I’m no Polanski but I do love the movies and turning City Council meetings into documentaries with my Flip camera gives me no end of pleasure whether anyone actually watches them.
Today’s Council meeting produced wonderful cinema verite, at least as far as I’m concerned.
It had everything: Threats against a gadfly for a minor violation of the tough new rules of decorum, a violation of the Council’s own rules by Bill Rosendahl so a police union official could bully the Council, a raucous demonstration by Skid Row homeless chanting “Public Comment Now.”
The Council was helpless to deal with it so they recessed for 10 or 15 minutes until order was restored. They didn’t empty the chamber. They didn’t fill the room with cops — which probably was wise since the homeless were protesting the LAPD’s pogrom against them for the last three years.
It felt good to see that the homeless are even angrier at City Hall than those with homes. Maybe we can form a united rabble front and get some real change in the way this city is run.
But I don’t want to run the movie for you, so here it is:
The most memorable line Antonio Villaraigosa ever uttered came when he was under criticism for jet-setting around the world, hobnobbing with big shots and failing to pay attention to his duties as mayor of the second largest city in America.
“I’m mayor of the city of Los Angeles, not some small town in the desert somewhere. We are a global city,” Villaraigosa said.
The heart of the problem with the mayor and other officials is that they run LA like it is a small town out in the desert somewhere, a town run by a small clique of insiders who act like they own the place, show little or no regard for the common good and, worst of all, are hopelessly inefficient.
Incompetent is the word most often used to describe city government.
A case in point is the LA Convention Center, a white elephant that has gobbled up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
“Los Angeles may be losing thousands of
dollars in fees waived by Convention Center staff because there is no
system in place to access the actual costs of each event. Failure to
properly maintain the Convention Center and restrictions in city
ordinances prevent the staff from adjusting rates to adequately compete
with other communities during non-peak booking periods. Perhaps most
startling is a labor mandate requiring that the Convention Center
utilize city electrical workers, which has resulted in thousands of
overtime hours. Twenty-five city electrical workers earned an average
of $94,000 in overtime pay with one topping out at $146,000.”
There’s a lot of other damaging findings in the audit:
* A flawed system for using employee overtime with a lack of oversight, which has led to over a million dollars being wasted. LACC uses City employees from other Departments – and pays them overtime, as opposed to expanding its pool of as-needed employees that can provide these services at regular rates. * Employees are being paid “overtime” when they are no longer full-time City employees. The Convention Center needs to immediately seek to recover tIie nearly $34,474 owed to the City. * An employee that has been on administrative leave for 3 and a half years and is still being paid a monthly uniform allowance. .• A lack of control over fixed assets. The Convention Center is supposed to have 61,893 fixed assets worth nearly $11.4 million. We sampled 60 items to verify their existence–and could not locate approximately 25% of the items. • No clear policy or oversight for fees being waived by the Convention Center. • For November 2008 alone, we found that 43 parking cards were used by people after the completion or cancellation of their events.
If only this kind of mismanagement were contained to the Convention Center.
The lack of regard for the public’s money runs right through everything City Hall does.
The mayor boasts his business tax amnesty netted $20 million from scofflaws who avoided $7 million in penalties but hundreds of millions of dollars still owed the city go uncollected.
For seven years, the city has tried to regulate billboards but still doesn’t know where those that don’t have permits are, fully one-third of them of the 11,000 billboards blighting the city.
Under criticism for blanket approval to spend millions of dollars a year for community and commercial events, the City Council comes up with a policy to pay only part of the costs and then finds out that the figures they have been getting are totally fictitious. There is no bookkeeping because nobody really cares about where the money goes as long as it keeps flowing in.
The list is endless. Spending is routinely approved without any cost-benefit analysis, audits of poorly performing departments and programs create more paperwork than action.
Is it any wonder that a quarter of the way into the new fiscal year, there’s a $300 million hole in the budget?
Put aside for the moment, the corruption and the sweetheart deals with unions and contractors, the biggest problem is simply a lack of competence. No one is held accountable; there aren’t even accounts that are reliable.
Yet, we have the highest paid city government in America with Council members getting $180,000 a year and citywide electeds even more. No other city pays anything like that. We have 1,000 retired city employees getting $100,000 a year and thousands more who will join that exclusive club in the next few years.
