Just like that in 26 seconds without further adieu or debate, the City Council last week grabbed another $27 million out of the money we pay for electricity and put it into the treasury to help mask years of reckless spending.
Today, the council will put its final seal of approval on a budget that is a work of fiction. It won’t even stand up 26 seconds into the new fiscal year starting July 1.
By then, the Department of Water and Power will have gotten the green light to impose a variety of massive rate increases even as it absorbs as much staff as it can from other city departments and a long list of costs normally paid by other city departments.
Will the city’s cash cow be hit with furloughs, layoffs, buyouts, early retirements? Not in your lifetime.
The battle for City Hall has just begun but the opportunities for the public to win some respect and a seat at the table of power are many.
Since the City Council exposed itself as a bunch of know-nothings during the Billy the Elephant debate and its uninformed passage of what became the solar energy ballot Measure B, there have been clear signs that a degree of nervousness has intruded into their lives.
It hasn’t stopped them from sneaking what’s left in the $100,00 annual slush funds they award themselves into their office accounts in the new year but it has given them pause in moving too swiftly and carelessly on a lot of important measures like the new billboard ordinance that came up on Tuesday.
This is a legislative body (I hesitate to use the phrase deliberative body) that enacted into a law a billboard ordinance so full of holes seven years ago that corporate lawyers have run circles around it. Even when the city won in court, the council and mayor sold out the public interest and opened the door to nearly 1,000 of those truly annoying digital signs.
When then-Planning Commission President Jane Usher pushed for a tough ordinance to clean up the mess, the system went to work to scuttle her effort and eventually forced her to resign in disgust.
By then, the public was aroused and the council agreed to a three-month moratorium on implementing the hole-filled ordinance they had passed just six weeks earlier. Then, another three-month moratorium. And on Tuesday, they put off a decision until September.
What was interesting about the two-hour-long parade of people who spoke at public comment was the council’s patience in allowing them all a full two minutes. That’s because it wasn’t just the disgruntled citizenry coming forward. Labor and business were united in their opposition to any effort to clean up the visual blight destroying the human environment of the city.
Jobs and profits are at stake. The economy is bad. This isn’t the time to clamp down on illegal billboards or stop their proliferation. If those arguments were made about poisoning the air, land or water, the environmental lobby would have been out in force but since it is only the visual landscape that is threatened, they were nowhere to be found.
My point in raising this is that there is an unease at City Hall these days. The public is aroused and getting organized. City unions are refusing to embrace the idea of “shared sacrifice.” Business is hurting. City Hall can’t pay its bills and the state is about to take away somewhere between $70 million and $120 million in property taxes.
It all makes for lively politics and turns every issue into a contentious battleground. I keep thinking that someone in the political arena and will step forward and provide real leadership when it’s so badly needed. Desperate times have a way of bringing out the best in people, or the worst.
The months ahead will tell us who we really are and whether we care enough about our city to pull together for the greater good or whether we continue to put our narrow self interests ahead of the public interest.
I don’t know how it plays out but I do know the future of LA is at stake for years to come.