Huizar’s Prenuptial Deal: Binding Agreement to Keep Both Autry, Southwest as Living Museums

In a dramatic last-minute shift, Councilman Jose Huizar proposed a “prenuptial agreement” that would require the Autry National Center to renovate the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington and operate it as a living museum as part of its lease agreement with the city for its planned expansion in Griffith Park.

It wasn’t clear that Huizar’s Solomon-like “splitting the baby” proposal fully pleased either of the warring parties.
huizar.jpg
The Autry took over the Southwest and its vast collection of artifacts of the Old West in 2003 at a time when the city’s oldest museum was in disrepair and had suffered years of mismanagement  It has spent $7 million on repairs to the century-old facility and promised to restore it but refused to enter into a binding agreement.

Eastside activists have waged an intense campaign to block the Autry’s 79,,000 square-foot expansion that would more than double the size of its Griffith Park museum and demanded that the Southwest be fully restored  and operated as the main site for display of the collection of 250,000 artifacts.

On Tuesday afternoon before an overflow crowd in the City Council chambers, the years-long fight came to a head before the five-member Board of Referred Powers.

“While I believe that the Autry is acting in good faith when it says it is committed to renovating the Southwest Museum, I think the community deserves to have a binding commitment in writing to ensure that they and future generations enjoy one of Los Angeles most treasured
cultural institutions,” said Huizar, who represents the area.

The board — Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes, Bernard Parks, Bill Rosendahl and Tony Cardenas — gave Huizar four weeks to negotiate the agreement with a firm timeline for the Southwest’s
reopening.

Here’s a report from the meeting by OurLA.org writer Chris Rowe, a West Hills Neighborhood Council member:
Thumbnail image for southwest.jpg
At the start of the meeting, it was announced that Councilmember Huizar wanted to speak first. And the
feeling from the “Friends of the Southwest” was one of fear. Would this
Councilmember ask his colleagues to support the Autry.

 
In a surprise to everyone present (Friends of the Southwest), and the mood
was one of disbelief, Huizar spoke about a document signed by the
Autry that promised to protect both museums. He stated
that he wanted a ” Prenuptial Agreement” — a very finely crafted document that
was airtight that would protect the Southwest Museum and its contents from being
taken by the Autry for the purposes of creating the grander “Autry National
Center” at Griffith Park.
 
The Autry’s representatives stated that this hearing had only to do with
the EIR for the Autry  – and nothing to do with the Southwest Museum. They
believe that what the future of the Autry is will have no negative impact on the
Southwest Museum at all.
 
Brenda Levin, the architect for the expansion of the Autry gave a beautiful presentation
of the renderings of the future museum in Griffith Park. Levin spoke
about how this beautiful modern museum of glass would blend with the
landscape and incorporate the most modern of designs that fit the concept of
“Green Building”. As she spoke about how this glass structure was more natural —
I was thinking: “How much more natural can you be than the adobe of the
Southwest?”
 
VICA’s president Stuart Waldman and many friends of the Autry spoke in
favor of the expansion at the Griffith Park site.
 
Native Americans — including Rudy Ortega Jr. of the Tataviam tribe — favored
the Autry. At least five representatives from different Native American groups said the Autry would be a place where more
small children would learn about their Native American cultures and the history
of these people and the missions in the area.
 
Daniel Wright of the Friends of the Southwest spoke about the need to
protect the Southwest Collection — to keep it at the Southwest intact. He said Levin had created a rendering of an expansion of the Southwest on
its current site prior to being hired to design the expanded 
Autry. A great deal of fuss had been made about the many projects that Llevin had designed throughout the City.

Continue reading Huizar’s Prenuptial Deal: Binding Agreement to Keep Both Autry, Southwest as Living Museums

A Blogger’s View: That Was the (Fiscal) Year It Was — City Hall’s Failure Reaches New Heights

“We’re not going to allow an election to impede the future, to impede what we have to do in the city.”  –– Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, June 29, 2009, on his commitment to go ahead with the solar energy plan owned and installed by the DWP despite voter rejection of Measure B.

Since I’m so obsessed with the goings-on at City Hall and my dream that we the people can actually bring about some semblance of democracy and make things better for everyone, the end of the city’s fiscal year seems a good time to take stock of the last 12 months.

