Thu, Aug

LA City Budget in Crisis: The Sky is Falling

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Budget Advocates can develop and release ideas on increasing City revenues and fiscal efficiencies, as well as identifying where smart cuts can be made to the City’s expenditures.

But we don’t have the power to implement anything. 

Mayor Garcetti has promoted performance budgeting throughout his time as Mayor – and the concept is a good one – requesting General Managers prioritize the functions in the Department and then streamline funding to match 

Over the past few years while the stock market indices and property values have rocketed back and surpassed their pre-2008 values, the City has managed to go further and further into debt. 

Now that our City Budget is in ruins, now that, on top of that fiscal calamity, we are facing a potential post-election Wall Street crash or serious “correction” (with the ensuing corporate and personal bankruptcies in addition to the pandemic-driven ones of today), this question persists: how can we protect our services -- the very services the City is supposed to provide?                                           

In addition to not implementing any meaningful cost savings programs to address the current crisis, what we do see is money in the City’s coffers constantly being drained by inefficiencies, pet projects, and the failure to enforce what controls are actually in place. To please constituencies, many elected officials pass grand (and not-so-grand) mandates but don’t fully fund them.  

Our elected officials cook up wonderful schemes to attract business but give away the taxes that should pay for these incentives. . .as one of the incentives.  

The City fails to provide the services needed for stakeholders, which makes moving to Los Angeles unattractive to the qualified workers and businesses we need to build up our economy.   

Past and present policies move us further away from a level playing field and entrench a caste system, an embarrassment of “redlining” most of us choose to ignore. 

Los Angeles has struggled with outdated tech since the cuts of the 2008 recession. Out of necessity and expediency, many departments have set up their own systems and this plethora of different software means departments can’t network over related issues. 

This has created internal inefficiencies as well as boundless frustration for Angelenos trying to navigate this cyber-maze. It is up to the City’s Information Technology Agency (ITA) to bring order to this chaos, not by telling departments what to do but by working with them to efficiently connect everyone. 

In addition to providing internal communications for the City government and its emergency systems, ITA has a responsibility to update all City systems to interface with each other and with the rapidly-changing technologies of today -- and to protect the City and those who connect with it from cyber security attacks. 

The Emergency Management Department is grossly underfunded, and its leaders appear to lack the big-picture vision of how to plan for the City’s needs in the event of a major disaster. A disaster of any scale would bring down the City’s house of cards. 

Neighborhood Councils, stakeholders, the Departments, the City Council, and the Mayor all need to push together towards: 

  • Ensuring thorough oversight of all City operations. 
  • Demanding accountability by the City Council for services provided and those that aren’t. 
  • Benchmarking the efficiency of services provided by the City. 
  • Increasing revenue generation including acting on allocating unused Special Funds. 
  • Maximizing efficiencies within departments and minimizing siloization. 
  • Collaboration and consensus – how departments and the elected officials can relate to each other more effectively using the FUSE report from Laila Alequresh as an example. 
  • Stopping finger-pointing, the root cause of why we are going nowhere fast. 
  • Answering the question: will we be a Gold-Medal city at the Olympics – if they are still held here in 2028 – or will we be revealed to the world as a city in decay? 
  • Ending piecemeal patching of our streets and focusing on long term infrastructure revitalization. 
  • Confirming the millions we pay in Prop HHH taxes actually tackles the root causes of homelessness and does not simply swell developers’ bottom lines. 
  • Augmenting City income by providing seed money and support for departments looking for state and federal funding for specific projects, i.e., job creation, infrastructure, and homelessness solutions. 
  • Truly removing redlining practices by addressing the underlying causes of the disparities that should not exist in 2020 between have and have-not neighborhoods. 
  • Prohibiting Councilmembers from making commitments for which taxpayers will pay and pay for long after the Councilmembers’ terms have ended, and they can no longer be held accountable. 
  • Discontinuing the practice of budgeting funds as placeholders, approved to look proactive but existing solely for the Department or City to pull back to cover unfunded expenses. 

We are specifically concerned about those cuts made during the 2008 economic meltdown in the Personnel, the ITA and other departments, which continue to cause bottlenecks for still other departments’ functionality and their efficient provision of services. This must be addressed and corrected for the health and future of our City. 

If some reading this have a sense of déjà vu, it’s because most of this article was published as the Budget Advocates White Paper two and a half years ago. We are now in the recession that was the sky-is-falling threat back then.  

Except this economic crisis is worse than any of us could have imagined back then.


(Liz Amsden is a member of the Budget Advocates, an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Photo: Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.