By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This is a partial transcript of Mayor James Hahn’s interview with the L.A. Weekly’s editorial board. As with all of the candidate interviews, it has been only lightly edited and has not been fact-checked.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Obviously I was disappointed that the budget mess in Sacramento impacted on my ability to put more police officers on the street. Certainly it was my goal to put more officers on the street, but as you know that whole debacle with the DMV license fee which hardly anybody knew was local government revenues that were being talked about. You know, they robbed us of 67 million dollars in the first budget year. Additional property tax transfers from the state of California has taken another 50 million dollars each year. 50 million dollars would have paid for 500 cops. The difficulty of Los Angeles over the years has been we’re not in control of our own destiny because of state law. An Interesting feature of Prop 13, as a matter of fact. It allowed state to reallocate property taxes to schools away from cities and county. At that further rate by working with Governor Schwarzenegger of Proposition 1A, they say that local taxes ought to stay with local jurisdiction. They need to balance their budget by doing what they need to do. If they need to raise taxes, that’s what they should do. If they need to cut programs, that’s what they need to do. But in the city of L.A., mayors, I mean, Los Angeles and cities around the state have to balance their budget every year without taking it from somebody else…from some other jurisdiction. So, I was able to reverse the slide that happened before I was mayor, over 800 officer shrinkage in the four years before I was mayor. There are a number of reasons for that. I thought we needed to change some things, and as a result, we were able to add about 289 officers within the first year I was there. We added officers from the big MTA contract.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well, we can’t, really. Our general fund budget, money that we can move around, our discretion budget is a little over three and a half billion dollars. And over 60 percent of that is going to firefighters now. If we really want to add more police officers, we need a new revenue source. I think when 54 percent of the voters say they want to do that we ought to listen to them. It was very close to the two-thirds majority, and it’s an overwhelming majority in any other situation.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well a half a cent really doesn’t. If you’re buying something that cost 20 bucks, what are you talking about with a half percent? A dime or something. So it’s not going to impact shoppers in the city dramatically. In fact, voters said they wanted to do that. Somebody who wants to pay more taxes so they can have more cops in their neighborhood will be glad to shop in their own neighborhood to make sure that the money’s there.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well, you know, there was a lot of noise in...
MAYORJAMESHAHN:…A lot of noise in the November election because you had a presidential…you had a lot of other things on the ballot. Even with the money that we spent on the campaign, I guess close to four million dollars, didn’t really penetrate. Also, I didn’t think there was a very good grass roots component to that campaign. You need to tell people in each community what that’s going to mean to them. There was very little of that. I think if you have the united City Council out there campaigning for this…remember before they lowered the school bond to 55 percent, I remember we couldn’t pass a school bond in this city for years. They worked real hard on one, and just missed. But they didn’t give up, they came back the very next election with Proposition 3B and it passed with over 70 percent. I think they realized they were so close the time before that the momentum was there to push it over. I think we could do that. At least we should try. Without a new revenue source, there’s just really no way to get that additional 200 million dollars to put into public safety. There just isn’t.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well, unfortunately because the fact that our tax base has been stolen, we might have to cut things. That’s been my experience, I’ve had to cut hundreds of positions in the budget that I’ve had so I could add positions to the police department, and add firefighters and add paramedics. We had to cut positions in other things. Positions mean services. So, at the same time we were trying to increase direct services to the public by increasing the numbers of miles that were being paid increasing support for after school programs, like L.A.’s Best. We put more money into the $100 million dollar housing trust fund by cobbling together various sources of funding in the city to do that. Obviously we’re taking that money from somewhere else to do that. But we thought we needed to build more housing in this city. I think you don’t want to go to the voters over and over again for revenue increases. But the lesson I learned from New York City was they had, I think, a $600 million dollar tax increase for public safety. That enabled New York City to add, I think, over six thousand more police officers to the NYPD. There was a broad coalition of people who said let’s do that. As a result, New York City has gone from one of the most unsafe cities in America, to the safest city in America. That investment was worth it. Tourists came flocking back, hotels got going, and jobs came back. A total renaissance. A tax increase preceded that.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:If you actually have ever learned anything you can understand what the issues are. I don’t like the fact that the city’s worker’s compensation costs keep going up, even though the number of claims is going down. But that’s because the folks up in Sacramento never really did anything about worker’s compensation before. I don’t like the fact that when we have to pay more money for our pension system because the advisors under the previous administration didn’t know when to get out of the stock market. So you have to make up for those losses. That is part of public safety, though. There’s the police and the fire department. We have a contract with them that says that they’re entitled to certain pension benefits that have been passed by the voters. We have to fund that. If my opponents would actually take the time to study the city budget, they’d understand, that there are these kinds of costs increases. We have to buy gasoline just like everybody else does. Our gasoline costs, obviously for everybody, went up tremendously in the past year or so. Imagine buying gasoline for the entire city police, what that