The plan to start an initiative drive to cut the elected officials’ salaries in half won’t solve the problem. But it will make us feel better and it might send them a message that voters are fed up with them and want to see change in a hurry.
This is a city with 4 million people, not some small town out in the desert somewhere. It’s time City Hall started managing LA like the big city it is.
“Less Talk – More Action” — That’s the theme of an innovative program coming this Saturday as a counter to the city-run and organized Congress of Neighborhoods set for the following Saturday, Oct. 10.
The Neighborhood Councils Action Summit grew out of widespread frustration over the pace of change within the decade-old NC movement and was organized by Greg Nelson, the first General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, along with Stephen Box and others
Like the title of the program suggests, NCs too often talk issues to death without ever getting around to doing something about them.
So the Action Summit — being held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Los Angeles City College, Faculty/Staff Center, 855 N. Vermont Ave.– hopes to change that targeting a number of issues, getting participants to vote on what action to take and then using what’s decided to develop campaigns for broad community support.
The subjects on the agenda with expertise on the issues are cutting city officials’ salaries in half, creating a DWP Ratepayer Advocate office,city budget reform, the cyclists bill of rights, reducing the backlog of sidewalk repairs and the explosion of marijuana dispensaries.
These are all worthy subjects to address and the summit represents an important step in trying to bring NCs around the city together on specific issues that affect every neighborhood.
City Hall has all the money and power, hundreds of media spinners and bureaucrats, the unions and other special interests to control the agenda and get people elected who will serve the political machine, weak and failing as it is.
The only answer is people power, ordinary citizens armed with good information about what’s going on at City Hall and around the city.
The Action Summit is a well-organized and structured event that will open with remarks by guest speakers LA Times editorial writer Robert Greene, South Central Farmers Cooperative Coordinator Tezozomoc and David Bell, president of the East Hollywood NC.
Panelists include Wave newspaper columnist Betty Pleasant, former DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras, Street Services Department head Bill Robertson and a number of NC leaders.
“A growing number of neighborhood council board members and stakeholders
want to find a new way for the voices of neighborhood councils to be
heard.” organizers of the Action Summit said in their event announcement.
“The Action Summit is being
designed to provide neighborhood councils and their stakeholders with
opportunities they haven’t had at City Hall’s Congress of
Neighborhoods, which has now been combined with the initial meeting of
the Mayor’s Community Budget Day process.”
Go to their website http://ncactionsummit.wetpaint.com/ to find out more about this important event that I believe will help move a growing city rebellion against City Hall’s failure to the next level.
A large turnout will send City Hall a message that the time for change has come and that the community is getting stronger and better organized.
A lot of great news people I’ve known have left the profession, some just fed up with the way things were going, some no longer regarded with favor at a time when staffs are shrinking and standards are falling.
Since I left the profession 18 months ago, I’ve met a lot of others outside my little world and I think we all share the experience one way or another: Liberation. Now, many of us are free to use what we know to pursue our real dreams through unexplored territory. Our reading, listening and viewing habits are undergoing radical change so figuring out the who, what, when, where and why of news provides the opportunity to reinvent journalism.
I believe the decline of corporate control of the media has liberated America, and hopefully, freed us to speak freely in public, make more creative choices in our lives and listen better to others.
It is uncharted territory how the news and information revolution plays out in years to come. There will surely be hundreds of creative and entrepreneurial wizards who create great products that offer a competition for minds and hearts unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.
My own contribution is OurLA.org — a central place on the Internet where citizens, experts, journalists, anyone can contribute what they know for the whole community.
Thanks to Valley civic leader David Fleming and many other generous people, my dream is becoming a reality with the help of a young reporter named Chelsea Cody who last year was editor of the Cal State Northridge paper.
It’s a struggle for money and, more importantly, to convince the community to actively participate and submit their news articles, opinions, photos, videos. So many people have their own personal or community websites that reach their own audiences.
OurLA is trying to create a central clearing-house so the knowledge and wisdom of the community is shared widely. We believe a better informed community is an important element in creating a healthier civic culture in LA and bring together the city’s diverse people into a common conversation.
We don’t know if we can succeed but we’re giving it all we’ve got. In their own way, so are hundreds of other former journalists across the country.
There’s not much money in it for now, except for the few, but that’s the price of living your dream.
