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:
COMING NEXT: Terms of Endearment: The Deal