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Villaraigosa says Israel trip paid dividends for L.A.

June 19, 2008|Phil Willon | Times Staff Writer

Back from a weeklong trip to Israel, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday touted agreements to enhance anti-terrorism efforts at Los Angeles International Airport and the harbor, and defended the cost of the 18-member delegation he led while the city faces a possible $300-million budget shortfall.

Villaraigosa said the pacts would make the city "stronger, safer and more secure," and added that his meetings with President Shimon Peres and other top Israeli leaders also would foster Los Angeles' international reputation as an economic and cultural powerhouse.

When asked to estimate the cost of his travel, Villaraigosa replied, "I think the taxpayers of Los Angeles can go to bed knowing that the mayor of Los Angeles is doing everything he can to secure our airport and protect . . . the safety of the people of the city."

The mayor's office has not released the estimated cost of the trip, Villaraigosa's third abroad as mayor. The mayor said those figures would be made public as soon as possible.

The city's Department of Water and Power, airport and port agencies will pay for all official expenses incurred by city officials. Religious and civic leaders who accompanied the mayor to Israel paid their own way.

Villaraigosa said taxpayers "got their money's worth," which will be realized in upgrades to security at LAX and the Port of Los Angeles and efforts to combat potential terrorist attacks.

Under the agreement, which formalized a pact reached two years ago, Israel will send three security experts from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Los Angeles for regular inspections as $1,000-per-day consultants. LAX is considered the state's No. 1 terrorist target and has been singled out by the Al Qaeda network.

Villaraigosa said he was most impressed by the "many layers of security" at Ben-Gurion and the exceptionally trained personnel, saying LAX would benefit from adapting to those Israeli models: "They don't just rely on technology. They rely on people. They think people are the most important line of defense."

During the trip, Villaraigosa and city officials reached an agreement to share their most recent innovations in water conservation and offered L.A.'s expertise on reducing pollution and other green measures at the city's port.

Along with the president, Villaraigosa met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, saying it is essential for the mayor of such a major city to foster and reaffirm relationships with world leaders.

"I'm mayor of the city of Los Angeles, not some small town in the desert somewhere. We are a global city," Villaraigosa said.

While overseas, Villaraigosa ordered an investigation to determine why illegally dumped refuse has been allowed to sit for weeks in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, a problem reported Monday in The Times. The mayor called for a report on how long it takes to clean up refuse after residents call in a complaint to the city's 311 non-emergency number.

The city official who oversees enforcement for the Public Works Department said that budget cutbacks have, in part, led to a 40% reduction in surveillance operations to catch people dumping illegally.

Villaraigosa on Wednesday dismissed that assertion.

"I'm led to believe that's not the case," the mayor said. "Sometimes people make excuses when they're not doing their job. And the fact of the matter is, we have the resources to address illegal dumping. That's why I ordered an investigation. I want to make sure people whose responsibility it is to pick up the trash in South L.A. are doing their job."


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