex­pan­sion on Olympic Boule­vard in West L.A.

Hav­ing vowed to be the city’s first “high-tech mayor” when he took of­fice in 2013, Garcetti has launched an open-data por­tal that gives public ac­cess to city statis­tics, and pushed the city to share data with Waze and Google apps to in­form res­i­dents on traf­fic, city ser­vices and emer­gen­cies in real time. In 2014, Garcetti pushed re­newal of tax breaks for In­ter­net com­pa­nies — five times lower than the rate of­fered to most other busi­nesses.

“He un­der­stands how jobs are cre­ated, ef­fi­cien­cies are achieved, and play­ing fields are lev­eled through tech­nol­ogy,” said Garcetti sup­porter Marc Mitchell, who co-founded Cul­ver City mar­ket­ing start-up Loot­sie.

Paul Bri­cault, man­ag­ing part­ner of Am­plify.LA, a Venice start-up ac­cel­er­a­tor, said the bully pul­pit is Garcetti’s best tech pro­mo­tion tool.

“He uses the power of his of­fice to shine the spot­light” on the com­mu­nity, Bri­cault said. “Mayor Vil­laraigosa started to do that, but not to the ex­tent Garcetti has.”

Some of that en­thu­si­asm should be tem­pered, es­pe­cially if L.A.’s new tech ten­ants are merely com­ing from neigh­bor­ing cities like Santa Mon­ica, ex­perts say.

“Will it help L.A.? Yes. Will it help the re­gion? Not a bit,” said Alec Leven­son, a re­search sci­en­tist at USC’s Cen­ter for Ef­fec­tive Or­ga­ni­za­tions. “I give the mayor credit for hav­ing an agenda and cre­at­ing that crit­i­cal mass ... but I want to see what comes af­ter be­fore declar­ing it a roar­ing suc­cess.”

Chris Thorn­berg, found­ing part­ner of Bea­con Eco­nomics, said it was also too soon to judge Garcetti’s record on tech. So far, how­ever, he’s been unim­pressed by the sec­tor’s job growth.

“Sil­i­con Beach is still more of a buzz word than a re­al­ity,” Thorn­berg said.

Mov­ing for­ward, Garcetti said L.A. is ready to ben­e­fit as tech­nol­ogy changes en­ter­tain­ment. The city is filled with sto­ry­tellers and they are no longer con­fined to TV and movies, thanks to the likes of YouTube, Buz­zFeed and Maker Stu­dios.

“L.A. is where con­tent and tech­nol­ogy are col­lid­ing, and I don’t mean that just in the Hol­ly­wood sense of con­tent,” Garcetti said.

Over the years, the city has gained a rep­u­ta­tion for train­ing the most en­gi­neers in the coun­try, through top schools such as Caltech, USC and UCLA, but los­ing them to Sil­i­con Val­ley. Garcetti ex­pects that to change now that L.A.’s start-up scene has reached crit­i­cal mass and emerg­ing gi­ants such as Snapchat are drawing at­ten­tion to the re­gion as a tech cen­ter.

In­vest­ing in bi­cy­cle lanes and light rail, Garcetti said, helps L.A. re­tain tal­ent. Down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion, he said, at­tracts start-ups. Buz­zFeed, for ex­am­ple, is con­sid­er­ing a his­tor­i­cal Arts Dis­trict ware­house to ex­pand, Garcetti said. (A Buz­zFeed spokesper­son said the start-up wants to “go some­where big,” but noth­ing’s set in stone.)

The city is also try­ing to har­mo­nize with the ris­ing shar­ing econ­omy. Uber has been crit­i­cized for hurt­ing taxi busi­nesses and Airbnb for ex­ac­er­bat­ing a dearth of af­ford­able rental prop­er­ties. Garcetti fa­vored work­ing with taxi com­pa­nies to re­vamp reg­u­la­tions that hurt their chances against startup ri­vals. And this year, Garcetti backed an Airbnb tax to help pay for the city’s af­ford­able hous­ing trust fund.

“It’s like try­ing to save ev­ery book­store that was around would have been kind of stupid 10 years ago,” Garcetti said of the in­evitabil­ity of tech­no­log­i­cal change.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

L.A. MAYOR Eric Garcetti says he calls tech CEOs to say, “‘Hey, I’m the mayor, what can I do for you?’ ”

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