We are not all on the same page in reading the narrative of the state of the City of Los Angeles. We’re not even reading the same book; the gap between the storyline offered by the city’s leadership is not the same as the reality of the experience of residents, businesses, even city workers and their union bosses.
Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller started “Budget Day” on Wednesday by proclaiming he could “see the light at the end of the tunnel” to the three-year budget crisis thanks to the great work done by the mayor and City Council to reduce services to public, handsomely pay off 2,400 senior employees to retire early, transfer 1,500 others to the DWP and other special funds and actually lay off 400, mostly part-time, workers.
It was a metaphorical cliche that the first speaker in public comment, namely me, could not resist picking up on and suggesting it must be a very long tunnel Miller is looking down since he acknowledged massive deficit loom for years to come, labor relations have been badly damaged and everyone from Neighborhood Council members to activists with the Martin Luther King Coalition and Chatsworth Republicans have lost faith in the city’s leadership and worried about the dire consequences of continued failure.
Council President Eric Garcetti would hear none of that, insisting that he and his colleagues had achieved a degree of fiscal responsibility working cooperatively and respectfully with labor unions and the community that no other city in America had achieved.
The “light” of a new of prosperity and harmony is at hand, he suggested, presumably the minute he hopes to be sworn in as mayor on July 1, 2013.
Given the failure of his leadership to honestly and courageously face the city’s problems, I suppose he felt he had no choice but to put on his best choir persona and smiley face and pretend everything is great even as the heat of hundreds of angry city engineers and firefighters still smoldered in the City Council Chamber.
A tedious and pointless game than played out over the next six hours before the Council unanimously agreed to the mayor’s spending plan for 2011-2012 virtually as proposed with only one significant change: They won’t borrow nearly $50 million to pay current bills — at least not until all the markers for cuts and revenue that were used to “balance” the budget turn out to be as phony as they appear.
The only issue in contention during those hours involved Fire Chief Millage Peaks plan to end the rolling “brownouts” that rotated closing for fire stations, engine companies and ambulances in a random and confusing manner.
Instead of putting 22 engine companies and six ambulances out of service every day, Peaks used computer modeling with millions of data points to determine that the Fire Department could operate cheaper and more efficiently by permanently closing 18 engine companies and four ambulances and eliminating more than 300 firefighters through attrition over three years — permanent, structural savings of $200 million.
The firefighters union was up in arms over the idea of losing 300 dues-paying members. Councilwoman and soon-to-be Congresswoman Janice Hahn was apoplectic at the likelihood that Wilmington with all its gas pipes and refineries will explode any day now with its fire station being closed while Bill Rosendahl’s heart was breaking at the high risk of a brush fire conflagration destroying the Pacific Palisades and all of its residents, isolated as they are in their wealthy enclave.
The solution was ingenious: Peaks plan for “permanent closings and job reductions” was revised by simply calling it “temporary closings and job reductions” with the promise all services and staff will be restored as the soon as that light at the end of the tunnel arrives and fills the treasury with hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue.
In the meantime, the mayor and City Council expect the firefighters, and the cops for that matter, to cough up 2 percent more of their wages for health care out of the goodness of their hearts and their commitment to public service.
Fat chance after the runaround they have been given.
That’s why the city engineers were up in arms. They have been trying to negotiate a basic contract for 18 months but can’t get anywhere because the city’s leaders want them to agree to give up all job security and allow for all their jobs to be outsourced to private companies even though the costs overall would be higher.
Engineers aren’t the kind of people to shout and protest and threaten to strike but they did on Wednesday.
How Garcetti can talk about how City Hall is such a happy family ranks as one of those audacious lies in recent city history, and that is saying something.
The basis mode of labor negotiations right now is threats and coercion. Even when confronted with the choice of paying 4 percent of their salary for health care or losing 15 percent to furloughs, barely half the civilian workers agreed to the deal.
Basic trust has been violated and not just with the rank-and-file.
Department heads and top executives face the same kind of bullying to force them to accept policies they believe are bad and to keep their mouths shut about them.
If there were any doubt about the fear and desperation beneath the smiley faces worn by the city leaders, they used the same tactics on the eve of “Budget Day” by having the mayor’s henchman warn Neighborhood Council leaders to mind their manners or face the loss of all their funding, not just the 10 percent cut that was planned.
This is no way to run a city. It’s how you ruin a city.