For five years a chorus of voices has been predicting bankruptcy for Los Angeles, while often calling for deeper cuts to city employee pensions. Today, however, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 that includes a one-time surplus of $119 million. While some of that surplus would rely on additional pay and benefit reductions for city workers, even without such cuts the city would have a projected surplus of close to $100 million.
“It’s better than seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – we’re almost out of the tunnel!” Matt Szabo, Mayor Villaraigosa’s deputy chief of staff, told Frying Pan News in an interview last week. Szabo discussed the city’s financial picture and said that dire financial warnings have been largely overblown.
“One of the issues that’s highly irritating is the ease with which some people have thrown around the bankruptcy term,” Szabo said.
Let the hand-wringing begin! In last week’s primary election, just over 16 percent of Los Angeles voters turned out at the polls, less than four years ago, which was less than the election before that, which was less than the election before that – and on and on. In Southern California municipalities – big city or small – elections draw about 20 percent of the vote. This is a problem in a democracy.
Low turnouts mean that more and more money gets spent on fewer and fewer voters, and when only a small minority of voters go to the polls, elected officials make major policy decisions based on a narrower group of constituents. In a democratic society, where people are empowered to make decisions that affect their lives, fewer voters mean diminished participation and less accountability.
In the early 1980s, when reformers first took a majority of seats on the City Council in Santa Monica,
Yesterday we published Part One of a conversation with mayoral hopeful Kevin James, continuing our interviews with Los Angeles’ front-running candidates. James is an entertainment lawyer and talk-show host, who has previously served as a U.S. prosecutor and AIDS Project Los Angeles co-chairman. (The series’ interviews, which have been edited for clarity, include Eric Garcetti, Parts One and Two, and Wendy Greuel, Parts One and Two.)
Frying Pan News: Your campaign’s main selling point is that you are not a City Hall insider, that you have no institutional connection to the city’s budget problems. Other than this, why should Angelenos vote for you?
Kevin James: Neighborhoods across our city believe that this City Council has shut them out, that they don’t have a voice.
(Editor’s Note: Today we continue our series of posts from invited writers who offer thoughts on what the coming four years hold for Los Angeles and its next mayor. These opinions do not reflect the views of Frying Pan News or the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.)
The next mayor of Los Angeles will have significant environmental matters before them. Let’s take two — water and power.
On energy, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is obligated by California law to deliver one third of the city’s electricity with renewable power by the year 2020. The state also mandates that L.A. curtail using sea water to cool its coastal power plants by 2029. State law also sets deadlines for L.A. to get off of coal. And the state also demands that L.A. reduce its energy use by at least 10 percent via new energy efficiency and conservation measures by 2020.
Today we continue our series of interviews with Los Angeles’ front-running mayoral candidates, with the second part of a talk with City Controller Wendy Greuel. (Next week: Kevin James. See also, Part One of the Wendy Greuel interview, as well as Parts One and Two of our Eric Garcetti interview.)
Frying Pan News: Corporate lobbyists spent more than $30 million last year to influence decisions at City Hall – far more than unions or any other group. Do you think that big business has too much power over local government?
Wendy Greuel: Thirty million dollars is a lot of money. I will, as mayor – as I do as controller and as I did as councilmember — ensure that there is a transparent process and that no one has more access than another to the kinds of decisions that are made in the city.
I wonder what the three mayoral candidates thought of last night, as they traveled to the third and final debate to be held in South Los Angeles before the March 5 election. Were Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti affected by the change in scenery as they drove closer to Ward AME Church, one of the city’s historic religious institutions?
I would like to think that they clearly saw the run-down corridors, littered with liquor stores, abandoned buildings, empty lots and fast food joints. As they approached the steps of the church did these veteran public servants allow themselves to catch the eyes of that beautiful little neighborhood girl or boy who has access to fewer resources, as well as a lower probability of living a high quality life than a child from the Westside or San Fernando Valley?
Looking forward, if elected, would the high poverty rates in South Los Angeles and elsewhere keep Greuel,
(Editor’s Note: The following includes excerpts from remarks made on KPFK’s Uprising program, which focused on the Los Angeles mayoral debate held January 28 .)
The argument that framed the debate – that Los Angeles could go bankrupt – is ridiculous. L.A. is one of the richest cities in the world. Yes, we face some budget challenges, but the solution is not to gut the modest retirement benefits of hard-working people. We need to focus on creating good jobs, which will increase our tax base, and making sure that we are generating the revenues we should from our incredible city-owned assets.
When the focus of the majority of the discussion is pensions, which is an issue but represents only 10 or 11 percent of the budget, and really is one of many important issues facing the city – when that is the primary subject of conversation most people are left wondering,