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Grappling with the City Budget Crisis: More Money for City Hall or More Power to the People?

Editor’s Note: The following two columns I wrote were published this week in local community newspapers. The first one in Wayne Adelstein’s North Valley Community News and the second one in Nina Royal’s North Valley Reporter.

Remembrance of a Valley Pas
t

Every week, Councilman Greig Smith’s newsletter shows up in my email and every week I keep thinking I wish I lived in Council District 12 instead of a few blocks away in CD3. 

After all, I grew up in a happier time in the 1950s and Smith’s weekly briefing conveys that world of half a century ago when life was simpler and father really seemed to know best.   

For Smith, who has spent his whole adult life on the city payroll, it must still seem like 1954 all over again. Library book sales, youth sports programs, Earth Day celebrations, college reunions, health issues of the elderly, honors for worthy citizens, after-school programs, benefits for veterans, special reports from staff on the Boys and Girls Club and electric lawn motors, community outings, visits from foreigners

All causes and activities worthy of note but not a word about how LA – even Chatsworth and Northridge and other communities in CD 12 – has reached a fork in the road and we have to decide whether this is the tipping point for the city or the turning point where we start to fix all that is broken.   

Even as he was sending out his newsletter, Smith was leading the charge on the City Council to impose dramatic increase in water rates that will almost entirely be paid by his constituents who live in single-family homes, particularly those with horse properties and those with smaller lots. 

The rest of the story…



Can Neighborhood Councils Fill the City Services Gap?

At a recent
City Council meeting where water rate hikes that punish single-family
homeowners and horse properties were approved, Janice Hahn seized on the
failure of the Department of Water and Power’s to reach out to Neighborhood
Councils.

 

“I am very,
very troubled that our Department of Neighborhood Empowerment’s General Manager
(BongHwan Kim) says you do not have a good relationship with Neighborhood
Councils,” the councilwoman lectured DWP General Manager David Nahai in
opposing the rate hike.

 

She noted
the city initiated its first Memorandum of Understanding with the NC movement
to bring the community inside the nation’s largest municipal utility – a
relationship that flourished until Nahai took over and cut off communication.

 

DWP
Commission President Lee Alpert raised the same issue just days earlier and
Nahai – a man widely criticized inside and outside the DWP for his arrogant and
contemptuous attitude – seemed to gag every time he had to utter the words
Neighborhood Council. He couldn’t bring himself to even refer to the DWP MOU
Committee.

 

A year ago
relations deteriorated to the point that the committee’s president, Soledad
Garcia, set up a separate DWP Committee outside the MOU to advocate for
ratepayer rights.

 

It was
Garcia’s group that set in motion what became the No on Measure B campaign that
against all odds stopped a $3.5 billion fraud from being perpetrated on
ratepayers.

 

I raise
this issue because it goes to the heart of what’s wrong with City Hall: Our
elected officials think we the people are so dumb we don’t know what time it
is.

 

They think
that a little lip service and occasional patronizing smiles will keep us quiet
while they cut sweetheart deals in exchange for campaign cash and free lunches
at fancy restaurants. They have good reason to think that way because it’s
worked so long.

 

But
economic hard times have a way of waking people up.


That’s what we saw with
Measure B and that’s what we’re seeing on many fronts today – digital
billboards, development that harms the quality of life, rate hikes and, most of
all, the city budget catastrophe.
 

Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa nakedly argues in his proposed budget that the public
provided input that was used in setting his priorities. He refers to a
questionnaire that defined the issues that got him the answers that he wanted.

His
proposal on how to close a $530 million budget deficit – that is soaring higher
every month – isn’t really a plan at all. It contains a bunch of ideas for
reducing payroll costs but no deal has been reached with city employee unions.
It contains a series of revenue schemes – like privatizing the zoo, Convention
Center and parking meters and lots – that amount to mortgaging the city’s
future even as the budget deficit is likely to triple in the next few years.

 He cites as
justification for his plan to “sell off the farm” what has been done in
Chicago but Chicago is a city that works for its people
despite corruption. LA has all the corruption but is a city that doesn’t work
for its people.

Most of us
are feeling the impact of the financial crisis with home prices falling, jobs
in jeopardy, and our future in doubt.

LA is at a
crossroads. We are at turning point or a tipping point. Our city government
simply costs too much and delivers too little. We must get back to basics and
reduce costs.

