8 Fantastic Things About the City Budget
City Hall photo by Gary Leonard

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Budget season has arrived in the city of Los Angeles, and on Monday, April 20, Mayor Eric Garcetti presented his plan for how to spend $8.6 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The fact that Garcetti rolled out his financial proposal on 4/20, which is the code that potheads use to celebrate smoking marijuana, was, I’m sure, purely coincidental.

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For political geeks, budget season is a medium-level holiday. It’s not forgettable like Arbor Day or Gov. Scott Walker Day (not actually a holiday. Yet), but then again, it’s not quite the Christmas/Hanukkah equivalent of election day, either. Think of Budget Season as a political Columbus Day, minus the brutalizing of Native Americans.

Most people are a lot more interested in Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman than the city’s transition to a fiscally sustainable municipality. Still, Budget Season is probably more important to the daily lives of the majority of Angelenos. With City Hall hearings on the spending plan beginning this week, here are eight fantastic things about the budget.

Going for Broke: Garcetti’s budget notes that Los Angeles starts fiscal year 2015-16 with a $165 million shortfall. Many people will seek to cast this as a positive, noting that last year the structural deficit began at $242 million. Things were even worse in the past, as in 2008 the deficit was projected at $406 million, and in 2010 the anticipated shortfall was an amazing $530 million. They further point out that City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana anticipates that Los Angeles will eliminate its structural deficit by 2018-19.

Compared to the past, and the furloughs, layoffs and early retirements that followed, a $165 million deficit seems peachy. However, the fact remains that initial projections call for L.A. to spend $165 million more than it takes in, and if this happened at Chrysler for years on end, heads would roll. Treating a $165 million gap as a positive is something of a fiscal Stockholm Syndrome, with excuses being made for why the terrible is good. This is like being held prisoner in the secret CIA jail in Reseda (oops, I wasn’t supposed to mention that) and thinking that being waterboarded once a week, rather than every day, is a plus.

Raise the Roof: Garcetti’s projections rely on most city workers not getting raises for two years. Public sentiment seems to be in favor of such a move, and of having municipal employees contribute to their healthcare costs. However, unions representing about 20,000 city employees like this stance about as much as Lakers fans like Jim Buss. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions is pounding the drum for raises, citing the improving economy. Then there’s the possible precedent of a recent agreement to give LAPD officers an 8.2% pay hike in coming years. Garcetti may need all of the magic spells he learned in the Naval Reserves to keep wages steady. If pay hikes are granted, the deficit, now and in future years, could balloon. 

And no, Garcetti didn’t actually pick up magic in the Navy. He learned it during his time at Hogwarts.

The Price of Crime: Rising violent crime across Los Angeles may not be the elephant in the room, but it certainly is the skunk, and Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck get credit for trying to respond quickly. Of course, it’s results that matter, and the new budget allocates $5.5 million to expand the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, which focuses on prevention and intervention efforts, rather than just arresting the heck out of tattooed teens.

However, there may be another option: Disneyland passports that give admission on 315 days throughout the year start at $549. So, Los Angeles could buy 10,000 gangbangers annual passes, for a total of $5.49 million, and let them bond and realize their similarities through days and nights at the Happiest Place on Earth. After all, what promotes unity more than Bloods, Crips and 18th Street members touring Mickey’s Toontown and riding “It’s a Small World” together?

I can’t wait for my Nobel Peace Prize.

Taking It to the Streets: Like birthday parties for 6-year-old girls, Garcetti’s administration has had a theme: Frozen! No, wait, wrong theme. The nom de guerre of Garcetti’s mayoralty has been Back to Basics, and that continues with allocations for quality-of-life services. In the coming fiscal year the tree trimming budget is rising 50%. Additionally, $1 million will be set aside for more frequent restroom cleaning at 35 parks — the concept of $1 million worth of dirty bathrooms just made me do an icky face — and $4.1 million is being allocated for the new Clean Streets Initiative, which gives each council district one day of intense street cleaning per month. Note, this won’t be needed Downtown in June, as the streets will be clean without a Lakers or Kings championship parade. If the Clippers happen to win the NBA title, don’t worry — they don’t have enough fans to really mess the place up. 

Show Me the Money: Where does the city money go? Not surprisingly, the biggest spender in the family is the LAPD, which will have a budget north of $1.442 billion in the coming year. The Fire Department, meanwhile, will get $620 million. The City Council receives $23 million — up from about $16.2 million in fiscal year 2013-14 — while the mayor’s office will spend approximately $6 million. I don’t have a joke here — I’m just too depressed thinking about the council having $23 million.

The Broken Path: The budget includes $31 million to repair busted sidewalks, and the allocation only came about because the city needed to settle a lawsuit over the shoddy state of said passages — L.A. will pay $1.4 billion to fix sidewalks over 30 years. Ultimately, there’s no decision as to where the funds will come from. One rumor is that Garcetti’s office will get the upcoming $31 million by having City Attorney Mike Feuer sue actor Kevin James for the crime he committed by appearing in and having people pay to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. 

Let’s Chat: In the effort to innovate, the budget calls for having the Office of Finance establish a pilot online chat service for business taxpayers so they can get detailed responses faster than by using the phone or visiting a city office. Yes, the City Hall Chat Room proposal is real. No, you’re not allowed to start by asking Chat Room reps, “So what are you wearing?”

2020 Vision: The 2015-16 budget allocates $14 million to implement some of the forward-thinking ideas proposed last year by the 2020 Commission, a cadre of high-profile civic leaders, including attorney Mickey Kantor and now-L.A. Times Publisher Austin Beutner, and convened by Council President Herb Wesson. First to be implemented will be a new Office of Transparency and Accountability. OK, that’s not close to true: The city will continue to ignore the pair of reports the group prepared, though local politicians maintain the option in the future of stealing ideas and pretending they come up with them.

regardie@downtownnews.com

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015