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VALLEY NEWS

Riordan's Last Budget Sets Aside Millions for Valley

Services: Pacoima and Panorama City streets would be spruced up and Arleta would get a new fire station.

April 21, 2001|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Millions of dollars for sidewalks, recreation centers and fire stations would flow to a neglected stretch of the northeast Valley under the $4.9-billion budget proposed Thursday by Mayor Richard Riordan.

The spending plan--which includes $1.3-million to spruce up streets, alleys and parks in Pacoima and Panorama City--won praise from Councilman Alex Padilla, a Riordan ally who has often charged that his working-class district suffers from a dearth of basic city services.

"I'm very pleased with the budget," Padilla said. "I think the northeast Valley has a lot to be thankful for, more so than in the last several years. I think this is really a quality-of-life budget."

It's difficult to pluck out Valley-specific threads from the budget, because city analysts plot spending by each department, not each neighborhood. Backers of Valley secession have bumped into a similar problem as they seek to divvy up a sprawling city whose parts are often as tangled as a rush-hour freeway.

The mayor's office offered a few highlights for the 1.4 million residents on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains: More than $1.6 million has been earmarked for library materials and furniture at two new libraries in Lake View Terrace and Woodland Hills. In Arleta, a new fire station would get 12 firefighters, and three new ambulances are set to roll into Sun Valley, Studio City and Chatsworth.

At a news conference Thursday, the mayor heralded the final budget of his eight years in office as a healthy blueprint for a thriving city that rebounded from the "rubble" of riots and recession in the early 1990s.

He spoke of fiscal stability and responsive government--but his prepared speech didn't once mention the Valley.

Asked whether he thought his spending plan addressed the concerns of Valley separatists, Riordan, a staunch foe of secession, replied: "I think it shows that we are caring about all neighborhoods . . . How can the Valley, for example, replicate [these services] in a new government? Rolling the dice? Maybe they can, maybe they can't."

Some Valley leaders questioned the city's shrinking police force, noting that Riordan's budget sets aside money to hire 360 officers at a time when more than 700 are poised to retire. Instead of the 10,000-strong force the mayor once pledged, the troubled Police Department is expected to sink below the 8,700-officer mark next year.

"Given the response time problems we already have, the erosion in the number of officers will be felt on the streets of the Valley," said Richard Katz, a former assemblyman and a board member of the secession group Valley VOTE. "We're already understaffed in the Valley, and if [Riordan] is going to lose another 300 or 400 cops, that disproportionately affects us because we have so few to start with."

Other Valley items in the budget include $333,000 for a skate park at Sunland Recreation Center, nearly $100,000 for security and equipment at the Madrid Theater in Canoga Park and funding for an environmental inspector at Sunshine Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills.

"We definitely need somebody to monitor [the landfill]," said Mary Ellen Crosby, a neighbor of the controversial dump who has battled it for years. "It's the only way we can protect the health of our residents."

But Crosby wasn't overly eager to praise City Hall. "They know they've done us dirty so many times, so they're trying to make nice with us," she said.

In the northeast Valley, a poor, mostly Latino area where crumbling sidewalks and dirt roads dot the dusty landscape, some of Riordan's proposals are likely to prop up the sagging infrastructure. The budget, which must be approved by the City Council, aims to resurface a record 275 street miles and double the amount of sidewalk repairs citywide.

"It looks like the Valley's getting its fair share," Padilla said, "or at least a larger share than in years past."

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