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Thu, Oct

LA WATCHDOG--Ever since Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council eviscerated the budget of our Department of Recreation and Parks in 2010 to help balance the City’s out of control budget, Rec & Parks has been on a mad dash for cash, willing to sell its soul for a few extra bucks, the hell with the neighboring communities.  

Under the new “full cost recovery” program that targeted the Recreation and Parks budget, City Hall slammed the Department with $38 million in chargebacks, consisting primarily of costs for water and power ($16 million) and General Fund expenses ($17.5 million).  This ding represented more than a quarter of the Department’s appropriation in the 2011 budget.   

Despite the healthy increase in City revenues, this policy has only gotten worse as chargebacks for the upcoming year have ballooned to $60 million, representing more than a third of its General Fund revenue. 

As a result, our parks are in disrepair and its programs gutted as the Department has eliminated more than a quarter of its worker bees. 

While the commercialization of our parks is understandable, it has not been well received by Angelenos who believe our parks should be free of billboards, signage, and other forms of intrusive advertising and corporate sponsorship.  And this opposition has only been fueled by the ham handed Department managers and Commissioners who have been less than transparent with the public, especially with those that live in close proximity to the parks. 

A prime example is the near riot by Hollywood residents over a plan to commercialize Runyon Park by allowing Pink + Dolphin, a streetwear company, to place its controversial logo on a newly constructed basketball court in exchange for $250,000.  This situation was further aggravated by Rec & Parks failure to engage the Hollywood community. 

As a result of the furious backlash, Councilmember David Ryu called a halt to this deal, at least for the time being.   

We are also seeing opposition to AngelFest, a new three day “family friendly music, food and cultural festival” that may be held in October in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.  And while the Department will take in an estimated $1 million over the next three years that can be reinvested in the local parks, the Department failed to engage the environmental and conservation communities who are concerned about the adverse impact on the park and its wildlife. 

The Department also stirred up a hornet’s nest when it bungled the proposal to have Live Nation and Anschutz Entertainment replace Nederlander as the operator of the Greek Theatre in Griffin Park.  As a result, Rec & Parks will “self-manage” the venue, a scary thought given the City’s lack of management expertise and the need for the cash strapped City to invest $20 to $40 million to upgrade the aging venue. 

We are also seeing controversies where the residents of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood Land, Lake Hollywood Estates, and the Hollywood Dells are in open revolt against the Department because of the traffic and safety issues resulting from tourists flocking to see the Hollywood sign. 

We also have issues involving Elysian Park and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s efforts to raid a $12.5 million fund set up by the Department of Water and Power to mitigate the impact of a covered reservoir. 

Now is the time to reform our Department of Recreation and Parks. 

The first step is to establish a better relationship with the public.  This would include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Neighborhood Councils similar to the successful arrangement with the Department of Water and Power.  This would also involve considerable outreach to the public, something the Department has not done with any consistency. 

At the same time, the Department needs to develop a long range operational and financial plan that meets the goals of all Angelenos. 

Once the Department gains the trust and confidence of the public, the City should place a measure on the ballot that would increase the charter mandated appropriation by $75 to $100 million over a four year period.  At the same time, the Department would assume responsibility for all its direct and indirect expenses. 

Importantly, this is not be a new tax, but would require the City to allocate scarce funds to the Department. 

This is similar to Measure L, the March 2011 charter amendment that was approved by 63% of the voters that increased the mandated funding for the Library Department by over 70%. 

The Department of Recreation and Parks has been the center of increasing controversy, in part because of its lack of funding and the failure of its management to develop an open and transparent relationship with the public. 

But now is the time for the Department to develop and implement its good neighbor plan. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw 

LA WATDHDOG--On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti characterized his $5.6 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year as a “strong spending plan that is balanced and responsible, with a record investment of $138 million to tackle the City’s homelessness crisis.” 

But “spending” is the operative word as the cumulative deficit over the next four years is expected to exceed $300 million as the growth in expenditures exceeds that of revenues.  This compares to last year’s projection of a four year cumulative deficit of “only” $37 million. 

This change in fortune is exhibited by comparing the outcomes for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.  The current April 2016 outlook shows red ink of $101 million in 2020, up from last year’s projected surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.  Underlying this differential is a less than transparent $263 million bump in expenditures caused by increases in pension contributions, employee compensation, and human resource benefits, offset by a modest $95 million growth in revenues. 

Unfortunately, these projections do not take into account the money that is needed to repair and maintain our streets, our parks and trees, the City’s building and facilities, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure. 

The City is also short changing its two seriously underfunded pension plans by more than $400 million a year by relying on the bogus assumption that its two pension plans will earn 7½% on its investment portfolio.  This compares to an investment rate assumption of 6½% that is recommended by Warren Buffet and other savvy investors.  

Garcetti’s budget did not include a long term financial plan to attack the homeless crisis, but indicated that he will propose a new tax to provide a dedicated source of funding for this initiative.  

But before the Mayor and the City Council place a homeless tax measure on the ballot for our approval or rejection, they need to develop a comprehensive game plan where the City collaborates with the County and takes into consideration the County’s efforts to fund its homeless initiative.  It will also need to establish a management team with clear lines of authority to offset the interference by grandstanding politicians.  

The City should also take into consideration an array of other taxes that are being considered by both the County and the City.  These include the November ballot measure to increase our sales tax by a half cent to fund Metro’s transportation projects, a County parcel tax to fund its parks, a County storm water tax, and a City tax to finance the repair and maintenance of our streets and sidewalks.  

Along with the recent increase in our taxes associated with the Department of Water and Power rate increase, these hits to our wallets would be the equivalent of a three cent increase in our sales tax to 12% or a 33% increase in our property taxes.  These do not include any new State taxes.    

Ouch! 

The Budget and Finance Committee will begin its public consideration of the Mayor’s budget on Wednesday, April 27.  This will involve discussions with all of the General Managers of the City’s departments.  But the Budget and Finance Committee would be wise to seriously consider the recommendations of LA 2020 Commission involving the establishment of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the finances of our cash strapped City, the creation of a Committee on Retirement Security to review the City’s pension plans that are over $13 billion in the red, and the annual preparation of a three year budget so that we and the Council members have a better understanding of the long term consequences of City policies and legislation. 

Unfortunately, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian and City Council President Herb Wesson will once again refuse to consider the excellent, common sense recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.  Nor will they consider cutting back on the future expenses that contribute to the projected budget deficit of $101 million in 2020. 

But then again, if the City Council does not get its financial act cleaned up, we do not have to approve any tax increases.  

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw 

LA WATCHDOG--City Council President Herb Wesson is hell bent to place on the November ballot a measure to reform and restructure our Department of Water and Power so that it will be a more “nimble and efficient” enterprise that will grant management the flexibility to meet the ever increasing operating, organizational, and financial challenges in our rapidly changing world.  

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LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his State of the City address (photo above) to an enthusiastic City Hall centric audience at the headquarters of Norabachi Corporation, a growing Harbor City manufacturer of LED lighting for industrial and commercial applications.  On Wednesday, April 20, he will present his proposed budget for the year beginning July 1, 2016. 

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LA WATCHDOG--“God gave us rain and you figured out how to tax it.” 

The current Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles is considering developing its own Stormwater Plan to capture rainwater, stormwater, and urban runoff in effort to curb pollution in the Santa Monica Bay and to develop new sources of water to recharge our groundwater supplies. 

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