What a year it was! The people of the city showed signs of awakening and scored a long series of victories against the City Hall machine even as our elected officials showed just how shameless and arrogant they are.

They gave 6 percent raises to city workers, cut costly sweetheart deals with the rich and ran up spectacular deficits but proved themselves too weak and corrupt to take any effective steps to protect the future of the city.

But it was the mayor, in the closing hours of the fiscal year, who symbolized best City Hall’s contempt for the public and the public interest. After the community rose up and defeated Measure B in March, he and other city officials promised an open dialogue on solar energy policy with business-labor-activist coalition but as he said Monday election outcomes don’t matter, nor do promises.

If these were truly public servants instead of pretenders to royalty, they would wear sack cloth and crawl on their knees to the steps of City Hall’s South Lawn on Wednesday for swearing in and inaugural ceremonies.

They would beg for our forgiveness and swear on the Bible to change their wicked ways. Instead, they will magnify their meager achievements and ignore the enormity of their failures even as the searing winds of change blow across the city.
 
Blogging LA: July 1,2008 – June 30, 2009

July: My year began July 1 with Chapter One of the “whodunit” about who’s killing my neighborhood, a mystery that has grown to 15 chapters about how the city dealt with the illegal conversion of a modest single-family home in my neighborhood into a three-unit apartment building. It took most of the year to get the house more or less restored to building codes but the culprits have run circles around the legal system and will probably get off with a slap on the wrist.

Two weeks later, the Saving LA Project staged a rally at City Hall for a “New Spirit for LA” and to protest the endless string of rate, fee and tax hikes, sweetheart deals with unions, developers and contractors and the failure of our elected officials to solve the severe problems in our city and in our schools.

AUGUST: The dog days of August saw the introduction of Bruno, the LA Watchdog as he savagely attacked my swimming pool when the filter motor started up. There also were a lot of hot topics that needed watching: Southwest Museum, Home Depot in Sunland-Tujunga, South Central Farm, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s refusal to allow public scrutiny of his office, higher speed limits on surface streets, new planning rules that let developers get away with murdering neighborhoods.

SEPTEMBER: The deadly Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth in September exposed just how incompetent our officials are and a HUD audit exposed a piece of the scandal in the Housing Authority of the City of LA  Then there was another sweetheart deal for billionaire Phil Anscutz and my prediction of looming economic catatastrophe.

OCTOBER: One judge slams city’s lack of transparency as illegal, another finds the DWP stole $160 million a year from ratepayers, first hint of scandal in city pension funds, mayor takes baby steps to deal with giant budget deficit — City Hall’s failings grow more apparent even as the community mobilizes to fight for reform.

DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras takes up the call for a Ratepayer Advocate and quits when the mayor nixes the proposal. Planning Commission President Jane Usher lays out how to fix digital billboard fiasco and will quit soon enough over mayoral opposition to smart growth and healthy neighborhoods. The community even moves toward a victory to protect Griffith Park from development.

Continue reading A Blogger’s View: That Was the (Fiscal) Year It Was — City Hall’s Failure Reaches New Heights

Autry vs. Southwest Shootout: Symbol of LA’s Cultural and Political Poverty

Editor’s Note: If you support retaining the Southwest Museum as a a living museum, you can help by going to the Friends of the Southwest Museum’s website  and joining their email and fax campaign.

Of all the dozens of city issues I’ve learned a lot about in the last year or so, the one that befuddles me the most is the Battle of the Museums — Autry vs. Southwest.

As things stand, we have a really mediocre facility in the Autry in Griffith Park and a rundown facility in the Mt. Washingon/Glassell Park area that represents the oldest museum in LA, a landmark on the Eastside.

For all I’ve paid attention to the arguments on both sides, I can’t understand why we can’t have two wonderful museums dedicated to the artifacts and history of the Old West. The Southwest Museum’s vast collection — now owned by the Autry — could sustain both museums as valuable community assets if there was the will and the money.

southwest.jpgThe showdown in this long war comes Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Room 350 before City Hall’s Board of Referred Powers with both sides mounting intense campaigns by fax and email and mobilizing their supporters to attend.

