Antonio Villaraigosa On Walmart, AEG, Marijuana, Taxes And His Future


Kathleen Miles is the executive editor of Noema Magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @mileskathleen.

Antonio Villaraigosa appeared on HuffPost Live Thursday to talk about a variety of hot topics in LA that include Walmart, marijuana, taxes, the zoo and an LA football team.

When asked about his support for Walmart moving into downtown LA’s Chinatown, despite thousands of Angelenos protesting it, the mayor answered, “I am not going to use the city’s powers to deny something that they have a right to do with or without us. They would’ve sued, and they would’ve won.”

Although the LA City Council unanimously approved an emergency ban on chain retail stores in the historic Chinatown area in March, Walmart surprised the Council by obtaining the building permits it needed the night before. The city’s eleventh-hour issuance of the permits is currently being appealed by the Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and some Chinatown business owners and residents.

Regarding Walmart’s hopes to open more stores across LA, Villaraigosa raised the issue of food deserts, or low-income areas that lack access to grocery stores. This is the same argument that Walmart has used to convince cities to issue permits for Walmart Neighborhood Marts, which are one-fifth the size of the retailer’s superstores. The proposed store in downtown LA’s Chinatown would be a Neighborhood Mart.

Asked if there is a point at which the mayor would draw a line in his support of Walmart’s expansion, he answered, “I’ll look at each one of those on an individual, case-by-case business.” But, with only a couple hundred days left in office, he added, “Probably the best person to ask is the next mayor.”

When asked if he supported the Walmart workers who went on strike on Black Friday, Villaraigosa did not take a stand. “I didn’t oppose it or support it. I didn’t weigh in on it,” he said.

The mayor gave a similar non-answer when asked if he would support the legalization of marijuana in California. “I’m not there yet,” he said. “I could be. We have to make sure that you have certain protections obviously like driving under the influence. But it’s not before us so I don’t need to opine at this point.”

Regarding an NFL team coming to LA, he predicted that the city will get two teams and might even know one of them next year. He said that the real revenue will come from hosting the Super Bowl.

“Football doesn’t really generate the kind of revenues for a city that we need …. Let me tell you why football’s important. How many Super Bowls have you seen in the snow?,” he said. “The economic impact of Super Bowls is tremendous. I think $300 and some odd million.”

He added that expanding the LA Convention Center will bring LA from the number-fifteen convention city to the number-five convention city. With this will come more business, tourism and at least four new hotels, he said. “So that’s going to be a shot in the arm for LA.”

Regarding the half-cent sales tax increase that the LA City Council has proposed, the mayor said he only supports it if certain budget-trimming measures are taken. For one, he thinks LA “should be out of the zoo business” and leave the facility to private operators. He also wants to make sure that a public-private partnership — rather than the city itself — is operating the convention center. And he wants to consolidate some departments and move ahead with city employee layoffs that were approved last July. The mayor has already cut the number of city employees by a third.

Villaraigosa said he’s been forced to implement unpopular job cuts, furloughs and pension reform in part because of California’s “broken system” requiring a two-thirds vote to pass taxes. The two-thirds rule is “why almost all of the cities who have gone bankrupt are in California” and why more in the state will likely follow suit, he said.

The mayor said he does not know if he’s going to endorse any of the candidates in the mayoral race next year. As far as his future, he said he would like to take some time to “reflect on what I’ve done for the past 16 years.” He would also like to work with a think tank or university to study the “radical center” and solutions to partisan gridlock, he said.

About the past eight years of his mayoralty, “It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Villaraigosa said. After it’s all over, “I guarantee you, I will ride into the sunset with the same smile I rode into this job with,” he said.