Doug McIntyre is the latest to join our fast-growing club.
He’s among the most brilliant, knowledgeable and talented people I’ve met along my own private journey.
And more than that, Doug knows what’s really going on in the civic and political life of LA as well as anyone else in the media.
Doug entered my life when he volunteered to write a column for free when I was still editor of the Daily News. When I got fired, he put me on once a week for 4 months, which helped me launch my new life post-journalism.
McIntyre was fired last week by KABC and the company that bought the radio network at a time the entire media world was changing. Tough luck for them.
Doug has started his new life, as many of us do, with a blog: RadioGasBag.com. Hopefully, he will be scooped up by a local station that recognizes he is an important community asset with a large following.
Facing the challenge of making a living and deciding what to do with the rest of his life is part of the normal sequence most of us have gone through when we engage these kinds of life changes.
The most talented, like Doug, suffer this more than others. What are the options? What kind of chances can one afford to take? Is there a creative opportunity?
Most people don’t take those questions seriously enough during their whole lifetimes but I believe many of us, in all walks of life, will be facing them more frequently in the years ahead.
I think the world of hyper-consumerism, America’s the richest country in the world, you can have anything you want whenever you want it, is over.
We don’t create wealth in America anymore; we consume the sources of wealth: Raw materials and manufactured goods are imported while we have become a service-based workforce.
We are borrowing to sustain our illusory lives of super-affluence and sticking a younger generation with the bills, and hope they won’t wake up from their electronic dream any time soon.
Those are just some of the ideas that run through my mind.
Doug McIntyre has better ones. So do my friends Tezozomoc and Stephen Box and hundreds of others, journalists and citizens, that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know since I was lucky enough to start down the road of Ronnie Kaye’s excellent free adventure.
As far as I can see, the times really are changing this time.
A lot had happened since city inspectors first cited Nadya Mahdavi for construction without a permit at the house on Haynes Street in my modest Valley tract of single-family homes.
The case snowballed after neighbors figured out that Mahdavi was illegally converting the house into a three-unit tenement that threatened the quality of their lives and the value of their property.
They complained to the city, to Councilman Dennis Zine. They researched property records, they finally got mad enough to walk door-to-door with petitions demanding the city do something about it
That’s how I got involved and started asking questions. I wanted to help, I wanted to know who was killing my neighborhood.
Was it just a greedy landlord trying to get more than $5,000 in rent by converting a 2,000-square-foot house into three units, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, 12 rooms in all? Or was it the system itself, the city, that was responsible for failing in its duty?
Everyone was a suspect.
The trail led to Chief Inspector Frank Bush and others in the Building and Safety Department, to Zine and his staff and finally to the Van Nuys Courthouse and Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek.
Citations started piling up even as Mahdavi flipped ownership of the house each time a court date approached. The ownership went from Mahdavi’s Wall Street Properties to her employee to a company called Fidelity Investment Group which listed her husband Nasir Shaikh as president.
A simple permit problem, an infraction, escalated into a series of charges, misdemeanor crimes subject to fines and jail time, that were filed against Mahdavi, Shaikh and Fidelity Investments.
It took officials a while to unravel the chain of ownership and identify exactly who to hold accountable and for what.
The accused played the system for time, provided misleading information, asked for Public Defenders, didn’t have lawyers representing them.
Mahdavi’s failure to appear in court led to a warrant for her arrest being issued — something that took two months to achieve because of the multiple addresses where she might be living.
Authorities’ attitudes hardened as the months dragged on. My neighbors adjusted to the irritation of many cars parked at the home on Haynes and the comings and goings of the tenants of the three units.
Finally, 13 months after the first citation, the deconstruction of the house got under way and it was brought back into compliance with the law. It took six more months for Judgment Day to arrive.
Mahdavi and Shaikh were already at court when I arrived yesterday. They didn’t look as cocky as they had before. They greeted me with smiles.
A lot had happened in their lives since they bought the house on Haynes. Their marriage had broken up, their high-flying lives had come down to earth as the collapse of the housing market cost them dearly, unraveling their various property schemes.
Encino attorney Gerald Cobb had worked out a deal with Cocek: Fidelity would plead guilty to three counts, Mahdavi and Shaikh would plead no contest to two counts each. They would
be fined just under $10,000 and pay $1,500 in investigative fees. They would be on probation for a year and if they stay out of trouble and pay the fine, the charges will be reduced on their record from misdemeanors to infractions.
