Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveils his budget plan at City Hall. Along… (Christina House, For The…)
Setting the stage for a battle with city employees and fellow elected officials, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Friday for the elimination of 669 city jobs — 231 through layoffs — even as he also sought to add police officers and restore some Fire Department services.
The bulk of the job cuts proposed in the mayor's new $7.2-billion budget would affect civilian employees at the Los Angeles Police Department, where 159 clerks, secretaries and other administrators would be put out of work. The rest of the layoffs would be spread out among the civilian force at other city agencies, including the Bureau of Street Services, the Department of Animal Services and the Fire Department.
Some officials quickly vowed to oppose any layoffs, saying city employees have repeatedly made sacrifices to solve the multi-year budget crisis. "Creating a climate of fear among our employees is a dangerous path," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor to succeed Villaraigosa, who is termed out next year.
Garcetti said he is especially worried about police officers having to pick up the slack of civilians laid off in the Police Department. "I do not want to see our police officers behind desks," he said. "I want to see them on the streets."
A 2009 internal LAPD audit found 178 officers, detectives and supervising sergeants in jobs that do not require a police officer's training and should be filled by lower-paid civilians.
Speaking with Villaraigosa at a news conference, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the layoffs would not affect public safety but would lead to delays in some clerical services, including the compiling of crime reports.
Along with layoffs, the mayor's budget also calls for a rollback in the retirement benefits offered to newly hired civilian city employees, limiting their pensions to no more than 75% of their salaries, as well as increasing the retirement age to 67.
City union leaders, who earlier this year rebuffed a city request that employees give up pay raises negotiated in years past in exchange for funding pension reform and an early retirement program, attacked Villaraigosa as out of touch with average workers.
"If you're the mayor and living a jet-setting lifestyle, it's easy to imagine living that lifestyle until age 67," said Lowell Goodman, spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 721. "That's not the case of a tree surgeon who's carrying a chain saw up into a tree or a street services worker who's operating heavy machinery to fix our potholes."
City Controller Wendy Greuel also had sharp words for the mayor's proposal, saying the city can find ways to avoid job cuts. Greuel, another mayoral candidate, said layoffs "equate to reduction in services."
Villaraigosa, himself a former union organizer, said reducing employee costs is essential to closing a $238-million shortfall and further securing the city's long-term financial stability. He said the city's budget shortfall would have reached $1 billion next year had the city failed to reduce expenses over the last three years, including the slashing of 3,743 employees from the payroll through layoffs, transfers and early retirement.
"We defied those dire predictions," he said.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said a budget proposal this year calling for ongoing furloughs in the city attorney's office could have been avoided if the union representing workers there had agreed to give up a scheduled 6.75% raise. The furloughs will save the city more than $9 million, he said.
But Chief Deputy City Atty. Bill Carter said that the furloughs are disruptive and dangerous for a department that plays a key role in public safety. "The courts are full time, the police are full time, the defense attorneys are full time," Carter said. "So it's very difficult to have part-time prosecutors."
The mayor's budget isn't all reductions. It expands library hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and adds funding for 50,000 pothole repairs.
And in a reversal from previous years, it calls for the addition of six new ambulances at the Fire Department during peak call-load hours, as well as a new fire engine in the San Fernando Valley. It also calls for hiring a new class of firefighters in the fall of 2013.
Since 2009, the mayor and the council have cut more than 15% from the Fire Department's budget, resulting in a hiring freeze and a reduction in firetrucks and ambulances at more than a fifth of the city's 106 stations. In a presentation to the Fire Commission in December, department officials acknowledged that emergency response times had worsened in some parts of the city as a result of the cutbacks.
The president of the firefighters union, who has clashed with Villaraigosa over the cuts, said six ambulances wouldn't be enough. "It's the equivalent of putting a tiny Band-Aid on a squirting arterial bleed," said Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City.