All 88 of Los Angeles County’s mayors were invited to L.A. city Mayor Eric Garcetti’s semi-annual “convening” — this time, hosted by South Pasadena — on Wednesday, and more than 40 showed up at the Library Community Room to hear presentations from various experts and to discuss what Garcetti called “issues that ignore borders.”
Earthquake preparedness, cyber security, transportation, the environment, climate change and employee wellness were among the items on the agenda at the 17th such gathering since Garcetti began these twice-annual mayoral mingles shortly after he took office in 2013.
“We know how linked we all are,” Garcetti said, welcoming “my sister and brother mayors,” before pointing out that these wide-ranging convenings give mayors a chance to kick around “common threats” that present “regional challenges” and require “regional cooperation.”
Dr. Lucy Jones, the famed earthquake expert, was one of the featured speakers; so was Lawren Markle, senior director of communications for the non-profit L.A. County Economic Development Corporation; and South Pas Mayor Marina Khubesrian, a medical doctor, discussed “Employee Wellness in Local Government.”
County Supervisors Katherine Barger of the Fifth District — which includes South Pas — and Mark Ridley Thomas (Second District) also attended.
Barger used the occasion to reiterate her commitment to keeping funds formerly ticketed for the now-defunct 710 freeway extension in local hands, saying, “We are all on board to make sure these dollars go back to the community.”
While Garcetti’s remarks touched on, among other topics, the 15 rapid transit lines that will be built in L.A. County in the coming years — something he called the “biggest change” for the next generation — he focused on cyber security, pointing out that the City of L.A. receives “close to a billion (cyber) threats a year.”
He said that more regional cooperation is needed in that area, covering everything from the power grid to water delivery to LAX Airport, and all the way down to the local-government level.
Garcetti said hackers share information on potential threats and vulnerable spots all the time — and that it’s incumbent on government to be just as talkative.
“We have to be as cooperative with each other as those who attack us,” he said.
One asset that he said can be used to great effect is a website called LACyberLab.org, whose mission is to provide the L.A. business community and local governments with all manner of tips and strategies’ for greater cyber security awareness, and which can share real-time threats as well.
“We need to create a digital shield around our region,’’ Garcetti said.
Jones, meanwhile, pointed out that many buildings in the L.A. area need to be retrofitted to guard against earthquakes, and called for tougher laws among municipalities to mandate such changes — the possible political difficulties notwithstanding.
“We are all in this together,” Jones said, reiterating the regional theme of the day’s proceedings.
South Pas City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe, in a separate interview with the Review, said after the meeting that the city will be working with Jones in the coming months on just such issues, with more news on that front on the horizon.
Markle, of the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation, also focused his remarks on earthquake preparedness, saying there is a “striking lack of information for businesses out there,” and that businesses in particular — but also local governments — need to “deep dive into resilience.”
“Very few businesses have taken the steps, and many businesses will fail” in the aftermath of a big quake, he said.
He urged businesses to reach out to his organization — at LAEDC.org — but generally outlined a strategy in which businesses back up critical documents on the cloud (“to really insulate your business from what’s happening on the ground”), and encourage telecommuting (where employees can continue to work if buildings have failed); and in which municipalities enhance building codes.
Meanwhile, Khubesrian urged her fellow mayors to put more focus on employee wellness as a way of attracting and keeping workers.
“We talked a lot about resiliency today,” she said, adding that addressing wellness concerns “are really about making an organization resilient.”
Employee retention has been one area in which South Pas has faced criticism from the public recently, though city spokesman John Pope has pointed out that, last year, only 16 of 147 full-time employees left — something he called a “hardly startling” 11 percent rate.
Still, Khubesrian said the city has faced a “crisis in retaining people.”
Khubesrian said the city included various wellness elements in its recently concluded negotiations with three city unions — including switching most city workers to a four-day, 40-hour work week; adding a yoga and meditation room (under construction) at City Hall; and offering free or low-cost wellness perks for employees.
She said such steps address chronic stress, anxiety and other health issues and improve overall workplace performance.
“Eighty-seven percent of employees consider health and wellness offerings when choosing an employers,’’ Khubesrian said.
Such steps are also relatively cheap ways that smaller cities such as South Pas can make themselves more attractive to employees, she said.
“For every dollar spent on wellness, an average of $3.27 is saved on health-care costs,’’ Khubesrian told her fellow mayors.
And, she said, $5.82 is saved, per dollar, on absenteeism.