It was just before noon when they were called to appear before Commissioner Thomas E. Grodin who had imposed his own condition on the plea bargain: Each of the defendants was required to write a 1,000-word essay of contrition for him to consider at sentencing.
Mahdavi’s essay ended this way:
“I would just like to state that I am extremely grateful for being
given an opportunity to resolve this case. I sincerely appreciate and am appalled by the
kindness and generosity displayed by the People and the City in respect to not placing a damaging note on my record. The People have been very patient and generous with
me and I do not deserve such mercy. I assure you that this will never happen again.”
I’m sure she didn’t mean to use the word “appalled” but she was late getting her essay to Grodin who was not amused and found both their essays “self-serving…barely made it.” Grodin lectured them, awarding a grade of D to Mahdavi and C-minus to Shaikh.
“I was not terribly impressed …frankly, with either one.”
As we left the courthouse, Cocek said all the information he had gathered was turned over to the state Department of Real Estate.
“If they screw-up again, they will lose their licenses,” he said.
The case was closed.
My neighborhood is as safe and tranquil as ever. The suspects were identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The system worked, if slowly. The inspectors, Cocek, the court system had done their jobs well and honorably.
But I couldn’t help wondering how much my own role might have changed the course of events, the exposure of the case for all the world to see causing officials to spend far more time on it than was usual.
In her letter to Grodin, Mahdavi acknowledges how that affected her: “The
humiliation and disgrace I have felt from being
portrayed as a criminal and the harassment I have received through internet
has caused such a terrible impact on me and my family”
In the grand scheme of things, this was a small matter.
There are thousands of more serious violations of housing codes going undetected all over the city, especially in poorer areas.
Building and Safety is grossly understaffed and taking a bigger hit in the city budget crisis with our elected officials gutting funds for code enforcement to protect jobs that facilitate developers moving ahead on new projects that generate revenue.
So who is killing our neighborhoods?
There’s a lot people like Mahdavi and Shaikh who do stupid and greedy things. Only the few are caught and punished despite the efforts of people like Frank Bush, Don Cocek and Judge Grodin to protect us. Usually, it takes the neighborhoods themselves to bring these problems to their attention and persist until they get action.
The same cannot be said for the city’s leadership.
Throughout the current budget process, they have only talked about how to bring in more revenue to the city — not how to preserve the neighborhoods or the quality of life for the residents.
Laws for our protection are haphazardly enforced and resources are expended to get developments approved faster and faster even though the infrastructure is deteriorating and inadequate for our needs.
Three times a week, Matt Dowd, Michael Hunt and Zuma Dogg annoy, offend and sometimes make perfect sense as co-stars in the theater of the absurd TV drama that passes for LA City Council meetings.
It says a lot about the state of LA’s political culture that they have become something like the voice of the people, ranting, raving and sometimes exposing City Hall’s hypocrisy.
Wednesday was no exception, the gadflies — minus Zuma who was says he is moving on to other things with the CD2 race over — stood before the Council and mocked and berated them.
Hunt was back in his KKK garb but this time, the Council didn’t walk out (except for Richard Alarcon and Herb Wesson) or try to throw him out. Dowd was given special dispensation to ppear before the Council after being banned from speaking for violating the new rules of decorum — rules specifically aimed at them, rules that have been added to the litany of civil rights violations he and his Venice Beach companions have sued over in federal court
Against all logic, they have not only sued but they have won.
They have won a second federal court ruling that the city’s beach ordinance requiring permits to sell wares and to perform at Venice Beach where they and so many others have performed is unconstitutionally vague. Different zones have been set aside for vendors selling things and for performers but the enforcement has been haphazard, to the detriment of limiting the space available to performers like Hunt, Dowd and Zuma.
The vagueness problem comes from the city’s series of unsuccessful attempts to write a valid ordinance that relies on the phrase “inextricably intertwined” with the vendor’s right to free speech as the basis to deciding what is and isn’t allowed.
Enforcement then is left to authorities to decide what activities are “inextricably intertwined” with free speech — something the litigants argue is enforced arbitrarily. So, they claim, is the ban on performers using paraphernalia over 4-feet tall like the microphone stand musician Dowd uses and the cutout of Hannah Montana he keeps nearby in hopes people will donate to him to have their picture taken on the beach with a likeness of the Disney Channel star.
