Driverless Cars? Eric Garcetti Spins Visions of the Future at L.A. Tech Summit

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Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 1:42 PM
click to enlarge Eric Garcetti addresses the crowd at the L.A. Tech Summit - L.A. TECH SUMMIT
  • L.A. Tech Summit
  • Eric Garcetti addresses the crowd at the L.A. Tech Summit

Speaking to to several hundred tech workers this morning, Mayor Eric Garcetti sought to put his message in terms that his audience would easily understand.

"L.A. city government has a monopoly," he said, "but it has really crappy products."

Garcetti was speaking at the L.A. Tech Summit, a gathering of entrepreneurs and investors in Santa Monica. He wants to be L.A.'s first "tech mayor," and the forum gave him a chance to lay out some of his agenda.

First, he wants to bring technology into City Hall. The goal is to improve the "product" -- basic city services -- by applying metrics, making them public, and holding managers accountable.

Second, Garcetti wants to boost L.A.'s nascent tech sector. For the most part, that means marketing the city as a place where creative people can thrive -- "the greatest platform in the world," as the mayor put it. But it also entails removing some of the regulatory hurdles that can make it harder to start a tech business.

All well and good, until you get into the details. On the tech-in-government front, Garcetti recently unveiled a website that offers some basic statistics on city functions. But that's a long way from having a truly tech-oriented City Hall. The city's app for service requests -- MyLA311 -- fields less than 5% of total service complaints, with the vast majority still coming in over the phone.

As for regulation, Garcetti was asked about Uber, the ridesharing app that has faced regulatory battles in many cities, including L.A., not to mention howls of protest from the taxi industry.

Garcetti was an early Uber backer, and his administration has declined to enforce a cease-and-desist order against Uber and its competitors, Lyft and Sidecar. But this morning Garcetti sounded a little less enthusiastic about the company.

"I love disruptors," he said. "But I've been careful, as much as I embrace them, I don't want to kick taxis away."

Garcetti said he wanted taxis and ridesharing apps to compete on a level playing field, which means that taxis will have to innovate, but the app companies will have to "work through your responsibilities too."

"There's a cost to having those cars on the road," Garcetti said. "At a certain point, everyone needs to pay their fair share... You can't just float above society."

One of the big concerns in the L.A. tech community is the dearth of financing compared with other cities, such as New York. Another questioner asked if Garcetti would do more to encourage the city's pension funds to invest in local tech companies.

Garcetti sounded some encouraging notes about making sure that pension boards have a mandate to invest locally. But he did not make any promises, and said the city generally does a bad job of picking winners and losers.

Garcetti also talked about driverless cars as a way to alleviate traffic, and about how to create neighborhoods that would be optimally designed for them.

"I would love to find a neighborhood, and be the first big city in the world to have a driverless car neighborhood," Garcetti said.

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