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COLUMN LEFT/ GILBERT CEDILLO

Just Whose County Is It, Anyway? : Supervisors come up with a spending plan that hurts everyone but themselves.

August 29, 1993|GILBERT CEDILLO | Gilbert Cedillo is general manager of Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 40,000 Los Angeles County workers.

What's happening in Los Angeles County this year has happened many times before. Faced with yet another budget crisis, county supervisors took the easy way out with a plan for closing health facilities and libraries, drastic reductions in general-relief benefits and sweeping layoffs and pay cuts for county employees.

This is a shortsighted quick fix that in the long run spells disaster for a city already plagued by homelessness, an AIDS epidemic, tuberculosis, drugs and violence and the highest rate of unemployment since the Great Depression.

Even more unfortunately, this is destined to happen again--year after year--until the people of Los Angeles stand up and effectively challenge the choices our county leaders make.

To be sure, times are hard all over. But the deal cut by Gov. Pete Wilson with the Legislature leaves Los Angeles County $300 million poorer when it clearly can least afford it.

Certainly there is a more equitable way out of the crisis. For example, Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union has proposed two alternatives to save the county more than $150 million--defer $90 million in overtime pay this year and cut management's bloated benefit package by $63 million.

Instead, county managers have opted to protect their lavish salaries and perks by wreaking havoc on the people who live and work in Los Angeles.

And make no mistake about it. The spending cuts are deep and they will affect everyone.

For instance, beginning in just a few days, four Los Angeles County health centers, 20 clinics and up to 43 public libraries will close.

Children from East L.A. to Santa Clarita will no longer have local libraries in their neighborhoods, and latchkey kids will spend their afternoons out on the streets or home alone. HIV-positive patients in Long Beach, where the only facility serving uninsured AIDS patients is about to close, will have nowhere to turn for medical care.

And the already rampant tuberculosis epidemic, caused by a shortage of available treatment for the needy and uninsured, is sure to spread to the point where we're all at risk.

General-relief benefits will be drastically reduced. Which, of course, means our homeless population can be expected to increase significantly .

About 2,000 county employees will lose their jobs at a time when the local economy can least afford it.

Roughly 40,000 county workers will see devastating pay cuts--more than $300 a month for the registered nurses, librarians and others who have worked tirelessly to deliver vital services and keep county systems afloat despite inadequate resources and severe understaffing. Another 30,000 county employees will lose their health benefits.

What kind of perverse message is our government sending when single mothers earning $20,000 a year are asked to give money back while top county managers pull down $175,000? When clinics are closed and doors are shut to hundreds of thousands of indigent patients while management's extravagant health-benefit packages cost taxpayers more than $100 million a year?

No wonder Los Angeles, once known as a world-class city where dreams come true, is now known for its shattered windows, broken promises and growing underclass.

This city has seen enough hopelessness and despair, anger and frustration. County leaders must be made to understand that the quick fix won't do, that the future of Los Angeles depends on providing genuine long-term opportunities to the people who live and work here. It's not too late to reverse the decisions they've made. We can still stop the closings, stop the cuts. We can take our county back. And we can keep the dream alive.

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