Anticipated to soon release a budget proposal with a $530 million shortfall, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called on city employees, including himself, to make certain financial sacrifices to help avoid thousands of potential layoffs.
Addressing the impact of the nationís economic recession on Los Angeles, the mayor noted that the cityís unemployment rate has jumped to 12 percent and could soon rise to 15 percent. Villaraigosa, who plans to submit his budget proposal Monday, April 20th, said the cityís $530 million deficit can be translated into approximately 5,800 jobs.
After cuts to various programs are considered and other cost saving actions are implemented, as many as 2,800 jobs are still at risk if nothing else was done, Villaraigosa explained at a news conference. In an effort to prevent such a considerable number of layoffs, the mayor called on city unions to take part in ìshared responsibility and shared sacrificeî to preserve jobs and protect services.
ìThese extraordinary circumstances demand a fresh approach, shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, and the willingness to make lasting changes that close the gap today and lay the groundwork for a secure tomorrow,î Villaraigosa said. ìI am committed to balancing our budget in a way that minimizes layoffs and keeps vital services intact.î
Some of the ways city employees can be part of the ìshared sacrificeî are by taking one unpaid hour per week, contributing slightly more toward retirement benefits and deferring automatic pay raises, the mayor explained. While he has encouraged union leaders to contribute in the effort to avoid the drastic number of layoffs, Villaraigosa said he asked the city personnel department to begin preparing for more than 400 layoffs.
Villaraigosa discussed his proposal to minimize layoffs at a town hall meeting Monday, April 6th organized by the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, which is comprised of 11 Neighborhood Councils including those in Venice, Westchester, Del Rey and Mar Vista.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District and is a member of the councilís Budget and Finance Committee, said the mayor has taken a number of steps to provide additional services, including committing to having 10,000 officers in the police department. The councilman reiterated the mayorís call for community contribution to help protect needed services.
ìWe are in a big crisis this year and we will be next year,î Rosendahl told the town hall audience. ìAll of us are going to have to sacrifice and share in the responsibility.î
Villaraigosa predicted that the budget deficit could reach $1 billion next year. He called the layoffs and resulting service reductions projected under the current deficit ìunacceptableî and proposed that all city employees, starting with himself, make financial sacrifices.
ìI know these options arenít easy, but there are thousands of jobs at stake,î the mayor said. ìThe only way this works is that it starts with me.
ìDuring this time of crisis, it is up to all of us to protect jobs, save pensions and preserve vital services when our families need them most.î
The mayorís plan of shared sacrifice would involve all city departments, including police and fire. Pointing to a chart at the town hall meeting, Villaraigosa described the proposal by saying 580 layoffs could be avoided if every city employee took one unpaid hour per week. If every employee contributed two percent more to their retirement benefits, another 700 layoffs could be prevented, and if every employee deferred automatic pay raises, 1,300 more jobs could be saved, he explained.
Villaraigosa also intends to consider a series of responsible public-private partnerships during the process that he said could generate more than $1 billion over the next several years.
Residents of communities represented by the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils attended the town hall meeting to hear from the mayor on his budget priorities regarding issues such as public safety, land use and education.
ìWe understand that cuts to city services are inevitable as revenues shrink,î Venice Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said prior to the meeting. ìOur stakeholders are concerned about the issues that affect us on the Westside, such as public safety, traffic, housing and homelessness and we want to make sure that these issues are addressed.î
When addressing public safety, Villaraigosa said it is not the time to back down from the effort to increase the police force, despite the current budget shortfall. Rosendahl has expressed concern with his district losing police officers to other areas that have higher incidents of violent crime, and the mayor said he is determined to keep the Westside stations properly staffed.
ìIím committed to making sure you get the cops that you need,î Villaraigosa told the audience.
Asked by a Playa del Rey resident how he intends to deal with non-resident vehicles parked overnight on community streets, Villaraigosa said he would review the proposal presented by Rosendahl and try to discuss it with the Coastal Commission. Former Mar Vista Community Council member Tom Ponton said he is concerned that local parks donít have enough employees and he suggested that parks seek more volunteers, a plan for which the mayor offered support.
According to a budget survey submitted by residents throughout Los Angeles this year, street repair ranked as the highest priority regarding infrastructure, followed by bridges and sewers close behind. In regards to traffic flow solutions, residents listed signal synchronization as ìvery important,î followed by infrastructure improvements and left-turn arrows.