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LOCAL ELECTIONS / L.A. MAYOR : Woo Calls for Budget Cuts to Hire More Police

April 29, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Calling for 2,200 more police officers and a crackdown on gangs and graffiti, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Michael Woo injected a new note of toughness into his runoff campaign Wednesday with the kind of crime-fighting rhetoric more characteristic of his opponent.

Woo said his plan would create a 10,000-officer force without raising taxes by reducing the budgets of the mayor and City Council by 20%, cutting all other city departments by 5% and by using surplus revenue from the Community Redevelopment Agency.

The cuts would come on top of reductions already recommended to offset the city's $180-million budget deficit. But Woo could not estimate how long it would take to carry out his plan.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Budget Committee, said he thought the proposal would be acceptable to the public, but not to the council, which would balk at laying off the 500 to 1,000 city employees whose jobs might be jeopardized by Woo's cost-cutting proposal.

Yaroslavsky added that the council might have to make the cuts anyway. "This kind of a cut may be required not to hire more police but just to balance our budget," Yaroslavsky said, warning of a state budget crisis that could leave the city with a deficit of up to $300 million more.

Also, Woo's plan would rely, in part, on a financing mechanism that was turned down resoundingly by the state Legislature last year. Legislators voted down two bills that would have allowed cities to use Community Redevelopment Agency funds to pay for more police.

Like his opponent, Richard Riordan, who campaigned earlier in the week in South-Central Los Angeles, Woo is making a bid to expand his base. He delivered his police speech to a group of San Fernando Valley business leaders, members of the influential Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., who gave Riordan the highest rating of all 24 candidates running in the primary.

The audience of about 50 VICA members who heard Woo on Tuesday were polite but skeptical in their response.

"There has been an exodus of business, an increase in crime and a general deterioration of conditions in the city," said Nicolas Liaxas, chief operating officer of Digital Imaging of Southern California. "Why support a candidate who allows these things on his watch?"

Others raised questions about Woo's willingness to reduce the city budget given his alliance with labor unions who represent a variety of city workers. And they criticized his reluctance to privatize certain city services, including trash collection and airport management, again citing his ties to organized labor.

"His proposed cuts are symbolic of good intentions. They are not where the big bucks are," said Benjamin M. Reznik, chairman of VICA.

Reznik said he has not made up his mind about the election, but he said he worried that anyone with Woo's "commitments to the County Labor Federation" would not be willing to contract out garbage collection or put the Los Angeles International Airport in the hands of private management--two money-saving steps recommended by Riordan that won him support among VICA members.

Citing a city analysis, Woo has continually questioned Riordan's assertion that leasing the airport would raise enough money to balance the city's budget and hire 3,000 more police officers over the next four years.

Riordan, who said he had not yet seen Woo's plan, commented: "I'm glad to see he's finally learned that L.A. is unsafe."

Woo's preferred approach to hiring more police--a ballot measure that would have increased property taxes to pay for 1,000 extra officers--went down to defeat in last week's primary. And in an election that may hinge on the issues of crime and cops, Woo needed to come up quickly with an alternative to the failed ballot measure.

Woo's supporters also said that the results of the April 20 primary in which he finished second indicated that he needed to take a tougher stand on crime. Before the primary, a typical Woo speech coupled a call for increased police protection with an admonition against the excessive use of force. Moreover, no Woo speech on police and crime was complete without the reminder that he was the first member of the City Council to ask for former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates' resignation after the police beating of Rodney G. King.

But on Wednesday, Woo was not taking credit for the ouster of Gates, a popular figure in the Valley, and he was not tempering his call for a crackdown on crime with warnings about police brutality.

"The fear of crime has invaded our neighborhoods and is quietly stealing the good things that life in Los Angeles used to represent," Woo said. "How can any woman feel comfortable using an ATM machine when she knows that she could become the next murder victim? . . . How can parents feel secure taking their children to Balboa Park when they read about the 2-year-old girl who was killed by gang bullets on Easter Sunday?"

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