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Wildlife Pilot Study May Become an Endangered Species

DEEGAN ON LA-An ambitious initiative by the City Planning department, The Wildlife Pilot Study, is one of many programs facing budget cuts as the City tries urgently to stabilize its finances that the pandemic has scrambled. 

Conserving and protecting LA’s wildlife, and the biodiversity of natural and sensitive habitats, and the open spaces where wildlife thrive, move, and forage, is the goal of the now endangered project. 

Sales taxes, hotel taxes, permits, fees and other revenue sources have been deeply reduced because of the “at home” orders that effectively shut down cash registers across the city. Funding for some city programs in the new fiscal year that begins on July 1 may be as dry as the Los Angeles River without hoped-for federal funding to help ease the pain. 

Mayor Garcetti’s proposed $10.5 billion budget does not have enough in it for every need, including the cost of a single Environmental Specialist position linked to the Wildlife Pilot Study. 

Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5), whose district includes a large swath of the Santa Monica Mountains, has made a motion “to restore resolution authority for one Environmental Specialist II and one City Planning Associate in the Department of City Planning without funding to conduct the Wildlife Pilot Study” in the Mayor’s Proposed Budget for 2020-21. 

The value of that lone position has exponential impact; without it, the program may die and, with it, possibly some mountain lions and other wildlife that share our hillsides as their natural habitat. 

Tony Tucci, Chairperson of the non-profit Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife (CLAW) http://www.clawonline.org/  told the City Council’s budget committee that his organization opposes the decision to kill the wildlife pilot study and asked, like Koretz, that the positions be restored. 

“Last month, the state gave our city’s mountain lions candidacy under the California Endangered Species Act. With the work to date from the wildlife pilot study, we have already been working towards solutions to protect habitat and might be all that much closer to a programmatic EIR to deal with the cougar’s endangered species status. But not if we put the study program on a shelf.” 

In an interview with CityWatch, Tucci said he’s concerned that some of the other hillside city councilmembers are not on board with Koretz’s motion which is co-authored by Mitch O’Farrell and supported by David Ryu. Tucci added, “Blumenfield, Bonin, and Krekorian. . .you all have mountain lions in your district. Do you care about this?” 

What’s endangering the mountain lions, and other wildlife and biodiversity stewardship is a budget squeeze. Instead of the 4.5% annual growth LA has experienced over the past six years, budget analysts are forecasting just a 1.8% growth in the City’s economy. Sales tax, for instance, is expected to sink by 12%, coming in at $557 million in the new fiscal year, compared with previous projections of $635 million. 

While fire and police are likely to survive any cuts, and in fact will get raises and the continuation of generous pensions, programs to address homelessness will see a 6% drop compared with the current year. 

There will be fewer repairs, fewer trees trimmed and longer wait times for the City’s 311 public services hotline in Garcetti’s budget. Graffiti removal, neighborhood councils, gang intervention programs and various infrastructure projects are also on track to have less money in the fiscal year that starts on July 1. 

While residents are easing out of their “at home” restrictions, the mountain lions are slowly facing a “no home at all” future. The Wildlife Pilot Project is a way of mitigating that hopelessness, and why it’s important to keep the program alive. The funding request – one position – is minimal. 

It’s a tough time in Los Angeles to be a mountain lion. . .or a mayor.

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appears in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.