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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
PHOTO CREDIT: PAT H. MUNSON
Mayor Gives State of the City
By Pat Hendricks Munson The city of Los Angeles is not out of the woods just yet and can expect more layoffs, closing of entire departments and less public services according to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his State of the City address on Tuesday. Speaking to a full house gathered in Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium at the newly-built Police Administration Building, Mayor Villagairosa broke with tradition by getting straight to the point. Instead of the usual flowery talk of self-congratulatory remarks to staff and employees on how well things are going, new and spectacular achievements, the Mayor gave a chilling prognosis of the city's budget. "I think everybody realizes the urgency of our present financial condition," he said. "My friends, this is a tough time for everyone right now in Los Angeles. We are experiencing a historic economic collapse." The Mayor spoke about the economic situation of the past few years; declining homes values, thousands of families who lost their homes and a 25 percent decrease in new construction which meant a loss of jobs and revenue for the city. He described the situation as "our new economic reality" and explained that the city's budget will require even more drastic cuts. Mandating city employees to take up to 26 days without pay, modifying firefighters schedules, doing away with entire departments and consolidating others, laying off more than 800 employees, is but a few examples of changes to combat the city's budget crisis. "That is pitting the cruel irony of the growing needs of Angelenos against the declining capacity of their own government to answer their needs. This is the reality that we face...And the reality that we will meet head on," he stated. He compared today's economic challenges to those of the '20s and '30s. "I think about what we are up against, and I think about how small it all seems in comparison to the challenges that faced our grandparents." The Mayor spoke of his grandfather, Pedro Acosta, who arrived in Los Angeles 100 years ago and worked the fields until he built a thriving produce business; only to lose it all during the great depression. That may be a true and inspirational story, however, many Angelenos presently losing their jobs and homes and who are receiving fewer public services have no appreciation for nostalgic comparisons. People want answers about their future. The city is faced with a deficit of $485 million and pension costs have climbed to 19 percent of the general fund, according to the Mayor. This year's budget is only a beginning to long-term sustainability. "One year of cost-cutting won't solve this crisis. We must make lasting, structural changes that not only balance this year's bottom line, but puts us back into the black for future forecasts." The Mayor proposes to balance the budget with 68 percent of cuts and structural revenue changes. He wants to protect the reserve fund, maintain public safety, continue the fight against gang violence, protect basic infrastructure by maintaining streets and forging new partnership with the private sector. The budget totals $4.34 billion with 6.5 percent or $284 million in reserves. The police force will be maintained at its current level and there will be no cuts to 8-1-1 emergency services. The city will also leverage Federal Stimulus funds for transportation infrastructure including street surfaces and signals. The city is also exploring partnerships with the private sector in handling some public facilities and services. Branch libraries and parks are being asked to reduce their program and services; fewer potholes will be filled and fewer trees trimmed. Nearly every area of the city will be affected by budget cuts. "We must all share in the sacrifice to stop the cuts in services and prevent further lay-offs. We must all be willing to take cuts in our pay, increase our pension contribution and contribute more to our health care plans," Mayor said directly to the many city employees in attendance including council members, Police Chief Beck and Police Commissioner John Mack, who introduced the Mayor to the stage. Mack introduced the Mayor as an "outstanding leader and dedicated public servant" whose top priority is safety in every community. Mack said adversity brings out the best in a leader and he is confident that Villagairosa "will lead us through this time of adversity." Others are not so sure. Union leaders protested outside by holding their own press conference after the Mayor's address. Gerald Harris, newly retired 26-year city employee and SEIU 721 union rep wants more details. "He was very cautious and really didn't give us enough to know what he's going to do, what his plans are. The budget cuts we're hearing about are hurting community services and employees who will no longer perform these jobs. The Mayor is mishandling the city budget. He's offering more outside contracting, more money going to other departments that don't need it." Another city employee who wishes to remain anonymous said "It's a bunch of games they're playing. Last year the DWP got a 10 percent raise, this year a fee hike and we got cuts." However one feels about the situation, the reality is the city of Los Angeles, just as the entire country is experiencing an "economic storm" of catastrophic proportions. How we all survive is yet to be determined. "There are sunnier days ahead for the City of Angels," the Mayor concluded.