It’s dizzying sometimes trying to tell the smoke from the smokescreen in the burned-out world of LA politics and politicians.
The wildfire now raging out of control in the Angeles National Forest from La Canada to Acton, from Sunland-Tujunga to Pasadena is a case in point.
Two weeks ago, the mayor of LA was fuming about how Pat McOsker and his firefighters union had the audacity to send out a mailer that used the heroism of emergency crews in the Metrolink train crash to show how help might be a long time coming because fire stations were being left understaffed due to budget cuts.
Now we find a kid may have drowned because the short-staffed local firehouse was busy elsewhere and we see, not surprisingly, that fire crews are invaluable, especially in the heart of fire season.
It took the mayor five days after the Station Fire broke out to lift his furlough order for firefighters. By then, two firefighters were dead and 105,000 acres, 18 homes charred, smoked choked the LA Basin and there was no end in sight.
The public sector isn’t alone in letting us down when it counts.
TV stations, for the first time in memory, didn’t go live day and night with coverage of the fire in no small part because their news budgets have been slashed as revenue and market share have fallen sharply. The lack of non-stop video.coverage was in marked contrast
with the 24/7 coverage of the Michael Jackson and Ted Kennedy deaths.
Instead of questioning whether the response in the early hours of the blaze was sufficient, County Supervisor Mike Antonovich got all fired up about how the TV stations had failed to meet their responsibilities.
“There were a large number of evacuations taking place, people and
animals were in danger, and people had no information of where to go,”
Antonovich told Greg Braxton in the Times.. “I’m upset. The media let people down
during a horrendous fire, one of the worst in the county’s history.”
You can feel for Antonovich. The fire is in his district and such events always afford local politicians the opportunity to don their emergency gear and pose before the TV cameras as they hold forth eloquently about their concern for the lives and property of their constituents and the public’s debt to the employees whose services they pay for.
Today, LACERS board members who oversee the LA civilian employees pension fund are hearing about how the sweetened early retirement deal the mayor and City Council cut with the unions is a financial disaster.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office has lectured the board about its fiduciary responsibilities, warning them against any “direct or indirect” contact with city officials who might try to influence their
“A retirement board’s duty to its participants and
beneficiaries shall take precedence over any other duty,” an Assistant City Attorney wrote,
putting that sentence in italics for emphasis.
Sally Choi and her LACERS staff have refused to back down on their insistence the cost of letting 2,400 workers retire at full 75 percent pensions as young as age 50 must be repaid within five years. Allowing payback over 15 years as the unions and our elected officials want would be reckless and irresponsible, they said, especially since billions of dollars in benefits are already unfunded and the city’s financial position is so dire it may take many years to recover.
At the same times, the Metropolitan Water District, which just raised its charges by 20 percent — the main reason LA water rates are soaring — has cut a deal to increase pensions by 25 percent despite the half-billion-dollar unfunded liability it already faces. When the Orange County Register questioned the deal, the Met spent freely to bring in a public relations firm to obfuscate the issue.
It’s all so bizarre, a theater of the absurdity of politics today.
Is it just me or do you too sense that our government agencies are spinning out of control in the face of falling revenue, that our officials panicked and paralyzed by the end of the free-spending era when pandering to special interests could keep them in power and privilege indefinitely and the people too disengaged to notice they were being ripped off for their money even as policies were making the quality of their lives and their economic opportunities worse?