In the face of a sputtering economy, Mayor James K. Hahn is poised to release a spartan budget for next year that scales back street paving, raises trash and sewer fees, and makes it a bit pricier to visit the zoo. But in his annual state of the city speech Thursday, the mayor vowed that one department would be spared any cutbacks: police.
Hahn used his 32-minute address to say that he is committed to expanding the size of the LAPD -- part of a campaign, the mayor said, to dismantle street gangs, curb violent crime and make Los Angeles the safest of the nation's big cities.
It won't come cheap. Council members and mayoral aides said Hahn wants to boost residential trash rates by two-thirds to add 320 officers to the force next year.
The new recruits, he said, are needed to strengthen a department whose dwindling ranks mirrored a rising homicide rate from 1998 through 2002. In recent months, however, Hahn said the LAPD has begun to rebuild under the direction of Chief William J. Bratton, whom Hahn picked last year to replace Bernard C. Parks, now a city councilman.
"It is a new day at LAPD," Hahn said, during the address, at the Elysian Park Police Academy, which was chosen to symbolize his push to "return our neighborhoods to law-abiding citizens."
With dozens of uniformed police officers and firefighters sitting on risers behind him, hands folded on laps, the mayor said an LAPD that was "in trouble" when he took office now is rebounding. Morale is improved, fewer officers are quitting, and residents are coming to trust a department that was tainted by the Rampart scandal, the mayor said.
Bratton, Hahn said, "is running full speed ahead."
"As never before, the department is becoming transparent in all of its operations so the LAPD badge can become a trusted symbol once again," Hahn said. Bratton's predecessor, Parks, sat in the front row during Hahn's speech. Afterward, Parks said he was pleased by parts of the address but downplayed the mayor's assessment of police morale, saying that it was difficult to measure.
The state of the city speech was the second of Hahn's term, and it lacked some of the urgency of the first. A year ago, Hahn used the address to rally opponents of a secession movement that threatened to sever the city from the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and the harbor area.
With secession defeated and the city intact, Hahn stuck to basic themes, calling for a city government that is more nimble in addressing complaints.
Residents now can dial 311 with questions about city services, he said. Neighborhood councils created under the 1999 City Charter stand to become influential players in city decisions. And city workers who had been narrowly focused on the task at hand are now looking out for potholes, graffiti and trash -- the kinds of neighborhood nuisances that can make residents feel ignored by City Hall, Hahn said.
Still, it was clear from the speech that the secession debate remained a fresh memory.
"Last November, the voters of this city sent a clear message: Keep Los Angeles united," Hahn said. "But the issues raised during the debate were valid and important. We in city government must consistently be critical of how we deliver services and find ways to improve."
Council members and others in attendance largely praised the mayor's speech, though some voiced skepticism about fee hikes.
Said Councilman Eric Garcetti: "I thought he sounded the most mayoral I've seen him.... He presented a vision for Los Angeles."
City Controller Laura Chick applauded the mayor's goals, but conceded that it might be years before municipal government becomes the efficient, responsive mechanism the mayor envisions.
"This is not going to change overnight," Chick said. "We're not going to go from a city that functions poorly to one that performs spectacularly in one or two years. It will take a decade, frankly."
Hahn avoided detailed talk of his 2003-04 budget, which he will unveil today. Although specifics of the spending plan remain under wraps, the basic outlines emerged this week.
Service cuts envisioned by the mayor include trimming fewer trees and paving 200 miles of roads per year as opposed to 230.
To raise about $30 million to pay for the new police officers, Hahn wants to boost trash rates from $6 to $10 for single-family homes.
The mayor's office said Los Angeles trash rates are the lowest in the county and would remain low for the region even after the increase. Compared to other big cities, though, the Los Angeles trash fee is unusual. New York, Houston and Chicago all cover the costs of trash disposal through their general funds and do not charge separate fees.
"I'm not in favor of that," Councilman Nate Holden said of the trash fee increase. "That's a regressive tax. It hits the poor people the hardest, and seniors who are on fixed incomes."
Councilman Dennis Zine added: "I have always been concerned about increasing fees for L.A. We want L.A. to be a consumer-friendly and business-friendly city."