LA WATCHDOG--On Monday, about to be termed out City Council President Herb Wesson announced that he is entering the race to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas, a long time County Supervisor who is also termed out in 2020.
And while the election is in November of 2020, slightly less than two years from now, the primary is just around the corner, on March 3, 2020, 15 months from now.
As a Supervisor, Wesson would gain considerable clout. He would represent about two million people compared to only 265,000 in his Council District 10. His proportionate share of the County’s $31 billion budget would be $6 billion, equal to the City’s General Fund budget. And he would have sway over 100,000 County employees compared to 30,000 for the City.
Wesson is going to run on his record of public service, including his role of President of the Los Angeles City Council for the last seven years. According to his campaign web site,
“During his tenure as Council President, Wesson has presided over monumental policy initiatives making Los Angeles a better place to live, work and raise a family. Not only have local policy initiatives —which include raising the minimum wage, pension reform and consolidating city elections to increase voter turnout— positively affected local residents, but in many cases the city’s actions have spurred state and national response and served as a model for similar policies.”
But all is not well in the City of Angels because Wesson is unwilling to tackle tough issues. The City’s finances and pensions are a mess. There are allegations of corruption. And his City Council has not addressed the promised campaign finance reform.
Despite a rip-roaring economy and record revenues, the City still has a Structural Deficit of over $1 billion a year which Wesson refuses to acknowledge or address. Rather, Herb prefers to “kick the can down the road” to the next generation of Angelenos.
The City’s Four Year Budget Outlook shows a surplus of $100 million in 2022. But this projection fails to consider raises for City workers that will be in the range of $350 million a year by 2022 because Wesson refuses to say NO to the campaign funding leaders of the City’s unions.
Wesson has not addressed the sorry state of our streets, sidewalks, parks (and their bathrooms) and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure. Ka-Ching, a $250 million hit.
Wesson has also refused to address the most significant financial issue facing the City, its $15 billion unfunded pension liability that is being underfunded every year by about $500 to $600 million a year because the City relies on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.25%.
Wesson does not believe in transparency as he has not followed up on the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish a commission to review and analyze the City’s two pension plans, a recommendation that he endorsed at a press conference.
Wesson also endorsed the LA 2020 Commission’s recommendation to create an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s shaky finances. But this constructive idea has never seen the light of day after the press conference.
Under Wesson’s watch, corruption has once again surfaced as Councilman Jose Huizar’s offices and home were raided by the FBI in what may be a pay-to-play scheme involving the granting of very lucrative zoning changes to real estate developers.
Wesson also has benefitted from up zoning developments. This includes the development of a high rise, luxury apartment building at 8th and Catalina by a Beverly Hills developer who received an unprecedented variance worth $20 million from the City Council after being turned down by the Planning Commission. The grateful developer deposited $250,000 into a Wesson controlled slush fund. This developer also dropped $1 million into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund controlled by Wesson and Mayor Garcetti.
There are numerous other lucrative deals that have benefitted developers throughout the City, especially in Hollywood and DTLA where the crane is the City’s official bird, where congestion is only getting worse, and affordable housing is being torn down.
Wesson also promised campaign finance reform in early 2017 when City Hall and the real estate developers were opposing Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that sought to limit overdevelopment that threatened our neighborhoods. But after almost two years, no hint of reform because cash is the ultimate aphrodisiac for the Mayor and City Councilmembers.
As Herb’s campaign for Supervisor progresses, pay close attention to his campaign contributions and to independent expenditure committees as pay-to-play is alive and well in the City and County of Los Angeles. And brace yourself, for when the economy stalls or heads south, the City budget and its underfunded pension plans will take a beating.
And you know who pays for that! You.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)