CityWatch, Sept 28, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 77
In theory, LA's City Charter gives shape to the structure of the city … but in practice, it is LA's City Budget that defines the city, feeding the elements that are to flourish and starving those that are to wither. For all of the talk and press conferences and wringing of hands, it is the City Budget that establishes the priorities of the city, brings its character to life, and establishes its journey into the future. The Mayor and City Council typically present LA's budget saga to the people of LA as an "either/or" proposition, one that pits public safety against libraries or street repair against access to parks. Those that fall for the false paradigm are left to grapple with the City Hall imposed burden of guilt that comes from wanting it all, a safe and healthy city that is committed to delivering city services worthy of a Great City.
Critics of City Hall also embrace the "either/or" proposition, urging the City to either initiate pension bloodletting immediately or enter into bankruptcy proceedings. From the Huffington Post to Los Angeles Magazine, well-articulated arguments have been made for moving from discussions of budget priorities and simply engaging in triage.
Somewhere in between the two overly simplistic ends of the spectrum lie a multitude of complicated options and opportunities, so many that the landscape can be overwhelming and discouraging. At the same time, it has been argued that life can be reduced to several basic plots.
Comedy: Some might call the budget crisis a comedy of errors by a court of jesters, others might dismiss the behavior of the participants as a farce, but if the City of LA doesn't successfully confront the budget crisis, the audience will go down with the performers. If the public successfully engages the budget crisis and prevails, then we can look back and have a laugh at the journey, otherwise, LA will be the bad joke that took the spotlight from Bell.
Tragedy: Neighborhood Councils were created with a City Charter mandate to advise the Mayor and City Council on budget priorities. The Mayor and his staff began work on the 2011/2012 budget months ago, leaving the public in a secondary position. It would be tragic if Neighborhood Councils settled for a spectator role instead of firmly communicating the priorities and solutions that come from the community.
Voyage and Return: The people of LA have ventured into a landscape that is filled with homelessness, foreclosures, unemployment, and failing infrastructure. There's a fork in the road and the choice is simple, more of the same with increasing intensity or the return to paradise. It's a choice, one that the people of LA must take, and it starts with the immediate budget process.
The Quest: The City of LA is under siege and City Hall insiders have long warned that the current crisis is deeper than the public is being told, that it is going to change the City of LA forever. The die is cast, the journey is underway, libraries are being closed, staff are disappearing, quality of life commitments are a thing of the past. The people of LA are faced with an opportunity to demonstrate "People are at their best when things are worst."
Overcoming the Monster: The enemy is at the gate and it threatens the entire community. The only "either/or" proposal on the table is to slay the beast or be destroyed. The City of LA will not survive if it continues to argue "assistance for the aging vs. arts for the children" or any of the other "budget dust" debates that consume the attention of the City Council. The people of Los Angeles must work together and put the focus on a budget that works.
Rebirth: Assuming that both "either/or" paradigms have some truth in them, now is the time for the people of Los Angeles to embrace the challenge and demonstrate all that is Great about LA. The most creative and innovative people live in Los Angeles and the current budget crisis is an opportunity to establish LA as the Capital of Rebirth. For that to happen, the public has to step up quickly and assume the starring role in a great story!
Rags to Riches: Neighborhood Councils have spent a decade bobbing in the political waters, dismissed in good times and on the chopping block in bad times. Now is the opportunity for the public to step to the center of the stage and to reveal that the ordinary is actually quite extraordinary. Implausible? History demonstrates over and over again that it is not only plausible, it is probable. This is the time for the people of Los Angeles to excel.
The Mayor and City Hall have been criticized for "kicking the budget problems down the road" and simply postponing the inevitable. If this scenario is to change, it will be because the people of Los Angeles step up and demand a starring role in the next chapter of the LA story.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)