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Mr. CityWatch Visits NoHo Arts District

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Council Clueless On Vast, Hidden Costs in Mayor's $6.9 Billion Budget … Including His Own Office

LOS ANGELES: BROKE AND BROKEN - During the Budget and Finance Committee hearings for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed 2011-12 budget, Stephen Box gamely took a seat inside the ornate John Ferraro Council Chamber in Los Angeles City Hall and watched things slowly unfold over four days of sometimes mind-numbing testimony.

It wasn't always the highest of dramas, but Box, (a CityWatch columnist),  a community activist, bicycling advocate and recent City Council candidate, wanted to see how city leaders were running L.A.

At a table at the front of the high-ceilinged chamber, city department heads answered questions from the budget committee's chairman, Councilman Bernard Parks. Some squirmed, others were defiant, and still others praised the mayor and his staff — though Villaraigosa was thousands of miles away visiting Chicago and Washington, D.C., during most of the hearings.

"There's no kind of holistic or systemic approach to running the city," Box reflects later. "We're not improving or solving long-term problems, just postponing."

Los Angeles City Hall is overspending by $52,168 per hour, which translates into a budget deficit, beginning July 1, of $457 million. (That's the mayor's figure. Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller and the council's budget committee say the figure is $336 million.) Box says the mayor's proposed budget is "obtuse" and difficult for anyone to comprehend — or to fundamentally repair. "I don't know if it's incompetence or a conspiracy," Box says. "But this thing is very hard to understand. Civic engagement at City Hall is always a struggle, and then we're chastised if we don't know all of the facts."

L.A. Weekly examined the budget for the mayor's own office in an effort to understand just a small snapshot from Villaraigosa's 389-page citywide budget proposal, which the City Council has just two weeks in May to understand, adjust and approve as its blueprint for fixing a badly ailing city.

The paper found that Villaraigosa's official budget for his own office — in many ways a microcosm of the $6.9 billion city budget — understates by millions of dollars what Villaraigosa will spend on his staff, understates by nearly 100 percent the number of employees working for him, and falls far short of an "11 percent cut" to the Mayor's Office. The paper also found that key officials who should know specific, basic fiscal details about the operations of the Mayor's Office are in the dark.  (The rest of the LAWeekly timely and intriguing report here)

(Patrick Range McDonald and Mars Melnicoff write for where this column was first posted)  - cw  

Vol 9 Issue 38
Pub: May 13, 2011