Archive for October, 2012

Mayor Villariagosa is recommending 200 layoffs to close the city’s budget gap; 50 of those from the City Attorney’s office, or 25% of the total reductions.

Although Carmen Trutanich has been the subject of ridicule, some of which is his own fault, those who believe that his staff is more deserving of layoffs than the mayor’s would fall into the category of sycophants. Only Villaraigosa’s loyalists would support protecting the mayor’s bloated staff of 200-plus over attorneys that might actually protect the city’s assets.

The City Controller and the City Attorney are selected by the voters – not appointed.  But they may as well be as long as the mayor and city council can connive to slash their budgets.  Budget Chair Paul Krekorian is not challenging the mayor’s attempt to undermine  an independent branch of the city’s government, which only shows how little he thinks  of checks and balances. His remark that the decision might be “unpopular with someone” is not exactly the voice of democracy.

If we want the offices of the City Attorney and City Controller to function as independent voices of the people, we must protect them from the influence the mayor can exert through budgetary thuggery.

A charter amendment is needed to limit the power the City Council and mayor have to approve or reduce the budgets of independently elected citywide officials, especially the reductions.  Perhaps there should be a requirement of ten votes to cut either the City Attorney’s or Controller’s staff.

Of course, we could also vote the current crowd out of office and replace them with responsible citizens.

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One of the most telling statements in favor of pension reform appeared in Rick Orlov’s article in the Los Angeles Daily News  on October 15. It concerned an actuarial review authorized by Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana to study a possible shift in the city’s pension plans to a 401(k) style system. The conclusion was it would cost the city even more than the current system – that was the claim.

According to the study, the city would still be liable for the benefits due workers covered by the existing system without assistance from contributions of new city workers, who would be covered under a 401k plan backed by former Mayor Richard Riordan in a ballot measure.

The math is correct – funding would be short – but the conclusion is deceptive.

The actuaries’ conclusion is an admission of just how underfunded the current plan is. A plan that depends on  contributions from future generations of workers to fund the benefits of current employees is doomed to eventually run out of assets.  It is the same problem Social Security faces, but with one big difference – the federal government can create money; the city cannot.

Not to digress, but even the feds will have to raise contributions and reduce and freeze benefits for the Social Security System in order to assure solvency.

Even if Los Angeles did not migrate to a 401k plan, the reduced workforce means less money flowing into the retirement plans, further straining funding levels.

Assuming the optimistic earnings assumption of 7.75%  panned out, the taxpayers would have to contribute more and more to pay for future benefits – that’s assuming they would be willing to do so. The prospects of the City Council convincing them to pay more would be slim, especially with only diminishing services to show for the money.

The actuaries are making a specious argument in favor of the existing plan. It is as if you were to run on a treadmill set for an ever-increasing speed.  In the long-run, you will be unable to keep pace and land flat on the floor.

The study is just the type city officials love.  It misleads the public into believing that the status quo is sound, but what it really proves is the certainty of a slow death (maybe not so slow).  The city will be dead and buried after the current crop at City Hall are collecting their benefits – for some, like Dennis Zine, double benefits.

The city’s unions will pour millions into fighting Riordan’s proposed charter amendment.

Now that Rick Caruso is not going to run for mayor, maybe he can help the former mayor’s cause with a few dollars. He would be performing an important public service.

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The James Bond franchise is 50 years old.  Have your wife or girlfriend watch this video and see if she takes the hint.  If not, someone else will.

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A new season of The Walking Dead starts October 17.

I am not a fan of the zombie genre as a rule, but the AMC hit is an exception.  When you combine interesting characters, a good script and excellent acting, any story line can be a success.

Aside from the Walking Dead, only The Night of the Living Dead and the gorily funny Shaun of the Dead have earned my thumbs up as far as creepy zombie flicks go.

But who needs a TV or film version of a zombie apocalypse when we have the real thing in our own backyard?

I’m referring to the 85% of the registered voters who consume city services as readily as zombies devour the living but do not bother to vote.  Of course, that’s the way our city council members, controller, mayor and city attorney like it.  It is much easier to fool 15% of the people most of the time than a majority of the people some of the time.

