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Secession Might Work With Cuts, Study Says

January 09, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Giving new hope to Los Angeles harbor area secessionists, a new study has found that a bare-bones budget proposed by breakaway leaders is not unreasonable.

The consultant, in a report to be released today by the Local Agency Formation Commission, nonetheless concludes that it is uncertain whether San Pedro and Wilmington could cut spending enough to make cityhood financially viable.

The report done for the commission, the agency studying secession, is expected to reiterate findings made in October that a harbor area city might face a major budget deficit in its first three years, according to officials at a Los Angeles City Council meeting Tuesday.

The consulting firm Public Financial Management concluded then that the harbor area generates $123.8 million annually in revenue, which is $34 million less than it costs Los Angeles to provide services to the area.

But after that report was issued, the harbor secessionists proposed an alternative structure of government that they said would cost $99 million annually.

The commission asked the consultant to look at other cities with populations similar to the harbor area--about 146,900--to determine whether the spending proposed for the harbor was reasonable.

The findings, according to a source close to the report, said the harbor city could expect to spend $673 per resident, compared with $655 per capita in Irvine, $496 in Carson, $374 in Pomona and $339 in Garden Grove. Only Torrance and Los Angeles spend more per capita, $868 and $794, respectively.

Many uncertainties remain about whether the harbor area could accomplish the cuts, according to the report. There are legal constraints and employee agreements it would have to honor. And a proposal that the Sheriff's Department assume policing of the area assumes that the new city could negotiate a contract at a greatly reduced price.

Commission Executive Director Larry Calemine said Tuesday that the cityhood proposal remains alive, despite the major financial hurdles.

Calemine and the commission must decide by June 5 whether there is enough evidence of financial viability to put the cityhood proposal on the ballot in November, when a San Fernando Valley secession proposal may also be decided by voters.

"We are more than hopeful," said Andrew Mardesich of the Harbor Study Foundation, which is pressing for a vote.

Harbor secessionists propose a part-time mayor and council, along with a full-time city manager.

"We would have less bureaucracy. We wouldn't have the waste that you see with the city of Los Angeles," Mardesich said.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, a commission member who opposes secession, said she does not object to the agency considering the alternative harbor area budget.

"What they are saying is: Don't apply big-city economics to a small city by just giving them a proportional share of our budget," Miscikowski said. "I think it's a reasonable approach to say, 'Let's look at it differently.' "

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