DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a panel comprised of a dozen high-powered Angelenos, this morning released its prescription for curing the city of some of its most-pressing economic and civic ills.
In the 28-page report dubbed “A Time for Action,” the commission offers a series of recommendations designed to bolster the city’s economy and restore faith in government. Recommendations range from changing when the city holds elections to creating an Office of Transparency and Accountability to raising the minimum wage to combining the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“We’re not trying to deal with every problem in Los Angeles,” said Mickey Kantor, the commission’s co-chair, during an advance briefing on the report Tuesday morning. “We believe all of these are implementable within six months.”
“A Time for Action” follows “A Time for Truth,” a 2020 Commission report released in January. That effort focused on identifying problems within the city, and cited everything from failing leadership to the challenges posed by traffic and a faltering education system. Though it generated a stream of media coverage, it failed to gain much traction within City Hall.
The new report, by contrast, offers suggestions, and specifically looks at the themes of accountability and transparency, fiscal stability and job creation.
In the Wednesday briefing, Austin Beutner, the panel’s other co-chair, said the proposal with the greatest long-term impact is establishing the Office of Transparency and Accountability. The office with a five-member board and an approximately 10-person staff would provide information and analysis of the city’s budget, services and other operations. The data would be readily available to the general public and the media.
“This nonpartisan, apolitical entity will be charged with preparing critical analyses of what goes on in City Hall and how effectively the City is using taxpayer money to provide services,” the report states.
Also under the accountability and transparency umbrella is shifting when elections take place. The report noted the turnout of only 23% of registered voters in last spring’s mayoral election. It recommends rescheduling elections to coincide with the state and federal election cycle. Having more people at the polls, said Beutner, will reduce the power of special interests in low-turnout races.
In addition to Kantor and Beutner, the 2020 Commission includes individuals with backgrounds in labor, business and government. Other members are former Gov. Gray Davis, DWP union leader Brian D’Arcy, and former Labor Secretary and current County Supervisor candidate Hilda Solis.
Kantor convened the panel at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson. Elected officials did not have any input into the content of either report, Kantor said.
Another suggestion is altering the city budget process. Rather than present a one-year budget, as occurs now, the report suggests issuing a three-year budget that shows both proposed spending in a 12-month period, as well as the implications of that spending in succeeding years. This would prevent financial gimmicks and short-term fixes that essentially delay fiscal problems for future leaders, they said.
The January report gained attention in part for stating that nearly 40% of the citizens of Los Angeles live in “misery,” with the figure referring to the percentage of Angelenos who are unemployed or earn poverty-level wages. To alleviate that, the commission recommends increasing the minimum wage in the city above the $10 an hour that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed starting in 2016. The commission did not identify a specific dollar amount or whether the new rate should be phased in, but Kantor and Beutner said it should apply to all jobs in Los Angeles, not just those in a specific industry such as hotels. Businessmen Eli Broad and Rick Caruso have also called for increasing the minimum wage.
The report urged local leaders to capitalize on some of the strengths and job-producing sectors in the region, and stressed focusing on “economic clusters” in fields such as bioscience and technology, along with manufacturing. Beutner and Kantor suggested that city and county officials aggressively work to make Los Angeles the home of the future new headquarters of the California Air Resources Board. Getting CARB in L.A. they said, would mean that research and other environmental-related businesses would follow.
“It could become a big job creator,” said Beutner.
Another way to bolster the economy, they said, is consolidation, with a regional approach for both shipping and tourism. The report recommends having the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach enter into a joint powers agreement to manage strategy on a regional basis. It noted that this has happened in other areas, with ports in New York and New Jersey, and Seattle and Tacoma, forming strong partnerships.
“All too often the Ports of LA and Long Beach issue press releases boasting of new customers — one only has to study the details to understand these customers are just switching from LA to Long Beach or vice versa and not bringing new jobs to the region,” the report stated.
A similar partnership is recommended for local tourism agencies. Forming a Regional Tourism Authority, the report said, would allow cities such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica to work together, particularly in targeting international travelers.
Beutner and Kantor noted that the commission’s work essentially ends with the Wednesday release of the second report. Still, they say that effecting the changes could make a big difference, and it could happen relatively quickly.
“None of this is rocket science,” said Kantor. “It is common sense.”
The full report will be available at la2020reports.org.
Copyright 2014 Los Angeles Downtown News