The result of all this is $270,000 judgment in favor of Dowd and friends on one aspect of their current case which is continuing in mediation talks aimed at reaching a settlement.
The issue on the agenda Wednesday was the city’s need to deposit $211,000 with the federal court to cover attorney fees awarded to the plaintiffs so the partial ruling in the case can be appealed.
It says a lot about the quality of leadership of this city, their skill at managing it, that guys many people would call bums have beaten all the brain power, all the lawyers, all the capacity to intimidate of a City Hall that treats its 4 million residents.
The Venice Beach performers turned into Council gadflies three years ago when the cops started harassing them because city officials wanted to clean up the Boardwalk freak show to make it more appealing to tourists.
Zuma Dogg, who is smarter than and knows more about city government than most Council members, has become something of an urban folk hero, skewering City Hall foibles and failures in his frequent public comment appearances broadcast on Channel 35. His campaigns for mayor and now CD2 attracted respectable numbers of votes for a candidate who not only is penniless but homeless.
Last week, Dowd — now something of an amateur lawyer — and a dozen other beach denizens filed a new complaint in federal court.
They are challenging the 2006 and 2008 beach ordinances over the same vague words “inextricably intertwined” and adding a challenge to the new rules of decorum for Council meetings that allow the Council President to ban public comment by people deemed disruptive for up to 30 meetings, or 10 weeks.
Like the permit system for beach performers, the decorum rules are arbitrary on their face and almost certainly unconstitutional. Some Council members think they don’t go far enough and want to move the public comment period from the start of meetings to the end, something that has infuriated many in the activist community.
In a city where the wishes of ordinary people matter so little to those in high office, where so many are alienated or indifferent, there seems something fitting that the Council is haunted by these gadflies and that their carefully staged meetings disrupted by their antics.
But it also says a lot about the rest of us watching from the sidelines or ignoring what’s going on altogether. We have abdicated our responsibilities as citizens and have the city we deserve.
TOTAL AT POLL BALLOTS 6,589 45.36%
TOTAL VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOTS 7,936 54.64%
GRAND TOTAL OF BALLOTS CAST 14,525 — 11.84% of 123,750 REGISTERED VOTERS
At a rate of one voter every 15 minutes per polling place on Tuesday, the East San Fernando Valley’s 270,000 residents decided they want to be represented at City Hall by someone who represents the interests of those who have taken LA hostage.
The turnout on Tuesday was even lower than those who cast mail-in ballots, a grand total of less than 12 percent of registered voters.
You can’t blame the machine for the outcome, a December runoff between union-backed Paul Krekorian and developer-backed Chris Essel who split nearly two-thirds of the votes cast, with Tamar Galatzan and Mary Benson distant runners-up.
You have seen the enemy, he is us.
The seven candidates who actually lived in CD2 before the election was called split just 5,092 votes, while the three carpetbaggers (Krekorian, Essel and Zuma Dogg) got 9,433.
Too many candidates with too little money — the winners had nearly 90 percent of the cash raised for the campaign — is the ostensible reason. You can throw in a lot of others like apathy, ignorance, demographics, defeatism to explain why it turned out to be another exercise in LA’s Dictatorship of the Few.
But we shouldn’t let ourselves off so easily.
I did not believe Essel could get traction in the East Valley and I was wrong. I don’t think she can beat Krekorian in the runoff no matter how much more money the mayor and his cronies throw into her campaign.
It really doesn’t make a lot of difference who wins. They both will maintain the unanimity of the City Council in matters large and small.
What matters is whether the activists of the city — Neighborhood Councils, homeowner groups and everyone else who make up the city’s civic culture — face the painful truth that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
They chose up sides in this election and backed their local favorite instead of coming behind a single candidate and building a campaign organization that could man phone banks, walk precincts, leaflet at community events and hold rallies.
They didn’t organize and they didn’t raise any money. They acted like they lived in a small town where democracy is flourishing instead of in a big city where money and power talk loudly.
In the 18 months since I too became an activist, I’ve seen the same thing throughout the city.
We are victims of political myopia, unable to see anything beyond our own little issues, unwilling to see how we are like peasants in Medieval times sticking out our hands to our lordly masters and begging for crumbs from their table of power.
