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Plan to cut L.A. jobs would hurt neighborhood councils and art programs, report shows

Faced with a nearly $200-million gap, budget officials are looking at a 50% cut at the department that oversees local panels, reductions in library staff and trims at the Cultural Affairs Department.

January 28, 2010|By David Zahniser

The push to eliminate 1,003 jobs across Los Angeles city government could carve most deeply into neighborhood councils, arts programs and initiatives aimed at reducing ethnic tensions, according to a report obtained by The Times.

To close a nearly $200-million gap, budget officials are looking at a 50% reduction in staff at the agency that oversees neighborhood councils, or 19 out of 38 jobs.

Libraries would see a 10% reduction in staff, as would the office of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, the draft spreadsheet states. El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the agency that oversees Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, would lose 10 out of 16 staff members.

The Cultural Affairs Department would experience a loss of 30 employees, or 48% of its workforce. And the Human Relations Commission, which provides mediators to resolve community disputes, would shut down and lose all 26 of its employees, the document states.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, one of several officials who received the spreadsheet, said he still hopes that job cuts can be avoided by persuading city employees to take additional pay cuts. "This is a list based on the reality of the financial crisis we're in. I hope this gets the unions to realize this is not a game anymore," he said.

Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, would not address Rosendahl's remarks but said the city could balance the budget without resorting to layoffs if the group's existing labor pact were carried out.

By the end of the week, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana is expected to produce a more formal report on the positions targeted for elimination. He would not say how much the proposal could change by then.

The proposal already dismays Human Relations Commissioner Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, who said his agency's mediators have helped to defuse racial tensions in high schools. Meanwhile, a onetime head of the Cultural Affairs Department said the cuts would limit the city's ability to provide arts programs to families who cannot afford the city's most expensive museums.

"I am disappointed with City Hall for even thinking about this," said former General Manager Al Nodal.

The spreadsheet did not list any reductions to the staff of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or the City Council. But it did show staff reductions in 33 departments, including a cut of 7% in both the planning and parks agencies.

"We're the fourth or fifth largest department, so them calling for that number is not unreasonable," said Jon Kirk Murki, who runs the Department of Recreation and Parks.

The plan to eliminate half of the employees at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment comes weeks after a city audit concluded that the agency has provided too little financial oversight of the money provided to neighborhood councils.

Doug Epperhart, who serves on the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said the mayor should go further by eliminating the department entirely. He said the agency has been unimpressive and has seen some of its duties turned over to the city clerk.

"I'd love to say they've done a fabulous job and they're great at what they do and they've been a tremendous help," he said, "but I can't say that."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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