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Extraordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

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NC LAND-In its infinite wisdom, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission has floated the idea of paying people to vote.  I find this idea awful on so many levels.  In this imperfect democracy of ours there has to be a sense of responsibility and yes … obligation to participate in the workings of government.  

If people sit back and expect everyone else to carry the burden that is not a participatory democracy.  They truly deserve the government they get. 

We do hear that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.  I disagree because I don’t think these people are ordinary … I think they are extraordinary to begin with!  I was reminded of that at the recent Neighborhood Council Budget Day held at City Hall. Close to two hundred people representing seventy-six out of the ninety-five Neighborhood Councils (NC’s) from all parts of the City, gave up a beautiful Saturday to listen to the financial state of the City of Los Angeles.  

They also came to learn what they can do as Budget Representatives (BR) and Budget Advocates (BA) to advise City government on how to make things better. 

This was not a high level economic summit for accountants, financiers and economists.  The attendees came from all parts of the City with varying degrees of financial acumen.   This was not the first time for such a gathering.   As part of the City Charter, Neighborhood Councils (NC) were mandated to advise City government on all aspects of City living and budget priorities were a major part. 

Probably over a third of the audience was new budget reps.  For some, it was the first time in City Hall, which can be an awesome experience.  

There was a difference between last year’s Congress and this one.  First of all, with the exception of Councilman Paul Krekorian, Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Miguel Santana (photo above), last year’s speakers had only been in office less than four months.  This year they had both experience and some accomplishments to discuss. 

Each of the ninety-five Neighborhood Councils is supposed to appoint two budget representatives who in turn elect three budget advocates from their individual regions at Budget Day.  Those BA’s elect officers for the year. 

The Budget Advocates are the ones who sit down with department heads, analyze the data, help to send out survey’s and compile an annual “White Paper”. The Budget Advocates disseminate information to the individual NC budget representatives, who in turn give monthly reports to their Boards and stakeholders. 

Over the years, the Chief Administrative Officer has included twenty-two BA recommendations in his report and the Los Angeles 2020 Committee included eighteen. This was no small accomplishment for a “bunch of amateurs”.  

These volunteers will spend thousands of hours on the budget project starting with a retreat next Saturday.  They represent culturally and ethnically the panorama of faces that make Los Angeles a true melting pot. 

I was impressed with the attitude of the City officials addressing the group.  There were no condescending remarks.  Each treated the audience with deserved respect and they were looking for partnerships in accomplishing the hard task of running the government, not acquiescence.  In turn the audience was excited to be there.  Admittedly there were a few jaded old timers but they were outnumbered by those who were ready and willing, to make a difference. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti was the keynote speaker and as always charmed and impressed his audience, while showing his appreciation for their hard work.  He makes a great cheerleader for the City and in the little over a year of his administration … there has been progress.   There will always be critics who think the elected officials should be doing more but changing such a huge institution is a huge challenge.  

He has presided over a 3.5% growth in income; has obtained federal funds for the LA River project; appointed a new Fire Chief and is investigating decreasing the business tax and giving the entertainment industry added incentives to stay put or return to LA. He was very excited about the foreign investment coming to LA. 


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Controller Ron Galperin received a very warm welcome.  He was formerly a Co-Chair of the Bel Air NC.   It was pointed out the fiscal year 2014-2015 operating budget is $8.47 billion dollars consisting of a 5.14 billion General Fund and Special Funds of $3.3 billion dollars.  The difference between the two is: Special Funds are usually approved by the LA voters; the General Fund is everything else including 26% for the Police Department and 22% for pensions and post retirement benefits.  That is almost half the budget for those two items. 

There is still a $240 million dollar deficit but four years ago the projected budget deficit for 2014 was over one billion dollars.   The four- year projection today for 2018-2019 is a $21 million dollar surplus.  Rick Cole, Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation has introduced performance based budgeting.  As he said, ”It’s not about what the Department Manager receives, it is what he/she has achieved”.  

Performance based budgeting was a recommendation in the April 2013 BA White Paper proposed by long time NCBA activist Dr. Daniel Wiseman (West Hills NC). Now as each Department head sits with the Mayor for the annual review the budget expenses must be results oriented. 

CAO Miguel Santana, who has held this post for five years, commented that in his travels outside LA trying to convince companies and financial institutions to invest in Los Angeles, he sensed a new attitude.  Whereas in the last few years most people outside of LA were reluctant to even meet with him, now doors were open wide and he is being solicited. 

Los Angeles is getting back to being the City everyone wants to invest in and visit. LA had its largest number of tourists this year. That is a huge boost to the economy because of its trickle down effects. 

Councilman Paul Krekorian, Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, has been a great supporter of Neighborhood Councils –He was optimistic without talking about ‘pie in the sky” achievements. In fact all of the speakers stressed that we will not be able to fix all our streets, increase all the services, and do all those things that most constituents want- in a year or two Neglect has been the norm for years.  

Last year when most of the elected officials had just been in office for a few months, the audience was cautioned that the City’s finances would be not be fixed in one year.  It was reiterated by everyone Saturday and the audience was reminded that it was not a sprint but a marathon…trite but true. 

All of the presentations will be posted on the [email protected] web site in the next week or so.  I urge you to review because it certainly makes one understand what the hurdles are and some of the proposed solutions.  The best part is you don’t have to be a financial expert to understand. 

Newly elected Budget Advocates Co-Chairs are Jay Handal (re-elected Co-chair for the last three years), Terrence Gomes; Co-Vice Chairs, Danielle Layfayette and Linda Lee; Treasurer, Howard Kutchen; Parliamentarian, Craig Wilkinson; Secretary, Erick Morales; and Assistant Secretary, Jeanette Hopp.  This is a group with a lot of institutional knowledge and some new enthusiasts…a good combination. 

After they had elected their BA’s there was time for “brainstorming” as to priorities.  Here the differences in the various parts of the City were stark reminders that it depends on where you live.  

Whereas some wanted more Sustainability” and Green efforts, others were interested in getting their streets swept and having a better relationship with their public safety officials.  Some regions wanted pot shops to be licensed…others didn’t want them in their neighborhood.  

There were even big differences from neighboring regions.  One had citywide priorities…the other was more parochial and looked at just their region. 

It is really satisfying when an event really comes together and everyone walks out enthusiastic and motivated.  Jay Handal, Co-Chair, said “Budget Day was a huge success in great part due to the EmpowerLA team, especially General Manager Grayce Liu, Joe Hari, Sevak, Stephen Box, Thomas Soong and all who came out and helped on Saturday. In addition, a huge thank you to the staff of Deputy Mayor, Rick Cole, especially Michelle Bologna who inspired me to return again for another year.  I also want to thank my NCBA co-chair Joanne Yvanek for her hard work this year.  We really think the NCBA has made great progress and we look forward to partnering with the City.  As I have said before, Budget is not sexy but it is the source of everything we do!” 

In a world gone crazy these last couple of weeks … it was nice to see a ray of hope. 

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a contributor to CityWatch covering activities, policies and foibles in NC Land.  She is Co-Chair, Program Committee for the LA Neighborhood Congress to be held September 20 at City Hall, and a former officer and Board member of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council.  She can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 67

Pub: Aug 19, 2014

 

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