The most
important single steps to achieving these goals are to open up city government
and make it transparent and to bring in the people as full partners.

Neighborhood
Councils are official government agencies and need to be brought fully into all
aspects of city government and made full partners in deciding city policy.

This would
energize NCs as the centers of community activism and bring together business
and residents and start the process of creating a more responsible and
responsive city government.

Without
such steps, LA will tip over and continue down the road where the only
alternative is bankruptcy.

Nobody
shares power willingly so it will take a massive movement at the grassroots
level to turn LA around. So wake up all you people. This is our LA and this is
the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their city.

This entry was posted in City Hall, Community Activists, LAUSD, Los Angeles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Grappling with the City Budget Crisis: More Money for City Hall or More Power to the People?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I live in Greig’s District and you are right on the money. I wrote and asked why the city had to pay someone in the billboard industry 28 million dollars, and I got back a story about
    picnics and an event at the Claim Jumper. He better start his retirement speech because he does not deserve another term of office which I consider an illegal entitlement since I voted against Prop R.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Considering that Greig Smith’s newsletter is put out with city resources, staff, computers, etc, you would think he could at least remind constituents when election day(s) are coming. He did not do that in Feb. Will he in May? The newsletters are platforms for Greig’s staff to get their names, faces and good works out there, so when the next election rolls around, they are recognized and elected. Do you think that we will be better off when Greig retires? No, it will be worse, because he has already chosen his successor, and the successor has strong developer connections. On development, take time to read Jane Usher’s slam of Gail Goldberg at http://www.laweekly.com/2009-04-30/news/jane-usher-slams-gail-goldberg.
    Here are some suggestions for future topics of the newsletter: Explain why Smith’s office is in favor of water rate increases when they will hit those in his district so adversely? Please Explain why the city has not done the charter required infra structure studies for 10 years, while it continues to hand out building permits by the bushel-full? Explain what budget cuts Greig Smith’s office is taking in light of the citywide budget cuts? Why can’t you close either your NR or Chatsworth office, since they are only 6 miles apart? Why will you not join the opposition to stop the selling off V.A. Land in North Hills to private business for profit entities? What has become of the regulations to control sober living homes in residential neighborhoods? Why can my neighbor run a boarding house in an RA-1 residential zone? What is your office doing about any of these real issues that affect our quality of life everyday?

  3. Sandy Sand says:

    Harkening back to the ’50s. I wonder if back then you have written Smith a letter of rebuke, someone in his office would have shot back a hateful, curse-filled, depricating, name-calling anonymous letter, like the email I received from that anonymous person in his office. And yes, I forwarded it to his field deputy.
    As far as “This is our LA and this is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their city” goes; haven’t we come “to the aid” of our city by doing everything and voting for everything they’ve asked for, and paying for it, and paying for it, and paying for it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Angelenos need stop complaining and get out the vote for Trutanich on May 19.
    On March 3, 2009 only 18% (285,658) voted of the total 1,596,165 registered voters.
    Also vote NO on Propositions 1A through 1E.
    Learn the Facts about Proposition 1A
    HIGHER SALES TAX! Proposition 1A will extend the sales tax hike for an additional full year. California taxpayers already pay the highest sales tax in the nation. This is a direct attack on all working families, especially low-income residents.
    HIGHER CAR TAX! Proposition 1A will extend the DOUBLING of the car tax. This affects every California car owner.
    HIGHER STATE INCOME TAX! Proposition 1A will extend an income tax increase for two extra years. Californians already pay the highest income tax rates in the nation. Under Prop. 1A, you’ll pay even more.
    REDUCTION OF TAX CREDIT FOR DEPENDENTS! Californians with children will see a reduction in the tax credits for dependents, costing them $200 per child. Prop. 1A will extend this attack on families for an extra two years.
    The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is urging a vote of “NO” on Prop. 1A, which DOUBLES the tax increase!
    http://www.hjta.org

  5. anonymous says:

    Gotta give Smith credit on the parking meter discussions. He nailed it and nailed it good.
    I believe it was item 25 of the Council meeting on April 28. His comments are towards the end of the item.
    I’m normally open to the idea of public-private partnerships. However, this deal sounds more like they are giving away the farm to fill an immediate gap without considering the need for future income to the City.
    I love the way JP Morgan, or the consultant from another firm, suggests such a deal will improve LA’s credit rating. That just doesn’t make sense. I’m not an economist, but I thought immediate payments without assurances for future income do not improve ratings…unless it was a threat.
    I also found it interesting that the mayor’s guy seems to say this will happen. Maybe he already knows what the vote will be. Or, can the mayor veto a vote? I don’t know the code on that.
    This item initially seemed like a non-issue. But, after listening to it, it is an issue. I hope you get a chance to listen to that item Ron. I’m curious what your take is on it.

