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Groups Join to Protest Proposed Budget Cuts : Revenue: Law enforcement and community groups in Lomita and Lennox plan to rally against Gov. Pete Wilson's plan to divert local property taxes to pay the state deficit.

May 28, 1993|ANTHONY MILLICAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Law enforcement and community groups are planning rallies in Lomita and Lennox, angered by proposed state and county budget cutbacks that would reduce policing by the Sheriff's Department in the South Bay and eliminate recreational programs in local parks.

A Lennox residents group plans to stage a rally at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lennox Park to protest an austerity plan by Sheriff Sherman Block that would reduce the Lennox station by an unspecified number of deputies. The station serves Athens, Lennox and Lawndale.

In Lomita, meanwhile, residents and off-duty sheriff's employees are gathering at 9 a.m. Saturday at Lomita Park to oppose Block's proposal to turn the Lomita station into a satellite facility. The station, which serves Lomita and cities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, would be closed to the public and only used for deputies to gas up their patrol cars, said Lt. Drake Robles.

With the county facing reductions in allocations from the state, Block has proposed hundreds of layoffs countywide. He said he expects a 16% cut--about $108 million--in his department's budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The reductions would require the closing of four jail facilities, as well as layoffs of nearly 700 of 7,300 sworn department employees.

It is unclear how many of the 180 deputies assigned to the Lennox station would be affected under Block's plan. But according to Lt. Lawrence Schwartz, the station's popular bicycle patrol team almost certainly would be eliminated and its four deputies used to fill gaps in staffing patrol cars.

"I can't see it (the bike patrol) surviving if the 16% cut were approved," Schwartz said. He added that the station is already 20 deputies shy of full strength and has sharply curbed its use of overtime pay.

In Lomita, officials say that if the station is converted to a satellite facility, deputies would patrol Lomita and the peninsula from the Carson station, which would result in a slower response time to calls from residents.

"We would not have law enforcement as we've come to expect it," Robles said.

Fueling such concerns is Gov. Pete Wilson's plan to shift $2.6 billion in property tax revenues from local government as part of his budget proposal for fiscal 1993-94. County officials are trying to pressure state legislators to oppose the revenue shift, which they say would force a drastic reduction in service levels in the county.

The county is facing a projected $1.45-billion budget deficit in the 1993-94 fiscal year. Block and other county department chiefs have been asked to prepare budget proposals with service cuts of 8%, 16% and 25%.

Such cuts, if they occur, would affect more local services than law enforcement. For example, if the Parks and Recreation Department is forced to cut 25% from its budget, Lennox Park would be among 73 county parks to face closure, according to county officials.

"The state controls the situation," said Rodney Cooper, County Parks and Recreation director. "That's why all the supervisors are trying to get this thing turned around at the state level. If this (Wilson's plan) goes through, it would be just devastating."

That possibility has led the Lennox Coordinating Council, a residents group sponsoring Saturday's Lennox Park rally, to plan another protest next week, said Maria Perez, a vice president of the group.

She said that in the worst case, this year's budget-cutting could hurt a broad array of public services.

"We're facing a total cutoff, period," Perez said. "No sheriffs, no fire department, no parks. What is left, tell me? We'd really be on our own. How are we going to end up?"

Even if the governor's plan is defeated, some diversion of property tax revenue could still occur, though in a gentler form. Assemblyman John Vasconcellos of Santa Clara, the Democrats' top budget writer, has proposed a plan that would spread a $2.6-billion transfer over two years.

Said H. D. Palmer, Wilson's assistant director of finance: "This is not a partisan issue."

Palmer said Los Angeles County could offset such revenue losses by asking voters to approve a half-cent addition to the sales tax. A temporary, half-cent sales tax surcharge expires June 30, unless Wilson and the Legislature agree to an extension.

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