It is a foregone conclusion that the board — Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes, Tony Cardenas, Bill Rosendahl and Bernard Parks — will green light the Autry’s doubling its size and the Southwest Museum will get fixed up on the cheap and used as little more than classrooms.

I just don’t get it.

The city’s cultural and political leadership valued the Southwest and its collection so little they allowed the building to deteriorate and the collection to be looted until it reached the point that the Autry came in as the white-hatted hero with promises to restore it as a living museum.

But that isn’t what happened. After the takeover of the Southwest, the Autry started making plans to operate only one museum, not two as promised.

It’s a question of money, or the lack of it. Autry32.jpgThe “Singing Cowboy” died at his Studio City home in 1998, leaving an estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars to his widow Jackie.

Despite promises the Autry Museum will eventually inherit a good chunk of the estate when Jackie dies, it has operated on a relative shoestring for many years and it’s far from clear it has the money to expand the facility.

The questions I keep wondering about are these:

* If the Autry now can raise the huge sums needed to expand, why can’t it raise the much smaller amount needed to restore and operate the Southwest?

* If the city’s leaders think there is so much value in a first-rate museum celebrating the Old West, why did they neglect the Southwest for so long, why have they not come forward with money?

* Where’s Hollywood? Don’t the studios have a stake in promoting the Cowboy and Indians story anymore, in actually contributing to the city’s cultural life instead of running away elsewhere to make movies on the cheap?

For my money, this conflict epitomizes the cultural poverty of the city and the lack of political will to create great institutions like Disney Hall and and preserve local institutions as well like the Southwest Museum.

City Hall could not start down that happy trail towards a greater LA on Tuesday by supporting the two-museum solution but don’t bet on it.

What Really Happened in the CD5 Race…

Editor’s Note: This is the full version of an opinion piece that appeared in the Daily News.

By Danielle Elliott with
Michael Several
Community Correspondents

Paul Koretz was formally declared the winner of the Council District 5 runoff election on Tuesday – a victory that was not surprising except for the slim margin he won by over community activist David Vahedi.

Koretz was backed by the city’s power structure: koretz1.jpgMayor Antonio Villaraigosa, County Supervisory Yaroslavsky, two local Congressmen, the Board of Realtors and several city unions and others who stand to profit from his time on the Council. He had name recognition, serving 12 years in the State Assembly and as Mayor of West Hollywood.  And he outspent his opponent approximately 3 to 1.

But he didn’t win the hearts and minds of nearly half his constituents, particularly homeowners and residents active in trying to make our neighborhoods better.

There were also voter irregularities. Normal polling places were changed at the last minute without notification. Voters were told they were not on the voting role and were not offered provisional ballots. Sixteen precincts were required to vote by mail only and the voters that tried to find a poll to vote only to be turned away.

The closeness of the election says something about the liberal Democratic district and the tenor of the City.

The east side where I live is a mix of residential and commercial – the goal of modern urban planning philosophy.

But city policy, despite the oft-repeated Smart Growth mantra, is causing dramatic changes in the neighborhood.

Little of the new commercial is for the local residents. You don’t see the small markets selling fruits and vegetables and staples or hardware stores or shoe repairs.

They have been displaced by businesses that target people who live outside the area such as restaurants, bars and trendy boutiques, exotic plant shops, and incense and candle stores. These aren’t neighborhood mom and pops. They are owned by outsiders hoping to catch some of the gold from the oversized Grove, Beverly Center and Beverly Connection.

They don’t have the same stake in the neighborhood and attract customers from other areas whose cars clog our streets and take up the limited parking that’s available.

This invasion has given rise to strengthened home owners associations.  And it was here that Vahedi had his support.  The closeness of the election is a testament to the strength of the home owners associations as a political force.

They are voluntary organizations, community based, that are a bridge between people and their government. They are a countervailing force to the influence that money and connections distort public policy. They are seen by developers and government officials as anti-growth, insular and indifferent to the greater good.

But it is not development that residents oppose. It is the nature of the development and corruption of the development process that angers and frustrates the community.