  6. Frustrated says:

    What does the City; own What’s up for sale?
    Have you had to pay to park downtown lately in a private parking lot? $12.50 a day, $15.00 a day. Meters on the street that go to $2.00 an hour until 8 PM? You have to pay $15.00 to park if you want to go to the theater? to Hollywood Blvd? If they sell parking there will be no controls on parking.Those rates will sky rocket! We will lose tourism, and we will lose City income.
    And have you had a parking ticket lately? They don’t let you off with a warning if you challenge it after the first offense.

  7. anonymous says:

    Oh my goodness Mr Kaye, I didn’t read on. I see that you do mention the parking meters (and City parking lots). Imagine that, selling guaranteed revenue during a time that the investors can probably bid low. They would own (?) these meters for fifty years, I think.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Budget & Finance Committee meetings are noteworthy for only one reason. The city is going up in flames, but you would never know listening to the spin by the job protecting department mangagers who all want their budgets increased. That these managers could care less about the city is apparent, but what were councilmen like Greig Smith, veterans of City Hall doing nodding their heads in agreement. The only recourse left to the community is to fight every penny increase in taxes.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Anyone who has read the budget and really thought about it knows that Mayor Villaraigosa’s proposed budget is a total fantasy. It would bankrupt the city literally by 2013. He’s assuming that the sale of the parking lots would get the city $80 million. No guarantee of that, but also, it’s one pay off. What about next year, when the projected budget shortfall is EVEN bigger than now!?!?!
    The only thing the Mayor was right on about was that we only have a few options: laying off thousands of workers, majorly raising rates and taxes, deeply cutting services. Some combination of these.
    Every team – the community, the politically powerful people, the well paid high level managers, the unions, and all the rest of the city employees – all think it should be someone else who gets their throat slit.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Where is the City Council leadership regarding the pension systems or their pet projects that are not working, which costs stakeholders billions of dollars?
    Thanks to the leadership at “My FOX 11 L.A. News”
    City Pension Probe Latest
    http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/local/City_Pension_Probe_Latest_20090430

  11. Charlie says:

    My question is `How are we going to water our giant trees, including fruit trees and flowers, plus a nice-sized yard, if the water we are used to receiving is effectively reallocated away from us for other uses?’ We were brought up to think that planting trees would benefit the quality of life and clean the air around us. We planted large yards in reliance upon a prior pattern of settled uses, including available water. There isn’t a shortage of water, there is a surplusage of new arrivals to whom our politicians prefer to distribute the water. The proverbial character `Joe the Plumber’ will in a few years find that not only has his wealth been redistributed, but so was his previous share of available water.
    Now we have giant apartment buildings going up near us within a radius of 5 minutes from us. It boggles my mind when the elected leaders talk about Greening (Greening What?); are we to paint everything green?. With amnesty coming for maybe up to 20 million people plus their relatives, there will be even more need to redistribute available water resources.
    What about the traffic caused by legalizing all of these unauthorized residents? Most of them don’t work where they live, they have to commute on public transportation. What about the police, fire and the schools – we don’t have enough of them now, and the politicians are talking about cutting back on services, yet our state and local bureaucracies keep getting bigger and bigger.
    Where is all this needed water going to be coming from? Most of them will choose to live in CA. The taxes that we pay are among the highest in the nation. Millions of people have left CA already. The people leaving take jobs, property, resources and funds with them; the people arriving come with just the clothes they are wearing, and they bring needs and burdens for public services along with them.
    It doesn’t seem like our political leaders plan ahead, instead they only think of the moment. Reallocation of water resources from `old-timers’ with large yards to new arrivals living in large apartment clusters is just another example of asset redistribution which seems to be the fade in these times.
    In another five years, the politicians will run out of other people’s resources to re-distribute, and that is when people may finally realize that we are becoming a third world nation with a small segment of the wealthy living in private enclaves, no middle segment remaining, and a large mass of poor seeking public benefits programs at the lower end.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m surprised they did not exempt the Mayor’s Million Trees from the water ordinance.
    Useless City “leaders”.

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