Hey, Big Spender
The imminent mayoral election must have incumbent Jim Hahn feeling generous. In a sharp break from last year, Hahn's 2005-2006 proposed budget increases city spending by $566 million.
This year's proposed budget weighs in at more than $5.95 billion. Increasing the police department budget alone from $1.029 billion to $1.118 billion. Hahn has been stressing public safety throughout his re-election campaign; he promised to add hundreds of new cops to the force (additions that mayoral opponent Antonio Villaraigosa has faulted Hahn for not pursuing over the last four years).
The difference in rhetoric between the two budgets tells the tale. Last year, Hahn introduced "priority-based budgeting," as he put it a year ago, against the backdrop of a $300 million shortfall.
But with an improving economy, spending is back up in a big way. The city collected $400 million more in property taxes over last year and saved money with a freeze on hiring. And, thanks to Proposition 1A, passed by California voters last November, the state won't be able to usurp any local tax funds after 2005 as it did in the past.
The mayor proposes spending $280 million of this year's large city reserve fund to pay for all the extra spending, leaving it at roughly the same level as last year .
Unsurprisingly, challenger Villaraigosa, an Eastside councilmember, was quick to speak out.
"This is just an election year budget that papers over our City's fiscal situation and fails to present a long-term vision for our city," Villaraigosa said in a statement.
His spokesman, Nathan James, piled on his own barb: "If I were running 18 points down in the polls I'd start handing out money to people as quickly as possible."
The budget now goes to the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which is chaired by another Hahn critic, Councilmember and former Police Chief Bernard Parks, who ran unsuccessfully against Hahn in the primary and recently endorsed Villaraigosa.
The Villaraigosa-for-Mayor campaign has released a list of 32 Jewish-community endorsements. Some, like 5th District Councilmember Jack Weiss, have been Villaraigosa boosters for quite some time, though the campaign insists most are new to the fold.
At least five had previously supported Bob Hertzberg, who is Jewish and finished third in the March primary, just out of the running. The Villaraigosa converts include businessman David Abel, former executive vice president of the Los Angeles American Jewish Committee; Stanley Treitel, board member of Agudath Israel of California; and Lee Wallach, president of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life in Southern California.
Depending on whom you ask (and the amount of rainfall), the Los Angeles River today is either a concrete eyesore or an engineering marvel. In either case, the river, which runs through several Jewish communities in the San Fernando Valley, is on the cusp of a possible renaissance.
Author/consultant Joel Kotkin and Bob Scott, vice chair of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, spoke to the city council's Ad-Hoc Committee on the L.A. River on April 18, recommending ways to fund revitalization.
"We were looking at how we might be able to use the river to provide connective tissue to the Valley -- which it could use," Kotkin said. "And the second thing would be to figure out a way [for it] to have consistent funding over a long period of time."
Kotkin and Scott suggested that businesses that see their property values rise from the city's efforts to build parks, bikeways or trails along the river should help pay for maintenance or more revitalization.
"The problem now is sporadic development of the river," Kotkin said.
In August, Los Angeles will choose a contractor for an 18-month study on ways to revitalize the 32 miles of river within the city limits, including new parks and preserves, bikeways, restaurants, shopping and recreation -- all while retaining the current level of flood control.