A voice for disenfranchised residents who are true stakeholders in their communities and leadership in a City Council more committed to political theatre than good public policy is what the people who voted for David Vahedi wanted.

In his June 5, 2009, LATimes blog article Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wrongly called this resident backlash “Anti-Development Sentiment”.  The readily accepted NIMBY terminology disguises the true sentiment of the resident stakeholder—-Anti-Corruption Sentiment. There has been an imbalance in which special interests have used their financial resources to get their way.

The city has created a master plan to control development but routinely grants variances to its own rules  for those with political and financial clout, the same people who funded Koretz’ campaign as they did his predecessor Jack Weiss’.

That’s why residents are angry. There are too many liquor licenses, too many large high density buildings being permitted without sufficient infrastructure and not enough parking or attention to what the community wants.

With such a narrow victory, Koretz does not have a mandate to lead. Like Weiss before him, Koretz could continue down the path he has followed and hope to stay in office with the money and support of outside interests.

But he should take note of the trend. Weiss almost faced a recall and a neighborhood activist almost won the May 19 runoff.

The community is getting stronger and hopefully Koretz will reach out to homeowners and community activists and make use part of his team to balance his leadership and fulfill his campaign promise of standing up to special interests.

An Offer They Can’t Refuse: Council Gives City Unions What They Want

UPDATE: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will hold a 3:30 p.m. press conference with union leaders on the deal with city unions. His press release () calls it a “MAYOR-DEAL.doc

landmark agreement (that) will save $500 million over two years 
without layoffs through early retirements and raise deferrals" but
no mention of what it will cost taxpayers.
 

Meeting behind closed doors, the City Council gave to unanimous agreement to give 2,400 city workers as young as 55 sweetened benefits if they retire early.

The vote was no surprise and requires the agreement of all six unions that make up the Coalition of Unions with 22,000 members. A similar deal is likely to be offered to police, firefighters and other city workers but not the DWP, which is expanding instead of shrinking despite the economic crisis.

“We can’t afford not to do it,” Councilwoman Janice Hahn told the Times after the vote.

Added Councilman Richard Alarcon: “We’re doing our best to save city services.”

The deal requires deferring cost-of-living pay raises for two years but requires the city make up the lost money plus a bonus in the following years. It also calls for unions to up their contributions to their pension fund from 6 to 6.75 — far below Social Security contributions for far better benefits — to fund the early retirement costs but doesn’t impose the increase for two years and ends it in 2026.

The Times reported there are serious financial and legal questions about the deal.

Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the LA Chamber of Commerce, has called for a thorough financial analysis of the plan.

“The public deserves a very thorough briefing when the council gets out
of their closed-door session about what impact this will have on the
budget over the next five years,” he said today. “Because, ultimately,
the taxpayer will end up paying the bill. They’re not in the room. But
they’ll end up paying the bill.”

Still, the Chamber later issued a statement saying it “applauds Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Council and public employees
union leaders for their hard work and dedication during these lengthy and
difficult contract negotiations. Saving 500 million dollars will be very
helpful during this period of economic downturn.”

The Engineers and Architects Union, under siege from the SEIU which is backed by the mayor, issued a similar call and questioned where the plan would withstand a court challenge.

“The [early retirement plan] that they’re proposing is not legal,” said
Bob Aquino, EAA executive director,
which represents roughly 7,800 city workers not included in the
negotiations told the Times.

Here’s the Plan: Is It Good for You or Good for Them?

Editor’s Note: Read the plan the City Council will vote on today to sweeten the package for 2,400 city workers to get them to retire early. It gives the unions until 2026 to repay the pension and other costs by raising their contributions from 6 to 6.75 percent during that period. The deferred wage increase element similarly will make city workers whole within five years. Will this really solve the city’s budget and pension fund crisis?

