VOICES-Over the last 10 years, I have seen and been part of a number of important Neighborhood Council (NC) events:
I saw the first formal presentation by a Mayor’s Budget Advisor (a NC Representative) at a Mayor’s Budget Day.
Prior to that, all NC comments before the Mayor’s meetings, the City Council’s meetings and the City Council Committees’ meetings were 1-2 minute “Public Comments” and the vast majority of our offerings still are. I saw the “Mayor’s Budget Advisors” become the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (NCBAs). I saw the creation of an (annual) NCBA White Paper. And I saw the first (annual) presentation (“seat-at-the-table”) of the NCBAs before the City Council.
On Monday, March 2, 2015, I was present when the NCBAs met with Mayor Garcetti to present their current White Paper to him and discuss their concerns for the financial state, practices and future of our City. What makes this event comparable to the ones above is that, for the first time, we have a mayor who convincingly displays his interest in hearing the NCBAs and working with them as he prepares his Budget Proposal.
The meeting began with a detailed review of the City’s financial condition and the Mayor’s visions by Rick Cole (Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation). He said that:
- We are recovering from the problems of the 2008-2012 “Great Recession” but, certainly, are not clear of them.
- The people of Los Angeles are not receiving many City Services that they need and deserve.
- The Budget is still dominated by its employee expenses but the Mayor is working to replace the past “Line-item Budget” focus with “Performance-based Budgeting” concepts.”
- Long-term planning is expected to improve our current, short-term solutions.
The Mayor’s priorities are:
- Insuring Public Safety
- Increasing City Services
- Establishing a more livable/sustainable City
- Making Los Angeles the best run City in the USA
(The Mayor has decreased the number of Deputy Mayors from 12-15 to just these four areas.)
Mayor Eric Garcetti heard the NCBAs as they introduced themselves … but he knew most of them already.
He opened by presenting his knowledge and positions on many issues:
- the importance of the harbor,
- returning entertainment industry activities to LA,
- local development of the environment-focused and electronics-internet industries,
- supply-side concepts and business taxes,
- the state of our City planning, the City’s information systems, its “other” infrastructure, streets and Public Transportation.
He told us that, as a City Council Member, he greatly enjoyed regular discussions with the previous mayors where he could voice his concerns about the Budget and other issues. Mayor Garcetti continues that activity with the current City Council Members. He was pleased to learn that this years’ NCBAs have already met with the all 15 City Council Members, too, and he offered to share his experiences with us.
The Mayor and NCBAs then turned to the items in the White Paper. This year the NCBAs focus parallels the Mayor’s priorities and includes:
- Redefining the City’s budget processes, practices and philosophy
- Creating a 21st Century information management system
- Rebuilding and maintaining a modern Los Angeles’ infrastructure
- Streamlining the City’s hiring processes
- Implementing a World Class, citywide Collections System and making the Office of the Inspector General for Collections a permanent position.
The Mayor was impressed with the Committee Reports which were part of this years’ White Paper. He recognized and thanked the NCBAs for the huge amount of expertise, institutional memory, time and effort which went into the White Paper, the Committee Reports and the addenda.
The interchange which followed included many specific concerns voiced by the NCBAs and heard by the Mayor.
The challenges are huge but this Mayor talks about it openly and frequently. He and our new City Controller are making it possible for all of us to be much better informed stakeholders with the greater access to data and greater access to our government officials as well. That includes the Mayor’s weekly radio programs, his visits to City employees and neighborhoods and his blog. That includes the Controllers’ data website which displays almost overwhelming amounts but certainly much more complete data about the Citys’ finances than we ever had before.
In street talk, Eric Garcetti, as Mayor, did a good job of “…talking the talk…” He has already created more transparency in government than any previous City mayor. The ability to do that is a sign of our new social media and the increasingly-electronic age. He, more than any previous mayor, seems willing to work with the NCBAs to “walk the walk…” This years’ NCBAs have expressed their wish to work with the Mayor and City Council for the modernization and success of our City.
That job is just begun for this years’ Budget Proposal.
(Daniel Wiseman is a long-time Neighborhood activist and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has served as an NC Budget Advocate. The views expressed here are his own.)
Vol 13 Issue 19
Pub: Mar 6, 2015