This is as true of the business community and the civic elite as it is of us ordinary people.
We are our own worst enemy. We victimize ourselves and blame the mayor, the unions, developers, lobbyists, contractors, consultants and other assorted connivers.
We can keep on putting all our energy and resources into the issues that we individually care about from sidewalk repair to bike paths to the oversize project in our neighborhood and the lack of planning.
Or we can see how the politicians and their army of staffers and bureaucrats backed by special interest money run circles around us even as they trash the neighborhoods and loot the city treasury.
LA is in a deep crisis. Services are being slashed. The future is being mortgaged. There is no way out unless the business and civic leaders step forward and the grassroots activists look up from the ground and see the big picture.
It’s all about power.
The political machine, weak and leaky as it is, can control elections when less than 12 percent of voters cast ballots. When nearly 18 percent of the people vote as they did on Measure B and in the City Attorney’s race, the people stand a chance.
If 25 percent voted, things could be different. There would be a balancing of interests and honest debate. LA could be saved from going over the precipice into bankruptcy and the chaos that would follow.
Nobody changes without taking personal responsibility and taking action to turn themselves around. It is truly now or never.
THE UNOFFICIAL COMPLETE RESULTS IN CD2:
COUNCIL DISTRICT 2 Votes Percent TAMAR GALATZAN 1,871 12.94% JOZEF “JOE” THOMAS ESSAVI 306 2.12% CHRISTINE ESSEL 4,104 28.39% MICHAEL MC CUE 339 2.35% PETE SANCHEZ 699 4.84% DAVID “ZUMA DOGG” SALTSBURG 410 2.84% FRANK SHEFTEL 441 3.05% PAUL KREKORIAN 4,929 34.10% MARY BENSON 1,198 8.29% AUGUSTO BISANI 158 1.09%
The battle over the $405 million city budget deficit is far from over despite all the self-congratulatory back-slapping and expressions of undying love last Friday.
The terms of endearment agreed to by the 22,000-member Coalition of City Unions and a unanimous City Council — with the exceptions of Tom LaBonge and Tony Cardenas who didn’t bother to show up to deal with this crisis — provides only $78 million in total savings.
Some $20 million of that goes to restoring part of the $100 million already stolen from the emergency reserve fund. The rest goes into the general fund to pay the full the cost over 15 year for the Early Retirement Incentive Package (ERIP) for 2,400 lucky workers who get to retire as young as age 50 with the five years of service credits.
City workers’ contributions will rise from 6 percent to 7.07 percent instead of the 6.75 percent in the June 26 deal. The early retirees getting a 12.5 percent boost in their pensions also will pay 1 percent for 15 years.
Other terms include deferring this and next year’s cost-of-living raises for two years, requiring overtime be paid in compensatory time-off not cash, furloughs that amount to 30 minutes a week for the rest of year and half pay for holidays with the rest in more comp time,
As many workers will be transferred from general fund jobs to the Harbor, Airport and DWP — especially the DWP — payrolls whether they are needed or not since those are independent agencies with their own revenue streams and almost no effective public scrutiny.
They also will be looting all three agencies for services — real or ficititious — as much as they can get away with.
Then, there’s the pay-later provisions: Cash payments for unused sick time normally made in January will be paid next August, the $15,000 golden handshake for early retirees will be paid next year and the year after, boot and uniform allowances will be paid next year as will City Attorneys fees to the California Bar.
In addition, any workers who wants an 8-day, 72-hour work schedule can have it and pensions will only be calculated with one of the many regular bonuses offered city workers to do their jobs instead of adding them all up.
Finally, if the economic miracle that this deal depends on actually comes true, much of the money will go back to city workers.
That’s the deal, at least all we know about it, thanks to the unions sharing the information to their members, information our elected officials refuse to divulge because they don’t see any reason why taxpayers should know what’s really going on.
Not all city workers are happy about this.
The Engineers and Architects (EAA), for instance, get screwed again with one furlough day every two weeks, which is equal to a temporary 10 percent pay cut, and now will be hit with the only layoffs as well. As I understand it, 400 of EAA’s 6,600 members — city planners, technology people, auditors, criminalists and other white-collar professionals — will get the axe because they have refused to be taken over so far by the SEIU which so deftly uses members’ money to buy our city officials.