By contrast, New York City, despite a steady decline in turnout since the nineties, still saw 29% of the voters cast a ballot in the last mayoral election in 2009.  Chicago was disappointed in its turnout rate of over 40%, although you can argue that some of those voters were truly the walking dead.

Regardless, the voter turnout in those two cities further emphasizes how pathetic Angelenos are in exercising civic responsibility. It is even more tragic in that many of the 85% are educated; some even have good jobs! There is simply no excuse for them to shirk involvement.

But what constitutes involvement?

At a minimum, reading a newspaper, even an on-line edition, or one of many blogs covering details of city governance. Attending an occasional workshop or forum is also advised, offering residents a chance to interact with officials and other citizens. The total investment in time should be no more than an average of an hour a week.  Is that too much to ask?

How does our zombie apocalypse affect the outsider candidates for city positions – Cary Brazeman, Ron Galperin (both running for office City Controller), and Kevin James (for mayor)?

Their success depends on tapping into a small portion of  these disinterested registered voters.   Even a 10% slice could make the difference between victory and defeat. Given the sad history of local election apathy, they may as well be trying to wake the dead.

Right now, DWP bills are showing up in mailboxes reflecting outrageous charges – and with rate increases yet to be felt.  Measures that would double the real estate documentary tax and increase the parking tax could be on the ballot for March, supported by the mayor and city council. The mayor wants the half-cent Measure R transit sales tax to be extended. Real pension reform has not been enacted, which means there is no cost relief in sight.

These things add up and, with personal incomes likely to languish, the impact will be more severe.

Somewhere in the vast 85% pool there are many who would be disturbed by the possibility of higher taxes and no cost reductions. Brazeman, Galperin and James must find a way to reach them in a manner that will drive them to the voting booth.

Reaching out successfully to the all too silent majority may seem unlikely, but nothing is impossible. However, it might help if the three outsiders pooled resources.  They have a common interest.  Joint advertisements in the media informing voters of just how irresponsible their insider opponents have been and what their actions will cost the city’s residents would be a good start. A show of unity, at least into January or early February, might have a favorable impression on voters by making them aware of what is at stake. They can still deliver their own messages.

It will be crunch time after the holiday season.  Brazeman, Galperin and James would be wise to use the intervening time to plot a strategy.

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Mayoral candidate Kevin James does not have the name recognition of his City Hall insider opponents: Greuel, Garcetti and Perry (in all fairness to Perry, she is an insider with a foot hanging outside).

You can buy name recognition if you have millions of dollars to burn, but that is not the case with James. He does not have public unions and developers bankrolling him.

But you can accrue name recognition.

“Accrue” is most often associated with accounting and business.  It means to earn a benefit or incur an obligation as a result of an action or the passage of time.  Kevin James’ undergraduate degree was in accounting; he understands the meaning of the word more than his opponents, at least that’s evident from the city budgets the other three have supported – budgets that ignore the costs of maintaining infrastructure, the true liability of public employee benefits and the deferral of current operating costs to future periods.

“Accrue” is not limited to business parlance.

You can accrue recognition and respect from frank and intelligent communication .  James earned favorable press in the first mayoral debate from media normally accustomed to going light on the local establishment.  

Gaining name recognition, however, is tough – especially for one whose name has seldom appeared in the news.  While Kevin James is well-known to his former radio audience and for his work with AIDS charities and the AIDS Project Los Angeles, his following among the city’s regular voters is nowhere near as broad as that of the trio he faces.

That’s where Steve Cooley’s endorsement can pay dividends. Arguably, the County DA has better name recognition than James’ opponents.  That’s not going to change the votes of most of those inclined to vote for the City Hall side of the bracket, but it could convince their superficial supporters – those whose support is based purely on name recognition – to consider an outsider.

If Cooley goes on the stump for James, some of the 80-85% of the registered voters who customarily sit on the sidelines could be inspired to head to the polls and cast their ballots for the underdog, perhaps even contribute much-needed money to the campaign. 

James would still have a considerable hurdle ahead, but the possibility of making it to the runoff would improve, especially when Greuel, Garcetti and Perry will be fighting over the same pool of voters.

A runoff slot would provide the former prosecutor with a chance to shine in a one-on-one debate, where it would be impossible for his opponent to hide from the issues.

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