Sun, Oct

LA is Marching Toward Its Own Fiscal Cliff: BANKRUPTCY

POLITICS-As it becomes ever more evident that Washington is moving towards a fiscal cliff that might NOT be so bad and horrible (provided it's mitigated and accommodated by Washington, Wall Street, Main Street and ordinary taxpayers, it should be of much greater concern to ordinary Angelenos that our city is moving closer and closer to its own fiscal cliff:  BANKRUPTCY.
I've weighed in before, and I'll do it again, that the "fiscal cliff" is highly overblown (by both political parties) and is being used for hyperpartisanship (by both political parties), but while certain cuts and taxes can hopefully be implemented more slowly and carefully, we've got to pay our bills, not keep dumping our debts on our children and grandchildren, and live within our means.  
As Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has stated, the President is fully prepared to have us all go over the "fiscal cliff".  But can we puh-leeze call it something else?  As Times columnist Doyle McManus has accurately stated, it's not a fiscal cliff but just a steep, scary slope.
Let's just hope that:
1) The Republicans can get over their big, bad selves and recognize that spending on transportation and infrastructure (provided it's spent well, and on quality projects) is NOT "pork".
2) The Democrats can get over their big, bad selves and recognize that tagging the rich alone without cutting spending gets NOTHING done with respect to math.
3) Both the Republicans and the Democrats can get over their big, bad selves and recognize that it's easier to raises taxes for a few if everyone chips in and makes no one feel cornered and likely to strike back, and that those making $200,000 to $500,000 a year, depending on what state you live in, are by far less "rich" than those making $1-2 million a year or more.
We cut our budget and raised taxes across the board to balance things in California, and while Governor Brown and the Legislature still have to "watch it" with respect to spending, pension reform, regulations and protecting businesses and taxpayers, Governor Brown showed we can strike a balance and work together as a state.
Unfortunately, that does NOT appear to be working at the level of the City of the Angels.
Perhaps Council President Herb Wesson needs to access his own inner angels, because after dividing the City over the way he rammed through Council redistricting to the benefit of some but the smashing of other Angelenos, he had the unmitigated gall to verbally thrash former Mayor Richard Riordan after Riordan had the temerity to (GASP!) try to forestall City bankruptcy through pension reform.
And as pension/benefits are inching closer and closer to gobbling up a third or even half the budget of our City, perhaps Herb Wesson can recognize his own political future at stake if his other initiative that he rammed through, an ill-advised half-cent sales tax, fails next spring.
So we have our own fiscal cliff in the City of Los Angeles in the making, now that Riordan and Eli Broad and the others who tried to save this City have withdrawn their pension reform initiative effort:  BANKRUPTCY.
Perhaps it's fair, and perhaps it's unfair to call it the Wesson bankruptcy, but after his stunts with redistricting, mistreating those who want to save our City, and imposing a nebulous half-cent sales tax without a plan to stop out-of-control budgetary chaos Downtown, he deserves the credit as much as anyone else.
And Mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry are not without blame with respect to letting this City get to such a dire state of things.
There are a few reminders to Council President Wesson and our mayoral contenders:
1) Downtown just voted to create their own tax district by a whopping 73% to fund a Streetcar/rail service to complement the future Downtown Light Rail Connector and enhance car-free mobility to the tune of over $62 million.  People can vote in favor of new taxes, but they've GOT to know WHERE it's going, and where their investment will go.
2) While it's heart rendering that Measure J failed despite a whopping 66.11% voter approval (15% more than what President Obama needed for re-election, and 10% more than Proposition 30 got for approval), it's more likely than not that transportation will soon enjoy a lowered tax threshold to 55%, which is what education now enjoys--people want roads and freeways and passenger rail.
Seriously--the taxpayers will pay for needed services and infrastructure, provided it's spent well.
However, after attending the hearing yesterday to approve an oversized and obviously-car-oriented Casden/Sepulveda megadevelopment at the West L.A. Municipal Building, one can only guess that those developers believe they can ram it through a politically-motivated and open-to-campaign-contributions City Council.
Yes, the Casden project (as with other megadevelopments) will be sold under the guise of being "transit-friendly" and "affordable-housing", but that's just another Big Lie that Downtown and their crony/lobbyist/special interest allies will ram down our throats.  
The parking for the Casden project is for the cars that will access the oversized residential and commercial property planned for that site, and not for the Expo Line adjacent to it.  In fact, it'll probably hurt access to the Expo Line.  
Meanwhile, our City Council has not moved forward with any public/private development to create an Expo Line/intermodal transit center at that site, which is consistent with its current M1 (Industrial) zoning status.  Perhaps this LOOOOOOONG-overdue Westside Transportation Center needs to have its own tax district formulated for the voters to approve--again, if our economy and mobility and congestion problems are benefited by a project, the taxpayers will come through.
But they won't come through for you, Mr. Wesson and the City Council.  They won't come through for a City budgeting process that spends increasingly more on workers who retired with very high salaries (much, much higher than in years past) in their 50's and less on workers who provide current City services.  They won't come through when City Hall doesn't focus on figuring out which jobs that older police officers and firefighters can do to fight zoning and health violations and other non-physically-demanding jobs (even librarians and park recreation supervisors!) to keep us within budget and provide us with necessary City services.
They won't come through for a City which rams through more illegal/inappropriate billboards, decreases and unfunds parks and open space, allows laws to be broken right and left to overdevelop and overutilize our decaying infrastructure, and disrespects/destroys single-family homeowners and their neighborhoods with denial of reform-oriented boarding home and CCFO ordinances when there are plenty of more appropriate ways to create affordable housing.
In short, we'll survive a misnamed and mischaracterized "fiscal cliff" in Washington...but Angelenos won't survive the much more real fiscal cliff that Herb Wesson and the City Council appear to be rushing towards.  After the failure of the Riordan initiative, and the nightmarish and nebulous half-cent sales tax that's been unearthed and unleashed by City Hall, it may simply be a "Bankruptcy, here we come".
And as the list of reasons to deny and vote down the half-cent sales tax continues to grow, perhaps the increasing threat of Bankruptcy can pull City Hall back to the voters and taxpayers--because that's a fiscal cliff we could really do without.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)  
Vol 10 Issue 98
Pub: Dec 7, 2012