Vol 8 Issue 36
Everybody in Los Angeles should trek to City Hall at least once in their LA experience, simply to stand in the Rotunda and to experience the inspiration of the city founders as memorialized in the California Redwood beams that support the corridor ceilings, the marble floor with bronze Spanish Caravel, the cast bronze electrolier featuring silhouettes of people significant to California, to the ten pillars that surround, each one made of a unique marble.
Most important of all is the ceiling, two stories above, a beautiful mosaic containing eight figures representing Art, Public Service, Government, Protection, Trust, Education, Health, and Law. It's the vision of LA and the commitment of our founders.
In stark contrast is City Council Chambers, just a few feet down the south corridor, where one can experience the desperation that is the current commodity of LA's City Hall.
Midway through the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee review of the Mayor's proposed budget for 2010-2011, the corridor, the hallway and the City Council Chambers are abuzz with community members fighting for services, staffers fighting for jobs, department heads fighting for budgets and politicos fighting for an exit strategy.
This is where the vision of LA as a Great City gives way to the reality of LA as a ship adrift, nothing but flotsam and jetsam in its wake. It's the failure of our leaders.
The current budget discussions have wandered far from structural change or systemic revisions and instead grind excruciatingly, painfully, slowly through the minutiae of departmental operations.
Department by department, Chiefs and Managers and Executives alike have appeared before the seven figures who comprise the Budget & Finance Committee, giving detailed reports on their departments in an effort to justify their funding and staffing.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck opened confidently by stating, "I'm satisfied with the proposed budget. Just let me do my job and then you hold me accountable." Of course, he must know that it is the Mayor who will hold him accountable, not the City Council but it sounded good.
Recreation and Parks GM Jon Kirk Mukri also opened strong saying, "Let's agree on the budget but let me run the department." If only it were that easy!
Another General Manager wistfully expressed a different sentiment when she pointed out "I don't manage a department, I work for the Mayor."
The Budget & Finance Committee review of the proposed budget is in its second phase. Some of the Departments are reporting back on questions that they were unable to answer in the first round. Most telling was CM Huizar's question to LADOT "What exactly did the Bikeways Division do last year?"
Crickets chirped and staffers made a note to find out. A nip here, a tuck there, a parking garage that is key to the revitalization of an urban environment disappears but a welder reappears.
Through it all, the Neighborhood Councils Budget Advocates continue to meet with the Mayor's office, lobbying to develop systemic solutions that commit to maintaining the efficient delivery of services.
Budget Advocates have attended the Budget & Finance Committee hearings, repeatedly urging the committee to position the delivery of city services as the priority, not simply to cut costs.
From the proposed Public Parnerships to the consolidation of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment with the Community Development Department to the proposal to consolidate the Department of Transportation into other Charter Departments, the NC Budget Advocates have been there, representing the neighborhood councils.
For more information, visit BudgetLA.org.
The Central Planning Area Budget Recommendations:
Central Planning District -
1) Honor the Charter - Protect Charter Departments over Ordinance Departments. Look for redundancies, look for opportunities to consolidate, pursue efficiencies by supporting Charter Departments and always pursuing the Great City commitment it represents.
2) Public Private Partnerships - Investigate rigorously, no short-term financial gain at the expense of the constituents who pay for those services, at the expense of the city’s assets, and at the expense of long-term revenue streams.
3) Invest in Infrastructure - Avoid short term and ineffective maintenance/repairs of the City’s Infrastructure, instead committing to the substantial prioritization of an investment in the future.
4) Community Redevelopment Agency - Draw the CRA into a robust relationship with the City of Los Angeles, evaluating the financial relationship and embracing a partnership in funding, in revenue, in budget accountability, and in budget responsibility.
5) City Pensions - Evaluate and re-evaluate the City of Los Angeles pensions program for budget savings. (including health care liabilities and contributions)
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and represents the Central Planning District on the NC Budget Advocates Committee. He also writes for CityWatch. Box can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)
• Photo by Floyd B. Bariscale