EARLY RETIREMENT INCENTIVE PROGRAM (ERIP) MANAGEMENT PROPOSAL 6/25/09

1. The goal of ERIP is to separate 2,400 employees from City service as quickly as possible.
2. Benefit enhancements as provided on June 22,2009
(see attached). Add $15K to Scenario E.
3. Accumulated Sick and Vacation time will be paid out over two separate tax years.
4. Employees shall only have the retirement option to select ERIP during the window period (the
choice to select the standard LACERS retirement shall not be allowed during the ERIP window
period).
5. Window period of 45 days.
6. Management shall determine the order of the retirement dates for employees electing to retire
during the window period.
7. After all employees who enroll for the ERIP have retired through the program, the LACERS’
actuary shall determine the total cost of the ERIP by calculating the difference between the
increase in the Unfunded Actuarial Accrued Liability (UAAL) and the decrease in the Normal
Cost (based on the actual employees retiring from ERIP and including the backfill assumptions
provided by the actuary). This cost shall be an obligation of the Unions.
8. The additional cash components of ERIP shall be an obligation of the Unions.
9. Payment for the two obligations identified in items 7 and 8 above will commence on
July 1, 2011 and end on June 30, 2026 or until the sum of the obligations identified in items 7
and 8 are fully paid, whichever comes first. The payment shall consist of an increase in the
active employee retirement contribution rate of three-quarters (3/4) of one percent (0.75%).
10. The employee contribution rate for employees hired prior to 1983 (i.e. defrayal group) shall be
adjusted to 6% upon ratification of this agreement. Commensurate with item 9 above,
employees in the defrayal group (similar to all other employees) shall have their retirement
contribution increased from 6% to 6.75% on July 1, 2011. Savings from the elimination of
defrayal shall be credited towards the target savings figure (in items 7 and 8 above).
11. Once the City has recouped all costs associated with the ERIP as identified in items 7 and 8
above, the retirement contribution rate will be reduced by 0.75% to 6% for all employees.
12. As part of its Normal Cost calculation, the LACERS’ actuary will provide an update on the cost
(identified in items 7 and 8 above) and savings (identified in items 9 and 10 above) so that
contribution rates may be adjusted accordingly to account for shortages and surpluses
collected towards the payment of the ERIP. The actuarial updates shall not occur later than
October 1, 2016, and October 1, 2021. The City and Unions will meet at least once annually
after the release of the actuary’s report to assess the progress on eliminating the obligation.
13. Certain classifications will be excluded and/or capped at 20% (see attached lists).
14. Each Union shall conduct its own membership vote. Ratification by each bargaining unit must
be completed and the CAO notified in writing of ratification within three weeks of Council
approval. Units representing a majority of the LACERS members must ratify all of theEARLY
provisions of the retirement package. Compliance with this provision will be based on the
Wages and Count for full-time employees dated November 17, 2008.
15. An Early Retirement Incentive Program that is cost-neutral to the City is a critical element
of the parties’ collaborative partial solution to the City’s long-term economic viability.
Therefore, the parties agree that should there be a successful legal challenge to either
mechanism (end of defrayal or increased employee contributions) designed to ensure cost
neutrality, the parties will meet under the Mutual Gains process to discuss and agree on
alternative measures to ensure cost neutrality. Should the parties fail to agree on
alternative measures that will ensure cost neutrality within 60 days of the City’s exhaustion
of all appeal options in the state court system against a successful legal challenge, the
City may invoke established bargaining practices to ensure cost neutrality as envisioned in
this agreement, i.e., payment of the actual incremental cost of the ERIP and any refund of
previous payments toward this goal required under the successful legal challenge.

Whodunit Chapter 15: Who’s Killing My Neighborhood

Justice delayed due to faulty machinery, mechanical — bureaucratic

Chelsea Cody
OurLA.org Writer

“There will be no more continuances. This is the last one.” said Commissioner Thomas Grodin before dismissing Nasir Shaikh, his new attorney Monica Romallo and ex-wife Nadya Mahdavi’s counsel Gerald Cobb from the courtroom to discuss a settlement plan with Deputy City Attorney Donald Cocek. 

After a long day of delayed hearings due to malfunctioning public elevators at the Van Nuys courthouse, Commissioner Grodin was short on patience.
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The court waited for over an hour and a half for Shaikh to appear and Mahdavi was not present as her attorney advised her that her appearance would not be necessary.

Grudgingly granting a continuance, Grodin said all parties involved had better come to some kind of settlement or be prepared to go to trial come July 14.

