Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the future of L.A.

The skyline of Los Angeles, Calif. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has plans to keep improving infrastructure, schools and the general standard of living in his city.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council member Eric Garcetti at Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Jeremy Hobson: Now to the home of Marketplace: Los Angeles -- a city with a population of about 4 million. There are about 13 million in the metro area, which is home to the third biggest metropolitan economy in the world.

Its mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, happens to be the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the moment. And he joins us now in our L.A. studio. Good morning.

Antonio Villaraigosa: Jeremy, it's great to be with you.

Hobson: It's great to have you here. I want to start by asking you -- I remember back in 2005, when you were inaugurated, I remember listening to your speech and one of the things that you talked about was that the biggest challenge for Los Angeles was the fact that we spend so much time stuck in traffic. You talked about a "subway to the sea." Why hasn't that happened yet?

Villaraigosa: Remember when we were talking about doubling the size of our rail system, we didn't have the money to do it. That was 2005. Since then, we passed Measure R, a half-penny sales tax to generate $40 billion to double the size of the rail system, and Measure R actually helps to fund a subway that will take us very close to the sea.

Hobson: Do you see Los Angeles in the future as a city with a transportation system like New York or Chicago or Washington D.C. where you really can get anywhere you want to go quickly on a train or a bus?

Villaraigosa: It will unique to Los Angeles -- it won't be New York, Chicago or San Francisco -- but yes. You know, there was a lot of attention on L.A. during the so-called "Carmageddon." That HOV lane that we will build will relieve the most congested freeway in the United States.

Hobson: The 405.

Villaraigosa: The 405. But we can't continue building freeways in L.A. We've got to invest in public transportation, and that's what I'd said we do six years ago in my inaugural speech, as you mentioned.

Hobson: In addition to being the mayor of Los Angeles, you are also, as we said, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. What is a city that you have seen since you've been in that job that has inspired you, that you see as a model for things that other cities in the country should emulate?

Villaraigosa: Well there are a lot of great cities. Chicago's one of them; New York is a very well-run city; so is Boston. L.A. is unique. It's a city with a gateway to Asia and Latin America, and that's why I believe we are America's city of the future, because of the proximity that we have to the growing economies of Asia and Latin America.

Hobson: How are L.A.'s finances? Is the situation better now than it was, say, a year ago?

Villaraigosa: Without question. The situation is definitely better. We were facing a $500 million structural deficit; it's about $200 million this year. The difference between cities and the state and federal government is that the federal government, when they have a deficit, can print more money. States balance their budget on the backs of cities, counties and school districts. The buck stops with us, and we have to make the tough decisions. We've made them, but I'd like to see more of a partnership with the state and the federal government, particularly in these times.

Hobson: I used to live in New York, which I think is a great city; I now live in L.A., which I think is a great city as well. But it's kind of hard sometimes to convince people of that. Why do you think that L.A. has this weird bad rap in some parts of the country?

Villaraigosa: I love the New Yorkers who always talk about New York but live in Los Angeles. I actually find it rather funny. I think what happens is, many of the people that live in Los Angeles weren't born here, so they still feel some connection. But there's a reason why they live here. There's a quality of life here, and people just embrace you. And I think that's why people love Los Angeles the way they do.

Hobson: Antonio Villaraigosa is the mayor of Los Angeles and the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mayor Villaraigosa, thanks so much.

Villaraigosa: Thank you.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council member Eric Garcetti at Los Angeles City Hall on Feb. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.

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