Thursday, March 19, 2009
President Barack Obama walked out to thunderous applause at a town hall meeting near downtown Los Angeles today, where he told the crowd his administration is taking steps to resolve the housing crisis that is at the root of the economic crisis.
The president's opening remarks mirrored the optimistic tone he struck at a similar forum yesterday in Orange County.
"I know how tough times are," he said. "In Los Angeles, in California but also all across the country. Here is what I want you to remember though --we are going to meet these challenges. I promise you this -- there will be brighter days ahead."
He said the state and nation are going through challenging times and noted that the state has lost a half-million jobs over the past year, driving the unemployment rate to double digits, and that the foreclosure rate has skyrocketed.
He said an important step to get the economy back on track is to address the housing crisis and said California will receive $145 million from the federal government to help homeowners refinance their loans and to rehabilitate and resell foreclosed properties.
"We need to bring about a recovery that endures," Obama said.
The president's opening remarks were frequently interrupted by cheers, applause and standing ovations.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced the president to the crowd.
"Behind the president's leadership, we now have a stimulus bill that will put people back to work," said the mayor, who has made five trips to Washington, D.C. since December to lobby for those funds. "Here in L.A., and across this great country, we're saying yes to a strategy that invests in workers, supports our middle class and puts the American dream within reach for every single family."
Villaraigosa said Los Angeles is already helping itself by investing in public transportation, renewable energy and education.
"The people of this town are ready to get back to work. Ready to lay a foundation for success today and prosperity tomorrow," Villaraigosa said.
Outside the learning center, several hundred pro-immigration activists lined Lucas Street at Third Avenue, holding signs that read "Obama Count Us Too!" and "We Are Not Criminals," but the president did not focus on immigration in his opening remarks.
Ron Gochez, an organizer with Union Del Barrio, said the group wants the president to order immigration officials to stop arresting people who are in the country illegally and allow illegal immigrants to become citizens.
"What we're here to do is pressure the president because he has very clearly stated, he promised the Latino community that once in power he would stop the ICE raids and that he would also grant some kind of legalization for our community -- immigration reform," Gochez said.
At Wednesday's town meeting in Costa Mesa, Obama said it is "intolerable" for a half-million illegal immigrants to cross the border each year, and that there needs to be a crackdown on employers who employ undocumented workers. But he also said there needs to be a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and that the entire issue must be tackled at the same time or it won't work.
Earlier today, Obama announced in Pomona that his administration will help put a million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015 and offer $7,500 tax credits for people who buy them.
Appearing at Southern California Edison's electrical vehicle technical center, where next-generation car batteries are being made, Obama said the incentives are part of an overall plan to upgrade the nation's energy infrastructure.
He said the country has not made independence from foreign oil a priority, noting that the 1908 Model T Ford got better mileage than a typical sport utility vehicle in 2008.
"So the problem isn't a lack of technology," he said. "You're producing the technology right here. The problem is that, for decades, we have avoided doing what must be done as a nation to turn challenge into opportunity. As a consequence, we import more oil today than we did on 9/11."
The president also announced "a $400 million down payment on the infrastructure needed to get hybrids on road," and $1 billion investment in upgrading the nation's power grid.
"And even as our economy has been transformed by new forms of technology, our electric grid looks largely the same as it did half a century ago," Obama said.
He said change will not be easy and progress may seem slow.
"We'll do this because we know that the nation that leads on energy will be the nation that leads the world in the 21st century," Obama said.
He noted that Germany and Spain are way ahead of the United States in terms of solar energy.
Later today, Obama will tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," becoming the first sitting president to be on a late-night talk show.
Obama's two-day Southland visit will end early this evening when he leaves Long Beach Airport for Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, D.C., where Air Force One is scheduled to land early Friday meeting.