More than a year of delays and difficulties has prolonged the case of the People of Los Angeles vs. Shaikh and Mahdavi. Pleas of poverty, denials of ownership and failure to appear before the court (with or without an attorney) have postponed any final decision. Yesterday it was malfunctioning machinery.

Resolving the illegal conversion of a single-family home into a three-apartment tenement on 19953 Haynes St. in Woodland Hills has dragged on since the beginning of 2008 only to be delayed – one hopes – one last time.

That is, if the city can keep the elevators working.

LA Chamber: Sweetheart Deal Means “Short-term Political Gain and Long-term Financial Pain”

Like the rest of us at the mercy of the one-dimensional City Hall political machine, the Chamber of Commerce constantly finds itself going along with a lot things it doesn’t like in order to get even a few crumbs from the table of power.

But this time, with the city’s future hanging in the balance and the mayor and City Council selling out any hope for the future, the chamber is drawing the line and demanding officials prove through a detailed five-year economic analysis that the proposed early retirement  and guaranteed pay raise package is workable and in the public interest.
toebben.jpg
Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the LA-area Chamber, sent this letter to City Council members on Wednesday with a copy to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Re: Proposed City Employee Labor Agreement – Economic Analysis Request

Dear Council Members:

On behalf of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, I write to request that the Mayor and City Council provide the public with a 5-year economic analysis of the impact that the proposed city labor agreement will have on the city’s budget and taxpayers prior
to Council consideration.

For taxpayers, the proposed agreement outlined earlier this week does not appear to fulfill
the promise of “shared sacrifice” in a difficult economy. Instead, it appears poised to
deliver the kind of short-term political gain and long-term financial pain that has
contributed to California’s fiscal implosion.

We are particularly wary of the early retirement packages that will add to the City’s
massively unfunded and unsustainable pension liability. The moderate increases in
pension contributions do not begin to address this huge problem that is estimated to
require two billion dollars per year in city contributions in six years – 20-25% of the
entire city budget.

At a time when city residents and businesses are struggling to live within their means,
taxpayers deserve a detailed analysis of the future financial ramifications of this proposed
agreement. And, unlike Measure B, it is essential that this analysis be released and
publically discussed prior to a vote.

Sincerely,

Gary Toebben
President & CEO

Cc: Mayor Villaraigosa

Is This What They Mean By Shared Sacrifice?

I’m not too worried about the sweetheart deal our city fathers and mothers have cut with our city workers — it will blow up in their faces long before the paper it’s written on yellows if not before the ink is dry.

Anyway, they’ve been doing this to us for a long time so what’s new?

While the rest of the city’s population is worrying about how to make ends meet and what happens if someone in the family loses their job or gets sick, our city workers are getting to retire at the youthful age of 55 with full lifetime pensions and health benefits.

The loss of the labor of the 2,400 in this lucky class will mean worse services for those who pay the bills. But for 90 percent of the city workforce who retain their jobs it will be something of a bonanza: Promotions galore, excuses for every failure, deferred raises for two years with iron-clad guarantees that they will be made whole soon enough and get a large cash bonus to boot.

Imagine how sweet life would be if we all had this deal.

But we don’t because it’s unaffordable. When business is bad, we lose our jobs with nothing but vacation pay and unemployment. When we can’t pay our mortgage, they take our houses away.

We pay as we go in our own lives and now we get stuck with the bills for our city government’s failure to do the job they are so handsomely paid to do.

They’ve been getting away with this for a generation while leading lives of relative luxury and absolute security even as the schools failed, poverty increased and urban problems mounted.

Sure, they pick up the garbage but their new trash fee was used to inflate city salaries, not hire thousands of new cops.

Sure, the water and power are flowing in our pipes but rates are soaring, the infrastructure rotted, and green-energy-at-any-cost policies are squeezing our pocketbooks.

Sure, the LAPD is better today than it was a generation ago but it took rage in the streets, hundreds of millions of dollars and the federal courts to achieve reforms that our city leaders had refused to carry out.

No, I’m not too worried about this latest sweetheart deal. The city can’t afford it. There isn’t enough money coming in. They know they can’t raise taxes or fees anymore. Even the DWP cash cow can’t generate enough to cover payroll costs.

