City Council meetings held on Tuesday and Wednesday found a slew of tree trimmers, artists and city workers showing up at Los Angeles City Hall in an attempt to save jobs and arts funding. The city’s $208-million budget shortfall has necessitated a proposal to slash city services and eliminate up to 1,500 positions.
Though many city councilmembers were still searching for solutions other than layoffs on Wednesday, Councilmember Bernard Parks, 8th District, who also chairs the council’s budget and finance committee, said layoffs were “the only solution” for fixing this year’s deficit and bracing for next year’s deficit, which is projected at $484 million.
“We can debate all day about who supports layoffs and who doesn’t, but it’s the only option we have to move forward and solve this crisis,” Parks said. “We can’t wait any longer. If you wait until the last minute to move forward with layoffs, our city’s bond rating will drop, causing all kinds of problems. The bottom line is the city has a workforce it cannot afford and it has a pension plan and a medical plan that do not work.”
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, said layoffs should be the last solution. He pointed out that his office and the other city council offices have already taken pay cuts, eliminated positions and implemented furlough programs.
“The council offices were some of the first city offices to make these hard cuts,” Garcetti said. “We are no different than other departments and we are looking at another five percent in cuts right now in council offices.”
Garcetti noted that the council avoided a round of layoffs earlier this year by negotiating early retirement for thousands of city workers.
“For this year, we have managed to avoid layoffs up to this point by negotiating twenty-four hundred early retirements, which were funded by concessions from the unions,” Garcetti said. “It is much better for these people to take early retirement than to be laid off. An option to expand early retirement by 363 positions could save $25 million this year and $30 million next year.”
Pension reform, Garcetti said, meaning workers putting more into their pension funds and new employees getting less pension benefits, is also on the table. Though public safety is at the top of Garcetti’s list of priorities, he said that eliminating some civilian positions on both Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) are also on the table if layoffs turn out to be the only solution.
Other items on the table are cuts to tree trimming services and arts funding, as well as turning over some city-owned parking structures to private companies.
“In an economic downturn we have to prioritize, that doesn’t mean that we have to let the cities go to pot, but sidewalks up until the 1980’s were never taken care of by the city and they are not legally the city’s responsibility, we started doing that as a perk to neighborhoods,” Garcetti said.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, said the council would likely have to move forward with layoffs, a move he said he would probably reluctantly vote in favor of.
“I am convinced we can avoid layoffs, but if I turn out to be wrong and it is really our only option, I don’t want to delay moving forward,” Koretz said. “I think even if we move forward with the first step of layoffs, which will take many months to implement, we can still find solutions to reverse the decision.”
One such solution, said Koretz, is asking city contractors – such as people who do tree trimming or reports for the city – to take a 10 percent pay cut.
“We have contracts for as high as $1 to $2 billion for city services and those need to be looked at,” Koretz said, adding that the measure would save approximately $50 million next year, but would not help with this year’s deficit.
Miguel Santana, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, said at Wednesday’s Budget and Finance Committee Meeting that if the council avoids or postpones layoffs they would create an even bigger problem.
“We have run out of quick fixes to get out of this fiscal year,” Santana said. “It takes a long time to process layoffs, and even if you approve them today, it would be unlikely that any worker would leave a city position in the next 30 to 60 days. Any delay makes it more difficult and gives us less options and less time.”
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