Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will unveil the 2009-2010 municipal budget on Tuesday, April 20th, and with the city government facing one of its largest deficits in decades, cuts in personnel and programs are almost inevitable.
Council District 11 will be asked to shoulder its share of the financial burden, as will all areas of the city. Residents of the council district, which includes The Argonaut coverage area, are hoping that highly valued properties will not be factored into Villaraigosaís budget reduction formula.
At an April 6th press conference, the mayor laid out his plan to whittle down the estimated $530 million deficit, which will include ìshared sacrifice and shared responsibilityî by city leaders, city employees, unions and residents.
ìThe road ahead will not be easy, but there are thousands of jobs at stake, thousands of families looking at us to do the right thing,î Villaraigosa told the audience.
City workers will be asked to pay more toward their retirement, cut some of their hours and defer pay raises in order to avoid laying off nearly 3,000 employees.
The mayorís office will be looking at various options to close the budget deficit, including layoffs, reduction in pay for city employees and selling city assets, which include buildings and unused lots.
City-owned properties on the Westside that have drawn City Hallís attention include a lot on Venice Boulevard in Venice and two abandoned fire stations, one in Mar Vista and another in Westchester.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl has stated in previous interviews that he is not in favor of selling municipal property for budget purposes.
ìOnce you sell them, you never get them back,î he said. ìWe need to find other ways to balance the budget.î
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Mark Redick agrees.
ìCity assets should not be used to pay for current operations or deficits,î said Redick. ìThey are very often valued neighborhood assets that could and should be used for the benefit of the community.î
Westchester residents have expressed a strong desire to save the old Fire Station No. 5 on Manchester Avenue.
ìThis is a very valuable part of the community, and the residents of Westchester and Playa del Rey obviously have a great deal of affection for it,î said Denny Schneider, who has lived in Westchester for over 30 years.
Mar Vista residents appear to be divided on the best use for former Fire Station 62. At the Mar Vista Community Council meeting in March, the board decided to postpone a vote to build a community center at the site of the abandoned firehouse on Centinela Avenue after residents who prefer a senior housing proposal asked that their request be considered.
Rosendahl has said that the building that housed the fire station is in the Housing Trust Fund, and he hopes that it will not be considered for sale.
Rachel Swanger, who co-chairs the ad hoc committee on Fire Station 62, also hopes that the structure will continue to remain in the neighborhood.
ìWeíve lacked sufficient community space for quite a while,î Swanger pointed out. ìIn the time that I have been working with the committee, itís become apparent to me that we have a real shortage of community space, and it would be a shame to sell it when the (financial) market is at its bottom.î
The Westchester building is also seen by some as the centerpiece of a possible land swap for privately owned property near the Del Rey Lagoon in nearby Playa del Rey. A developer, David Schwartzman of D.S. Ventures, who previously indicated that he would like to build an apartment complex at what locals call Egret Park is now in discussions with residents and the Neighborhood Council of WestchesterñPlaya to obtain the fire station and the adjacent property in exchange for keeping the land in Playa del Rey for environmental uses.
The local council endorsed the plan in February, but in order for the deal to take place, the City Council must approve it. There is also a proposal to use the fire station property for senior housing, a concept that Rosendahl favors.
Also at risk of falling victim to the budget axe could be the funding allotments to the cityís neighborhood councils.
Each local advisory board receives $50,000 to use for a variety of community uses, but there are reports from city officials that their budgets may be slashed by as much as ten percent.
For neighborhood councils that are actively using their funds for community benefits, $5,000 could mean a lot, says Mike Newhouse, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
ìAlthough all thatís on the table is a ten-percent cut, on the ground, we could do a lot with that amount of money,î said Newhouse.
Some of the councils have surpluses, like Del Rey, and Redick feels that they may be able to weather a financial reduction storm.
ìWeíve been very fiscally responsible and we will meet the communityís needs going forward in 2010,î he asserted.
In Venice, for the last two years, the local board has supported community improvement projects, to which it donated $40,000 last year and $20,00 this year. A loss in city appropriations could affect how the neighborhood council funds community projects next year.
ìWeíre hoping that there wonít be budget cuts,î said Newhouse. ìThe community improvement projects have really made a difference in how we have been able to improve the quality of life in Venice, from creating a newsletter to beautification projects in our parks.î
Redick feels that it would be a serious blow for community councils to lose any funding, because he believes that they know the needs of their respective neighborhoods better than anyone does.
ìNeighborhood councils are the best ways to fund community needs and neighborhood projects,î Redick said.
Juan Bustamante, Villaraigosaís press deputy, did not return calls by Argonaut press time regarding properties that could be sold in District 11.