Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - The Mythology of "Full Cost Recovery"

CityWatch, Dec 14, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 99

To call the City of Los Angeles "Penny-Wise and Dollar-Foolish" would be an insult to those who are actually good with pennies.

The City's current assault on community gardens is the latest evidence that the Mayor's ongoing "Full Cost Recovery" marketing campaign falls far short of addressing the systemic economic problems that are responsible for LA's current and projected financial woes.

Community Gardeners are the latest victims of the "Full Cost Recovery" shakedown and their plight has prompted the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition to call on the Rec and Parks Commission to rescind a plot fee rental increase of 380% that is scheduled to take effect in January of 2011.

During the most recent Commission hearing, it became apparent that the Department of Recreation and Parks doesn't know what costs are involved in operating community gardens yet it has set its sights on the people of LA and is about to pull the "Full Cost Recovery" trigger. When a Charter Department is unable to account for its responsibilities, its areas of oversight, and its expenses, it becomes evident that all the talk of cost recovery is simply a smokescreen.

If the City of Los Angeles is going to have a discussion of cost recovery, it must start with an honest audit of the real costs of each department and of each service. Regardless of how the "Full Cost Recovery" debate plays out, the benefits of open and transparent operations are tremendous and would provide the first step to real accountability at City Hall.

It has also become apparent that the Department of Recreation and Parks doesn't know what costs would be incurred if LA did not have community gardens operating in different areas of the city. In some cases, the community gardeners provide services to the city by maintaining common space that would need to be serviced by the city if the gardeners were gone.

In other cases, blighted land was cleaned up by community gardeners and their presence results in a public safety savings. Another garden was built as a water reclamation project to save a hill that was eroding, resulting in a public works savings and demonstrating again that the presence of a garden can cost less that the absence of a garden.

If the Los Angeles is going to have a real discussion of cost recovery, it must include an honest evaluation of costs and benefits of LA's programs and services before bureaucrats are able to simply refer to everything as a liability and an opportunity to start dispensing invoices.

Through it all, it is apparent that the Mayor's "Full Cost Recovery" plan is responsible for generating false revenues as city departments charge each other and count as revenue the circular exchange of services and goods that all belong to the City of LA.

The plight of LA's Community Gardens remains to be resolved and the issue is working its way through City Hall. Through it all, the Rec and Parks Commission has directed staff to develop an inventory of assets, an accounting of real costs and benefits, a comparison to the expenses of other cities, and a real analysis of the economic impact of community gardens on the department and on the city.

Community Gardeners are simply fighting for their gardens but in doing so, they have triggered a process that could set a standard for City Hall access, transparency, and accountability that could have greater positive impact on LA's financial woes than any "Full Cost Recovery" invoice.

(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.)

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