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Panel of L.A. insiders will address budget gap and unemployment

The 12-member L.A. 2020 commission will submit proposals later this year to the new mayor and seven new council members. Meetings will be confidential.

March 28, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • City Council President Herb Wesson has promised that the panel would remain "non-political."
City Council President Herb Wesson has promised that the panel would remain… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

A panel made up mostly of Los Angeles political insiders will spend the next six to eight months developing strategies for addressing two problems that have bedeviled City Hall — how to eliminate a persistent budget gap and create more jobs after a deep economic downturn.

City Council President Herb Wesson, appearing with lawyer and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, said Thursday that the 12-member L.A. 2020 commission will submit proposals later this year to a new mayor and seven new council members.

The panel, which includes business leaders and top officials from city employee unions, will speak with workers, elected officials and others during three months of confidential, closed-door meetings.

"I want people to be candid," said Kantor, sitting with his fellow panelists in the downtown offices of his law firm, Mayer Brown. "It will be easier if these [meetings] are private."

Both Wesson and Kantor promised that the panel would remain "non-political." But Kantor, whose law firm was registered to lobby on behalf of a dozen clients at City Hall last year, acknowledged that a handful of panelists have business before the city.

One of those is Brian D'Arcy, the top official at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents Department of Water and Power employees. Another is Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file police officers at the LAPD.

Both employee groups are scheduled to negotiate new salary and benefits agreements with the next mayor. Together, the two unions have spent more than $1 million to support City Controller Wendy Greuel's mayoral bid.

Wesson promised that the 2020 commission would stay far from the mayor's race. "I don't care if the [police union] gave $10 million and D'Arcy $5 million," Wesson said. The panel "has nothing to do with politics."

The city's top budget official has projected a shortfall of at least $150 million for the coming fiscal year. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has suggested, however, that higher revenue could keep it below $100 million.

Attorney David Fleming, one of the panel's more fiscally conservative members, said union leaders need to be part of the commission as it tackles pensions and employee costs. "If we come up with something and the key players aren't involved and they don't sign on, nothing's going to get accomplished," he said.

Also on the commission is Thomas Sayles, senior vice president at USC, which recently won city approval of a $1.1-billion campus development plan. Kantor represents Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which is looking to win council approval of a $500-million rail yard that would cover 153 acres at the Port of Los Angeles.

Wesson and Kantor said such relationships would have no effect on the panel's work. That did not reassure neighborhood activist Jack Humphreville, who showed up at Thursday's news conference to complain that the panel is composed of the "downtown crowd," and lacks representation from neighborhood councils and homeowner groups.

"From my perspective, you have a long way to go to convince me that you guys are legitimate," he told the panel.

Kantor said those groups are free to offer their thoughts to the commission. And he noted that the Christopher Commission, which examined police reform after the 1991 Rodney King beating, also had months of confidential meetings.

Former Gov. Gray Davis, now an attorney with Loeb & Loeb and a panel member, said the 2020 group will have the freedom to offer ideas that "maybe the council and the mayor don't want to take authorship of."

"We can be the bad guys," he said.

The panel's makeup also troubled USC professor Andrea Hricko, who has publicly voiced concerns about health effects of the railway project backed by Kantor's client. Without a counterbalance to business and organized labor, there may be no one on the commission to raise questions about proposals to expand polluting industries, she said.

Other members include former Villaraigosa job czar Austin Beutner; Maria Contreras-Sweet, founding chairwoman of Proamerica Bank; Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause; Antonia Hernandez, head of the California Community Foundation; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, a probable candidate for county supervisor; Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

George Pla, president of the engineering firm Cordoba Corp, will serve as an alternate on the panel.

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