There’s also a rump group of troublemakers who have set up LA CITY WORKERS.com . in an effort to build opposition to approval of the deal.
Fat chance. The vote on the deal will take place at a public meeting in two weeks where anyone who stands up to the union bosses is putting their life, at least their working life, on the liine.
An even bigger problem exists: Firefighters and police officers.
The deal approved by the Council on Friday furloughs cops one day every two weeks, halts hiring of new officers, puts cadets on notice of termination after completing their training and bars the Fire Department and Police Department ” from entering into any new personal services or consulting contracts to perform work that would have been performed by sworn employees subject to the furloughs, layoffs, or other position reduction measures.”
These provisions are nothing but a public relations exercise and bargaining tool.
They know damn well the public wants cops and firefighters protecting lives and property a lot more than the hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year on social welfare programs and salves to special interest communities.
They count on us crying out against against the perils of anarchy in this gang-infested city and the perils of fire, flood and earthquake without adequate emergency services.
What this is about is giving the leaders of the fire and police unions, whose contracts expired three months ago, an excuse to make the same kind of modest concessions the other unions have made.
The trouble is deferring payoffs and raises until next year or the year after doesn’t solve anything at all.
City Hall doesn’t have the skill or the will to keep costs under control as they have promised as part of this deal and their rosy estimates of revenue will almost certainly fall short of reality.
The likelihood is that the city will face a cash crisis before this fiscal year is over. The certainty is that the city’s financial condition will be much worse next year and the years after as the deferred bills come due and pension costs double and triple.
More than a year ago, I said LA had reached the point of no return. Things have gotten a lot worse since then and the actions of the mayor and City Council have compounded the depth of the problem.
If the business community and the residents of the city don’t make a stand now and come together to take back City Hall, it will be too late when the libraries and parks close, the 911 emergency calls go unanswered and chaos ensues.
No. 34 — that’s how many water main breaks it takes in a two-week period for the City Council to start demanding answers from the DWP about why the blowouts are occurring.
Almost from the first blowout at Coldwater Canyon, outside engineers have speculated about whether limiting lawn sprinkling to just two days a week overstressed the rotting water pipe system with pressure surges, and many skeptical residents wondered if the whole problem was just another dirty DWP trick to squeeze a billion dollars or so more out of ratepayers.
I bring this up because it raises the issue at the heart of so much that’s wrong with the way LA is managed: Competence.
DWP officials routinely fob off the Board of Commissioners, the Council and the public with answers like LA has :fewer water leaks than other comparable cities” or the “the inquiry is not complete.”
Scratch the surface of almost anything City Hall does and you see the same kind of acceptance of non-answers, lack of transparency, managerial effectiveness. Incompetence is the word for it.
This is a critically important question now that the Mayor and Council have declared a $325 million deficit represents a balanced budget because unions and bureaucrats are working together like a loving family to manage the city’s finances day-to-day to avoid the chaotic catastrophe that going bankrupt would cause.
How’s the seven-year effort to get an effective billboard policy going or even to identify where the thousands of illegal billboards are? Or the promise to deliver updated community plans that protect neighborhoods? Or the million trees? Or the greenest city in the nation? Or dozens of other unkept promises and unresolved issues?
I concede crime is down and LA is the safest big city in America, at least one of them, and violence is down to 1950s levels, or is it?
Just look at the 30 whereas-es in the resolution the Council adopted Friday to fix the budget crisis, declare a fiscal emergency, furlough police officers two days a month, halt police hiring, subject police trainees to probationary termination and ban the Fire and Police Departments from outside contracting for consulting or other services.
By my count, the resolution contains 15 specific things that have gone haywire in the three months since the budget took effect and the unions were offered a sweetheart early retirement (ERIP) deal:
1. ERIP salary savings $23 million, not $111 million 2. Only half the ERIP salary savings can go into the general fund. 3. Employee contribution of .75 percent extra far short of covering cost of early retirement. 4. $10 million savings lost because 400 layoffs anticipated in budget not implemented. 5. $16.5 million savings lost because furloughs not implemented. 6. $75 million short in estimated tax revenue 7. $89 million in extra liability claims. 8. $5.8 million in extra subsidies for the poor to cover solid waste fees. 9. $247 million cost increase this year — $1 million per working day — over failure to win civilian and sworn labor concessions by expected deadlines. 10. Unknown loss of revenue due to state budget crisis. 11. $100 million taken from Reserve Fund to meet excess costs, leaving less than $150 million which could be exhausted by May. 12. $1.1 million for Station Fire. 13, $46 million less for Reserve Fund from carryover from last year that already was spent. 14. $13 million in Fire Department savings lost because of failure of negotiations. 15. $129 million in LAPD savings lost because of failure of negotiations.
