- Written by Ron Galperin
14 Feb 2012
LOVE AND POLITICS - Love isn’t always easy.
This Valentine’s Day I’m struggling with my beloved Los Angeles. Almost every day there’s another revelation of unfaithfulness: misuse of money at the Housing Authority, bribery at the Dept. of Building & Safety, and graft at the LA Memorial Coliseum -- just to name a few.
If all this cheating weren’t enough, I’m sorry to say, my dear LA isn’t aging quite so gracefully either. The streets are sagging, the sidewalks are furrowed and the budget has too much flab -- even as crucial services are being cut.
It’s time for some tough love for LA. It’s time for us jilted lovers to stand up for change and to stop enabling irresponsible behavior in City Hall. Collectively, we need to say: “We’ve had enough.”
What does LA need to do to get back into shape and restore our affections? The same as with most relationships: Take responsibility, do some serious self-analysis and accept accountability.
Having served as chair of the City of LA’s specially created and just-concluded Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE), the question my fellow commissioners and I kept asking was: “With whom does the buck stop?”
There are plenty of audits and reports – but little action. Accountability means facing up to current and future challenges – like LA’s structural deficit, unmet infrastructure needs and underfunded pension obligations. It also means being both tough and smart.
So, I offer my own thoughts on achieving this – along with some of the Commission’s proposals for efficiency and economy to improve services and to generate at least $200 million a year in savings and new revenues.
● Reform our collections: LA has hundreds of millions of dollars seriously past-due – much of it, unfortunately, not collectible. Let’s collect what we can and take the dead accounts off the books. Make paying for parking tickets, ambulance charges, taxes fees and fines easier, sell some of our old debt while it’s still worth something and appoint a temporary Inspector General to clean up the current mess. And, instead of nickel-and-diming us with new fees and fines, LA should go after the big fish – like rogue parking lot operators that collect our 10% parking tax and fail to remit tens of millions of dollars to the City annually.
● Fix City contracting: The Port of LA recently went nearly $100 million over budget on six construction projects. Buried on page 81 of an obscure report are the ugly facts about wild cost overruns – like 986% for a park project and 793% for a police station. Couple this with spending that maybe shouldn’t be undertaken at all. We spend millions of dollars on projects far afield from core services – including tsunami zone warning signs [link] in West LA and art curators for LAPD stations. These may be nice, but are they priorities?
● Promote innovation: CORE recently completed a survey of more than 20 City Departments and offices – asking them for their top money-saving and money-making ideas. We received more than 100 responses – which can save the City tens and, perhaps, hundreds of millions of dollars annually, including trash-to-energy projects, new technologies and streamlining bureaucracy. LA’s Quality & Productivity Commission also recently highlighted a dozen projects already saving money–and setting an example that others in the City could – and should -- follow.
● Buy in LA: The City of LA spends nearly 85% of its billions of dollars in annual purchases on businesses out of LA. It’s a foolish waste of tax dollars that could be bolstering local jobs, businesses and revenues. How about $60 million in City cars purchased by two City departments over just nine months – and not one car was bought in LA? Adding insult to injury, the City paid nearly $6 million in sales taxes for these purchases – to the benefit of other cities and counties. If we get LA City, County, School District and other government entities to encourage more local bids and to do more business locally, we can benefit from more competition and lower bids – and we’ll have created our own local stimulus program.
● Encourage business and economic development: How many times have we heard about the need to make LA more business friendly? Start by radically reforming the City’s business tax and simplify business licensing. Do we need 57-plus distinct permits for things like bowling alleys, dancing academies and antique shops? [link]
● Put LA’s assets and its people to work: Did you know the City of LA owns two asphalt plants with extra capacity we could sell? The plants are among myriad assets the City can put to work, market, license, rent or joint-venture. Give City departments the chance to retain some of the revenues they generate by being more entrepreneurial and create an office of joint-venture initiatives. And, let’s engage more of our City’s many talented, creative and hard-working people.
We’ve all been hurt by City government’s bad behavior and infidelity to us. But it’s not too late to demand change and show some tough love to get our cherished City back on track -- and, hopefully, to fall in love anew.
(Ron Galperin is an attorney, president of the City of L.A. Quality & Productivity Commission, and has chaired the City of Los Angeles Ad Hoc Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE). He is also a candidate for Los Angeles City Controller.
CORE was formed in the spring of 2010 to evaluate and recommend improvements in collections, billing and new revenues. Comprised of seven volunteer Commissioners, CORE issued its Blueprint for Reform of City Collections in the fall of 2010, identifying potential revenues and savings of up to $100 million annually. The Commission has concluded its second and final phase of work with eight comprehensive reports being released this month – four focused on Business & Economic Development and another four on Collections & Efficiencies. These eight reports identify and detail the potential for additional combined revenues and savings of $100 million annually – with opportunities for up to $350 million annually.)
Tags: Ron Galperin, Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles, Valentine, Valentine’s Day, City Hall, CORE, revenue, efficiency, graft, Building and Safety, Memorial Coliseum, Buy LA, LA Business
Vol 10 Issue 13
Pub: Feb 14, 2012