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Los Angeles council approves budget cuts to police, fire and parks in closing a $336-million gap

The City Council sends Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a $6.9-billion budget that avoids layoffs.

May 19, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles firefighters listen Wednesday as the City Council deliberates on a budget that closed a $336-million shortfall.
Los Angeles firefighters listen Wednesday as the City Council deliberates… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles City Council passed a $6.9 billion budget Wednesday, closing a $336-million revenue shortfall by eliminating police overtime pay and shutting down some fire engine teams — but avoiding employee layoffs.

Unlike state lawmakers, who recently found their budget deficit eased by an unexpected $6.6-billion influx of tax receipts, revenue projections in Los Angeles remain flat. The budget cuts approved on a 15-0 council vote were less agonizing than in recent years, when officials slashed thousands of jobs and imposed citywide furloughs.

That was partly due to past layoffs, along with an assortment of concessions from city workers negotiated earlier this year, City Council President Eric Garcetti said. He praised his colleagues for resisting the urge to balance the city's books through borrowing, which was a component of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed budget.

"This was a budget that wasn't balanced on a shoestring, on chewing gum, on imaginary money and unrealized receipts," Garcetti said.

That said, the budget does contain some cuts that have not yet been detailed.

For example, of the roughly $120 million in budget cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department, it saddles the LAPD with a $41-million shortfall that officials say they don't yet know how they will close.

The department saw its budget reduced by $80 million thanks to the council's elimination of overtime pay for cops. The mayor's proposed budget called for the LAPD to find an additional $20 million in cuts. But on Wednesday, that figure more than doubled when the council rejected a proposal to save $21 million with police furloughs and directed the department to come up with an equivalent savings on its own.

"This additional budget hole makes things much more difficult," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. He said the department's ability to close the $41-million gap rests largely on whether city negotiators can extract sufficient savings from the police union.

Paul M. Weber, president of the Police Protective League, criticized the decision to add to the LAPD's budget shortfall.

"Everyone wants to talk about how public safety is job number one, but then they're all too willing to set a budget that less than fully funds the police," Weber said.

In another cut to public safety, the council also approved a controversial Fire Department redeployment plan, which calls for trucks or ambulances at about one-fourth of the city's 106 fire stations to be put out of service.

But in a concession to the firefighters union, the council voted against permanently cutting 318 staff positions, which the redeployment plan had also called for.

The council also shifted $7 million from fire salary accounts to pay for other department needs. That figure is expected to be offset by money the city hopes to save in seeking concessions during ongoing contract negotiations with the United Firefighters of Los Angeles.

The budget deliberations lasted nine hours, with a 15-minute lunch break for sandwiches and fruit. Discussion over the Fire Department plan was occasionally contentious, with several council members complaining about cuts at fire stations in their districts.

Wednesday's cuts included a 10% reduction to homelessness programs and a more than 6% cut to graffiti removal programs.

The city's system of neighborhood councils and the City Council itself had their budgets reduced 10%.

And the Recreation and Parks Department saw its budget effectively cut by $19 million when the council voted for reductions and a requirement that it pay for its use of some city services, such as water and trash pickup.

After the vote, Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he hoped to find ways to restore some money to the parks budget later this year.

The council did more than cut — it restored some services that had been stripped during last year's budget crisis. It approved a 20% increase in money for pothole repairs, for example, and it restored Monday library hours.

Villaraigosa has five days to sign or veto all or parts of the budget. In a statement Wednesday, he said he would "thoughtfully" review the council's actions.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Times staff writers Joel Rubin and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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