If they were that far off the mark just three months ago, why would anyone believe they can do any better over the next nine months or next year when the deficit doubles or when it triples in the following years?
It’s a question of trust. And for my money — and yours — you can’t trust people who cause more problems than they solve, who spent more money that the city took in for years, did nothing about it when it became a problem and offer nothing more than a “trust us” solution as they did on Friday when let the city’s budget woes had become a true crisis.
I say put a “No Confidence” measure to a vote on the June primary ballot and we’ll see how the electorate feels about a City Hall that routinely sells out the public interest to special interests.
With regard to unions, here’s how Councilman Bernard Parks put it recently before he succumbed at the end of a week of back room negotiations and closed door sessions on how to spin the public:
“A love cannot be an irresponsible love. It can’t be an easy love. where we say we’ll do whatever even if that’s going to hurt more next year and the year after because it feels easy now.” — Eric Garcetti, in “How They Saved LA, The Movie.”
The President of the LA City Council basked Friday in the warm glow of his love affair with his colleagues and the Coalition of City Unions, his preening humility fully on display.
The glory of making the city’s $405 million deficit vanish in an instant was his.
The unions made concessions, he said. The budget was suddenly balanced, the cash flow crisis eliminated and a new era of partnership born so that labor and management will be able to triumph together over any difficulty that might arise City Hall was just one big family.
It was so easy, such an easy lovefest.
So much is uncertain, so much of the pain put off for another day, maybe even all the way until spring when they have to overcome a shortfall twice today’s deficit, at $800 million — almost 20 percent of the city’s disposable revenue.
Living on credit for so many years — what they call a structural deficit — the city is in a money crisis.
It already was a year old when they finally cut a tentative deal Friday. At its heart, the deal did little but put off all the real decisions until yesterday’s problem that became today’s crisis becomes a shattering catastrophe tomorrow — an economic earthquake that will require rebuilding the political system and reorganizing the functions of city government.
In a phrase, your City Council gambled the city’s future.
They did it unanimously with the full involvement and support of a mayor dizzy from all his flip-flopping and twisting out of responsibility.
The city cut a deal that requires bigger but still small sacrifices from city workers to pay for the enhancement of the already lucrative pensions for some 2,400 of their colleagues who get to retire in the early- and mid-50s..
It depends for its success on the agreement of the unions to accept layoffs or furloughs, maybe even pay cuts as an alternative, if the situation deteriorates further.
The city’s hands are no longer tied. It’s the will that’s missing, the integrity.
But they put it on the line and said they had found a solution and that we the people of the city back them.
I think they are dead wrong on both counts. They have solved nothing and they could not win a vote of confidence of the people.
Let them put it on the June ballot next year: Do you have confidence in the mayor and City Council? Yes or No.
If they are right about what they have set in motion, I will happily stand before them and eat humble pie. But if I’m right and the people watch what happens to the city over the next nine months and decide they have no confidence in the leadership, then the mayor and council members should be declared ineligible to ever hold city office again when their terms are up.
These are people who take an oath of office to do right by the people, not the unions.
You never hear a meaningful word from them about how cutting city services as they intend to do, padding the payrolls of the DWP, AIrport and Harbor with regular city workers and doubling and tripling our rates for water and power is good for anyone other than the unions.
So I don’t expect them to willingly agree to my suggestion. But I intend to do all I can to build a political movement around it and the replacement of all of them by people who will do what’s right for the people, and not just the few.
Petitions to cut the mayor and council’s salaries in half will soon be circulation. Let’s add a “No Confidence” in City Hall measure to that.
The workers at City Hall chanted “Save LA” on Friday. I think they meant it. I know I mean it
If our city leaders really want to save LA, they will put their jobs on the line and let us vote up or down on their collective performance in June. It’s the least — the very least — the could do.