Let’s start with the City Council taking up the heavily-subsidized Wilshire Grand Hotel project today as a matter of urgency on a special agenda with 24 hours notice and then look at yesterday’s “landmark” deal with six city unions.
They have one thing in common: They are offered as piecemeal solutions to big issues, one involving what downtown will look like in the future and other whether the city will survive its enduring financial crisis.
The Wilshire Grand deal provides $54 million to $79 in hotel tax rebates to the developers to build a skyscraper plastered with five-story digital billboards built into the structure itself and possibly a second even taller office/residential tower similarly adorned.
It is an example of spot zoning, making new rules for individual projects that become precedents for other project without a comprehensive analysis and public discussion of the implications of what we are doing.
In this case, there is no public discussion to speak of.
The Chief Legislative Analyst only released his report on what’s called the “subvention agreement” — subversion might be more apt — on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Council scheduled the special meeting and today will unanimously approve it unanimously after a perfunctory discussion.
Other downtown property owners and developers will demand similar subsidies and authority to put up giant digital billboards and get what they want by offering no public benefits other than “project labor agreements that ensure all workers involved are
members of unions.
The result will dramatically affect the future of downtown for better or worse. The only certainty is that is will be a brighter future — by millions of flashing LED lights.
The deal with the six civilian city unions announced Thursday with such great fanfare and hyperbole by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council President and wannabe mayor Eric Garcetti is similarly a piecemeal solution to the much larger problem of city government costing far more than it has money to pay for.
What exactly the deal means in terms of solving even a portion of the budget crisis is far from clear as the numbers reported the LA Times, Daily News and Wall Street Journal wobble in various ways like the number of workers involved, the deficit for next year and the actual savings.
The mayor’s website offers its own set of numbers.
“The City and the Coalition of LA City Unions reached a tentative pension
and healthcare reform agreement that will produce $204 million in
savings to the General Fund and $396 million in total savings over the
next four years,” it reports in the opening paragraph.
It ends with this information: “The increase in employee contributions to retiree healthcare alone will
save an estimated $64 million over the next three years, $317 million
over the next 15 years, and $634 million over the next 30 years.”
How those numbers fit in with the City Administrative Officer’s report last week on looming budget deficits is far from clear: $350 million next year, $446 million the following year, $513 million the year after, and $548 million in .2014-15.
The mayor, for his part, mocked KPCC reporter Frank Stolze for being ignorant when he mentioned the deficit next year is $350 million — $500 million, the mayor insisted, suggesting he knows something the rest of us don’t.
The sound bite the media jumped on was this mayoral quote: “This is a watershed moment, make no mistake.”
His own website is even richer in hyperbole:
“Today, Los Angeles has a message for Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis,
and every city or state capital where public employee unions have been
vilified as the cause of budget problems and economic woes: Collective
bargaining works,” said Mayor Villaraigosa. “Instead of railing against
our union workers and their rights to bargain, we invited them to the
table because they know — absent these concessions — our current
benefits are not sustainable. Unions are our partners, not our enemies,
and I am pleased to announce that the Coalition of LA City Unions has
stepped up to the plate, worked with us, and done their part.”
“Landmark,” “watershed,” “historic” or whatever it is, the deal to nearly double the pension and health care contributions of 19,000 or 22,000 or whatever number of city workers it is from 6 percent to 11 percent doesn’t really solve anything by itself.
Wage increases negotiated just a year ago are being deferred, not eliminated, in exchange for ending the furloughs of one day every two weeks. But layoffs may or may not still be needed.
Deals with police, firefighters and thousands of other civilians workers still need to be negotiated, and nobody even talks about the bullies of City Hall, the DWP’s IBEW union, which keeps on getting big raises and never is asked to make concessions even as water and power rates keep soaring.
Then, there’s the question of what it means in terms of public services that have been so severely cut over the last three years.
Rick Orlov in the Daily News reports Garcetti “said the city will be able to return to the service levels it previously had” thanks to the deal.
“What this means is we can fill the potholes, we can repair the fire trucks and get them back in service,” Garcetti said.
But will the libraries reopen, parks programs be restored, tree trimming resumed? He didn’t say because he doesn’t know. Nobody knows.
There’s no comprehensive plans to solve the budget crisis or for downtown development or for anything else for that matter — at least none that any of us ordinary citizens are allowed to know.