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L.A. mayor orders 1,000 jobs eliminated

Antonio Villaraigosa acts the day after the City Council had postponed cutting positions. The city is trying to deal with a $212-million budget shortfall.

February 05, 2010|By Maeve Reston and Phil Willon

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered officials Thursday to eliminate 1,000 city jobs and begin planning employee layoffs, one day after the City Council failed to do so amid a deepening budget crisis.

Disturbed by the council's inability to make a dent in a $212-million shortfall, Villaraigosa sent a letter to department heads saying he was accelerating the effort to shift as many employees as possible to vacant positions not paid by the city's general fund and would impose layoffs where necessary. Police officers would not be affected.

"If you think I'm not going to move ahead, you don't know me well," Villaraigosa told reporters during a late afternoon news conference. "I don't do this because I want to. I do this because I must."

This is the third consecutive year that Villaraigosa has raised the possibility of layoffs to address the city's long-troubled finances, though few pink slips have been issued in that time. But with tax revenues plummeting in recent months, the city's top budget official warned that the bleak financial situation was creating a fiscal emergency -- and putting the city's credit rating at risk.

City officials were able to avert firings last year by negotiating a deal with several unions that allowed 2,400 workers to retire up to five years early with full benefits. That process is expected to save $47 million this year and $111 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Still, the city has fewer options to address this year's $212-million shortfall, making layoffs more difficult to avoid, Villaraigosa said.

The council voted Wednesday to delay any decision on layoffs for 30 days while searching for other ways to generate revenue. Although the council also asked for a list of potential layoffs, it was unable to secure a majority vote to move ahead with cuts.

Council President Eric Garcetti, however, said most of what the mayor proposed Thursday was similar to actions taken by the council.

"I welcome and embrace it," Garcetti said, referring to the mayor's order. "I think it's a common recognition about how grave the situation is."

Villaraigosa's budget team believes that at least 360 workers can be moved to posts unaffected by the budget crisis. Those jobs would be in agencies such as Los Angeles World Airports and the Department of Water and Power, which are not part of the general fund, which pays for basic services.

The mayor asked workers to volunteer by Monday if they were willing to quickly transfer. Under his timeline, transfers must be completed by Feb. 12, with workers beginning those new jobs by the following Monday.

As many as 723 other vacancies could be found in positions that have opened up because of the early retirement program, Villaraigosa said. However, personnel officials said they do not know the precise number of available vacancies.

Once those vacant positions are filled, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said, at least 100 workers could start receiving layoff notices.

Aides to the mayor said layoffs could be imposed on members of the Engineers and Architects Assn., which represents roughly 6,500 employees, as well as workers who are not represented by any union. Building inspectors and some employees in the office of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich could also be let go, Santana said.

A city labor agreement bars Villaraigosa from laying off workers with the Coalition for L.A. City Unions, which represents an addtional 22,000 civilian employees, before July 1.

Victor Gordo, a lawyer for the coalition, said it would be unfair to target his members since earlier this year they agreed to $78 million in concessions.

"The coalition is the only one that's done something to improve the city's financial status," Gordo said. "Everything else has just been talk."

With a $484-million shortfall looming next year, Santana said, he planned to recommend another round of job cuts within a few months. "We won't lay off any coalition members this year," he said. "But we plan to next year."

The job cuts announced by Villaraigosa are expected to save up to $50 million this fiscal year, said Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo.

The mayor also has proposed borrowing the tens of millions of dollars stashed in special city funds, many of which are council-controlled.

Between those savings and the major's push to privatize city parking garages, the vast majority of the city's budget shortfall could be covered, Szabo said.

"The No. 1 priority here is protecting the reserve fund," he said. "It's unacceptable to have a reserve fund at or near zero at the end of this fiscal year."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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