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L.A. mayor urges new round of city job cuts

Villaraigosa wants to eliminate between 1,200 and 2,000 more positions. His stance signals a more aggressive approach to the city's budget crisis.

February 12, 2010|By Phil Willon, David Zahniser and Maeve Reston

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a second round of city job cuts Thursday -- between 1,200 and 2,000 positions -- and warned that much deeper layoffs would be needed if the City Council and employee unions failed to act quickly on proposals to cut payroll costs, trim services and auction city assets.

With the current $212-million budget shortfall expected to double next year, Villaraigosa said the threat of layoffs was his only leverage to force the city's powerful unions to accept lower wages and help rescue the city from insolvency.

If the council hesitates to act or the unions resist, Villaraigosa vowed to order agency heads to send additional pink slips to more of the city's roughly 37,000 workers.

"Layoffs are the only . . . tool I have to be relevant here. Otherwise, I am at the mercy of forces beyond my control," Villaraigosa said at a meeting with The Times' editorial board. "I can control layoffs. I can't control that the council will pass anything. I don't have a vote on the council."

Villaraigosa's threats provided the clearest sign yet that he has decided to take a more aggressive approach to the worsening financial crisis, which threatens the city's credit rating and ability to borrow.

For the last two months, he had worked mostly behind the scenes. But that changed last week after the council voted to postpone any layoffs for 30 days. The next day, the mayor ordered agency heads to eliminate 1,000 positions paid from the city's general fund budget, a move that he expects will lead to hundreds of transfers and at least 250 layoffs.

Since Tuesday, Villaraigosa has gone to the council, the news media and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to publicly campaign for quick action. The second wave of job cuts -- which would bring the total to as many as 3,000 -- would be part of his proposed 2010-11 budget, he said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, a political veteran who backed Villaraigosa as a candidate for mayor, said she was alarmed at the start of the week to see him appearing with former Beatle Ringo Starr on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the middle of a fiscal crisis. That dismay turned to relief, Molina said, when Villaraigosa appeared before the council Tuesday.

"I think he should be in council members' offices every single day trying to convince them to follow his lead," she said.

Villaraigosa's plan for slashing the size of the workforce is in sync with some council members, including Bernard C. Parks, Jan Perry and Greig Smith. But he remains at odds with council members Richard Alarcon, Paul Koretz and Janice Hahn, who want to move targeted workers into vacant positions unaffected by the budget crisis.

Koretz called Villaraigosa's plan "extreme" and complained that the mayor was showing little interest in working collaboratively with council members.

"This is jumping the gun," Koretz said of the latest plan to cut the workforce. "And I'm somewhat baffled that the mayor is pushing so hard in this direction, doing layoffs before we've turned over every stone -- and there are some that we've barely touched."

Alarcon signaled that such a large cut to the civilian payroll would prompt calls to halt Villaraigosa's campaign to continue hiring police officers.

"I don't think you can have that discussion without talking about equitable cuts in the Police Department," said Alarcon, who also warned that cuts would lead to "dramatic" reductions in city services.

Villaraigosa said Police Department reductions should be considered only after the council agrees to consolidate some departments, explores every revenue opportunity and pares the workforce of non-sworn police employees.

On Thursday, the mayor also promised to veto any attempt by council members to spend money from their discretionary accounts. He has asked members to loan the reserve fund $40 million from those accounts.

The first test of that threat may come in the next few days when the council considers requests by four members to tap $862,000 of that money for transit projects.

Council President Eric Garcetti said members "absolutely support" moving money controlled by members and the mayor into the city's reserves. First, financial analysts must determine how much money is available, he said.

Villaraigosa said he was not trying to pick a fight with the council or labor. He also said that he had been "part of the problem" for not recognizing the severity of the city's economic crisis -- or eliminating a structural deficit that existed even before the recession hit.

Still, the mayor expressed growing frustration that some council members, frequently with support from employee unions, continue to resist layoffs, furloughs, the elimination of departments or the privatization of city assets, such as parking meters.

"Urgency is what is missing here," he said.

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