This sweetheart deal is nothing but a timebomb — an improvised explosive device that will inevitably blow up in their faces.

But unless we do something about it now, they won’t pay for their failure — we will.

UPDATED: LA’s Road to Ruin: Payoffs instead of Layoffs

UPDATE: Here’s what the SEIU has to say about leaders of 19 city bargaining units grabbing at the deal to avoid layoffs:While public workers across the country are being forced to take layoffs,
furloughs and pay cuts, and residents suffer drastic service cuts,
Los Angeles
has the chance to lead again by embracing a solution that creates long-term
fiscal stability, prioritizes direct service and invests in the future
workforce.” Full Text

DETROIT — Out in the prosperous suburbs northwest of Detroit, the
first days of summer are glorious with warm sunny days and gardens in
bloom even as the auto industry that feeds the region’s wealth teeters
on the brink of collapse.

In the heart of this once great city, there is nothing but the
smell of decay. Houses sell for less than $5,000, one in four people
are unemployed, whole neighborhoods are returning to a state of nature
unseen since the first settlers came here.

The long-term failure of leadership in the auto industry and the political and civic culture of  detroit.jpgDetroit have come together and brought the region into a profound crisis.

And as is usual in such cases, those who have failed offer versions of the same excuse: If we knew then what we know now…

I can’t help seeing the parallel with my town given my obsession
with trying to get the leadership of LA to learn from the mistakes we
and others have made that have led to the decline of great cities, the
destruction of the middle class and the separation of our communities
like you see here in the difference between Detroit and its wealthy
suburbs.

And yet I see City Hall’s leadership doing what they have done for
so long as they created the city’s financial crisis and continue to
repeat the mistakes of the past.

The deal on the table with the city’s unions guarantee, that short of
an economic miracle, LA will soon be just as bankrupt as Detroit is
today, that the disparity between rich and poor will grow and the
middle class shrink, that suburbs will thrive in and the inner city
decay.

My friend Karen Kanter foreshadowed the future in a new comment on
a piece I wrote entitled “What Price Labor Peace…”on City Hall’s
buyout plan to reduce the payroll.

“If this goes through, I
think we can count on our mayor to say next year or the year after
that: ‘No one could have predicted these kind of budget shortfalls.'”

For all the talk about no pay raises (for everyone except the DWP) and furloughs and layoffs, what’s on the table is an early
retirement package that lets city workers get enhanced pensions with
lifetime health benefits and voluntary leave at age 55 with as much as
a $33,000 cash payoff for many.

Eliminating 2,500 jobs through early retirement plus 1,200 others
that are vacant and deferring pay raises will allow city officials to
achieve a balanced budget on paper.

Think about it: If you’re 55
and the boss will pad your pension up to 75 percent of your highest
salary or even 90 percent for police and fire and give you a bundle of
cash, would you be delighted to retire and go fishing?

Certainly those the mayor called “deadwood” will jump at this deal
but so will many others whose knowledge and skill is irreplaceable.

The
unions price for this deal is to raise their contribution level from 6
to 6.75 percent — still a third less than Social Security deductions
in the private sector — and waiting two years to start getting raises
every six months to make them whole as if this was all just a terrible
dream.

“Once that two-year period is over, however, those same workers
would receive six pay increases between July 1, 2011, and Jan 1, 2014,
ranging from 2.25% to 4%, most of them delayed from their current
contract,” according to a draft proposal obtained by David Zahnisher in
the Times. “Those workers also would receive an extra cash payout equal
to 1.75% of their salaries in 2012 and 2013.”

This is a fantasy that will become a nightmare.

City and union officials know this. So who are they kidding? The public obviously but city workers as well.

This
inability to face reality is why the city kept giving big raises and
increases in benefits for years. And now that the bills have come due,
they still don’t have the courage to face the truth that city
government costs too much and delivers too little.

When this deal blows up it will be because the soaring cost of city
pensions and payrolls is unaffordable. We will never be able to pay for
these bills. We will face even more severe cuts soon enough and city
services will continue to decline and cause further erosion in the
city’s economic base.

It’s not a mystery. It’s what has happened to Detroit and other
cities in decay and it’s what has been happening year after year in LA.