Eric Garcetti
Mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo

Mayor Eric Garcetti was scheduled to return to Los Angeles Saturday after a busy trip to Europe that included a private audience with Pope Francis I at the Vatican.

Garcetti has been traveling since last Saturday when he embarked on a personal trip. Since Wednesday, his schedule has included trips to Copenhagen, London and the Vatican.

His business in Europe was primarily related to C40 Cities, according to the mayor’s communications office. The expenses of the trip were paid for by the C40, a group comprising 94 cities aimed at taking “bold climate action” by implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. The organization’s main conference is Oct. 9-12 in Copenhagen.

In the Vatican meeting on Friday, the pope and Garcetti discussed the priorities of climate change, young people, poverty and immigration.

“I’m so grateful to Pope Francis for the deep and humbling honor of meeting with me at the Vatican today,” Garcetti said. “I was moved by his inspired words about matters that will shape the future of our world, and to have the chance to speak to him about our mutual work to save this planet and serve our fellow human beings.

“His Holiness shared greetings for the people of Los Angeles and we are grateful for his grace, his prayers, and a message of faith, love, understanding and cooperation that brings peace and comfort to people everywhere.”

When he returns to work this week, the mayor might face new questions about a text exchange with Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas during last year’s Woolsey Fire, in which Garcetti asked about the status of a specific address in the fire area.

The address was redacted in records received by the Los Angeles Times after a public information request, to legally protect the homeowner from an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” according to the Los Angeles Fire Department and Garcetti’s office.

But the move drew criticism from public records watchdogs.

“The exemption (to the state records act) is not supposed to enable the mayor to ask about someone’s house and then refuse to identify who that individual was,” Glen Smith, legal fellow at the First Amendment Coalition, told the Times. “The exemptions are not supposed to give political cover to an elected official.”

Garcetti’s spokesman, Alex Comisar, said Garcetti asked about the entire Bell Canyon area because he was “concerned for the safety of all those affected by the wildfire and the city’s brave and skillful first responders on the scene.”

“In the text messages,” Comisar added, “Mayor Garcetti asked for information about Bell Canyon and West Hills because both communities were threatened by the wildfire, evacuated and protected by Los Angeles city firefighters, and he knows residents in both communities.”

The newspaper requested the text messages after publishing a story in April that cited the following eye-opening excerpt from LAFD after-action reports following the fire, which started Nov. 8 and consumed more than 96,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,600 buildings and damaged another 360 structures:

“A significant number of requests by political figures to check on specific addresses of homes to ensure their protection distracted from Department leadership to accomplish priority objectives,” it read.

That statement, however, was retracted by LAFD officials. Terrazas said the statement was inaccurate and should not have been included on the report.

Garcetti’s press office told the Times that no firefighting operations were affected by his request because the Los Angeles Police Department was already performing a canvass of the neighborhood, and the mayor merely asked for that information.

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