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Screw the public!

“The easiest thing would be to have the unions work with us to reduce salary increases.” 

That’s what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the Daily News Tuesday in trying to explain why he wanted to take $90 million out of our pockets and reduce various services to us.

Unfortunately, the mayor didn’t do “the easiest thing” — in fact it’s the only thing — which is to confront the problem that the city pays its workers too much and gives them benefits that are too costly.

L.A. has arguably the nation’s costliest municipal workforce and the most coddled with civil service rules that make it almost impossible to fire people or even lay them off. The result is mediocrity, and lackluster performance is rewarded while creativity and energy are punished.

This isn’t an anti-union screed. I’ve been a union leader. I believe unions are vital to balance out the power of corporations and create healthy work environments. This is about how L.A.”s public employee unions — with help from big money special interests like developers, contractors and lobbyists — own our elected officials.

Instead of confronting the real problem, the mayor took the same old route that City Hall has taken for too long when there’s financial problems: Screw the public! Raise taxes! Cut services!

Antonio knows better, he knows what has to be done. He knows that he and the City Council just approved whopping pay raises to city employees in the face of a weakening economy. And he knows that the people aren’t organized enough to give him the political room needed to confront the problem without gambling with his own ambitions.

That’s our fault. But it’s his and the rest of the city’s leadership that they don’t have the courage to stand up for what’s right, to privatize functions that can be done cheaper and better outside of government, to bring the unions and other special interests in line.

For example, private companies could fix the broken streets and sidewalks faster and cheaper than the city does, and actually reduce the 75-year backlog that leaves taxpayer liable for millions of dollars in lawsuits every year. Rather than breaking the social contract and charging the public the full cost of home garbage collection as a subterfuge for paying for more cops, the city could let residents contract with the many private firms at lower cost, even organizing whole neighborhoods to bargain for discounts.

We need City Hall to focus on reducing crime, getting rid of the gang menace, improving the public transportation system using jitneys, bus lanes and other low-cost measures.

I’ve told Antonio more than once that many voters liked the idea of a punk from East L.A. who wanted to be somebody in the mayor’s office because they believed he’d stand up for the people. But as much as I like Antonio personally and believe that he would respond if there was a groundswell of public support for radical changes to make the city better, I’m sad to say what we’ve got for the most part is Jimmy Hahn with a smile and a charming personality.

The community is waking up over new development rules that will destroy their neighborhoods and disenfranchise them, to the failure to come down hard on gangsters and criminal illegal immigrants, over the worsening congestion on streets and freeways, over political rhetoric without an action line.

I still hold out hope that Antonio will seize this moment of crisis and be the one who finds the guts to do the right thing for the city and its people. But the clock is ticking and things are going from bad to worse. 




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3 Responses to Screw the public!

  1. anonymous says:

    Everyone knows that L.A. government workers are overpaid and underused. Everyone knows that politicians are shills for the developers, big business, and “non-profit” special interests. Pointing this out to us doesn’t solve or change anything.
    The public needs to organize and change our thinking from the way we were taught. We need to go back to being in groups and expressing our self-interest needs. We need to flock to neighborhood watch groups and demand fixes to neighborhood problems. We need to join clubs, Lions clubs, Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce groups and then encourage community volunteerism. We need to stress religious groupings since they are positive influences on the community.
    Many in Los Angeles don’t do this since it is discouraged. The City does very little to encourage special interest groups, relatively speaking. For the most part, they aren’t allowed (or overcharged) to use playgrounds, City facilities and resources. If Neighborhood Councils were effective then they would be able to accomplish much. But, they are held in check by burdensome rules and an absurd charter.
    It’s no wonder that the L.A. is such a mess. The people have been neutered and are entirely helpless. RK, if you want to run for Mayor this is what you should say, “join a club, organize, and do something for your neighborhood.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    “L.A. has arguably the nation’s costliest municipal workforce”
    Sounds good Ron, I’d like to believe it, but please back that up.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Even the extremely liberal Rosendahl has suggested cutting the lifetime pensions down for future employees — Kaye is right, even Rosendahl admitted they’re way more generous than the private sector, and aren’t compatible with a city that’s broke and scrambling to nickel and dime taxpayers, especially homeowners. (You do a good job painting a picture of the put upon homeowners, and that extends to many even in places like Bel Air, older folk who bought their homes decades ago and are cash poor but house rich, and are tapping into their equity.)
    Speaking of Rosendahl, his plan to increase meter rates, the “gold in the gutter” he goes on about, to $4.oo/ hr is a bad idea, too. It will make people think twice about patronizing shops without parking, which are the small Mom and Pop places like on Pico. Ironic that area’s fighting an extra no parking hour to improve traffic flow, but increasing the parking that much will drive people to the big stores with free parking and to malls, or out of town to Burbank, Culver City, even ritzy Beverly Hills. (The West Valley and outer areas won’t feel this as much.) Rosendahl meanwhile is a vocal opponent of the Mayor’s Pico plan — allegedly responding to merchants’ complaints. Yet the city is stuck giving free parking at meters for many Prius-type cars for several years, while raising kids’ rates at the zoo, and charging them to use public facilities for Little League, and Girl Scouts. Makes “sense.”

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