does to your cost. He keeps using the five billion plus figure, a lot of those are grants that we get that we don’t have the discussion??? to move around. Direct patch-throughs from the federal government to us. Like I said there’s about three and a half billion dollars we can move around. We’re like most cities. Close to two thirds of that budget is spent on the police department, the fire department, and their pensions systems. City prosecutors, personnel department who helps hire police officers and firefighters. Public safety is our priority. It’s always going to be our priority. We have the 75 million dollar library department. I’m proud that the voters voted to build more libraries in this city, and we’ve done a great job of building those libraries. I’ve opened 25 of them since I’ve been mayor. But the voters only pay a bond issue for the bricks and mortar. They don’t pay for the books, they don’t pay for the desks, and they don’t pay for the personnel, the additional staffing, as we’ve expanded every one of these libraries across the city. You’ve got to find that somewhere in the general fund to pay for that. If the voters have the confidence to say we want to pay more property taxes to build more libraries, you know, darn it, we’ve got the obligation to staff them and stock them, and make them the best libraries that we can. We’ve increased funding for the library department since I’ve been mayor because of that faith that the voters had in us. I’ve increased funding for the police department. I was disappointed two years ago when I proposed an increase in a rubbish fee. The previous mayors had never wanted to increase any fees or any taxes. I actually proposed increase in the rubbish fee to pay for 320 police officers. We don’t believe you do that with one term funding. City Council said thank you very much, Mayor, for this great idea of increasing the rubbish fee but we’re not going to have the police officers.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:We have on a whole number of issues. This one we didn’t reach agreement on…funding more police officers. But we have put together a 100 million dollar housing trust fund, we have done business tax reform. We have eliminated business taxes for 50 percent of the businesses in the city, the small businesses that’ve grossed less than a hundred thousand dollars a year. We’ve invigorated the Neighborhood Council Movement; we’ve got 85 of those neighborhood councils done. The City Council works with them and gives 50 thousand dollars to each one of those. We have a very good relationship on a whole number of issues. This one, we didn’t end up agreeing on.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:The one thing that’s probably cost me most politically was changing the direction of LAPD.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well I think that both those decisions ended up costing me politically, but I think they were the right things to do. The difference is, in terms of the quality of life for the people who live in the areas of the city that are most plagued by crime, I think that making a police department that is actually making a difference in their lives is more important. The fundamental basis of if is why it has to be safety. Making those communities safer makes a huge difference. Last year, for instance, with part one crimes down, that meant there were 6,500 fewer victims of serious crimes in the city of Los Angeles than the year before. That makes a huge difference. I also think it would have been a mistake to break up this great city of Los Angeles, that’s why I fought to keep the city together.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Obviously everybody knows I said I’d love Los Angeles to be known as America’s safest big city, and we’re not there yet. If our homicide rate is twice that of New York City’s we’ve got some work to do. But I think we can get there. I think a whole bunch of things spoke from that, and I think that’s how you get jobs and investment to come to communities to where they’re afraid to come now is to improve the quality of life by making it safer. I announced the idea of a 500 million dollar housing bond. I’m going to try to build support from the business community, community activists and housing community. Over the next year they’re talking about doing a housing bond in the city of Los Angeles. Proposition 46 funds are probably going to run out in the next couple of years. We need to talk about how we house people in this city. The supply and demand is very critical right now. The demand is huge. Supply is very hard to come by. Housing prices have gone up almost 25 percent in this city. You almost need to make 30 bucks an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in this city. Clearly we need to build more housing. I’d like to be able to say we did that. And that we did what we needed to do to have the city work for future generations by cleaning it up. That’s why I told DWP to stop investing in coal. We don’t need a new coal plant in Utah; we can spend that money on clean energy. Look at conservation as an opportunity to build a virtual power plant by decreasing the need for energy.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I don’t think so. I think the position had never really existed before. It wasn’t overseeing departments at all… was a liaison between the mayor’s office and these departments to help me push my agenda. I wanted to push clean energy at DWP. I wanted to push cleaning up the Port of Los Angeles. I wanted to make LAX a safer airport. It’s important for the mayor’s office to have a liaison with those departments to do that. There was no oversight responsibility it was the opportunity for us to be able to push our agenda to these lead departments in directions that we wanted to go. And with somebody who’d worked very close with me on a daily basis who I had confidence in. Obviously somebody I could say ‘make sure they get this done.’ Let’s get the alternative green power program going at the Port of Los Angeles. Let’s get this airport plan moving. It stalled for 10 years. Let’s move DWP towards more clean energy and away from coal. And certainly I had the confidence I had somebody who was going to see that those things were done.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Oh, absolutely. I mean the people that are charged in that department were the wards who oversee those departments and the general managers who run those departments.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well they’re shocking, but they’re down from where they used to be. They’re down 20 percent from where they were two years ago. The key is to identify locations. I developed this whole idea when I was city attorney of trying to fix a location. You’d like to work with the building owner and the building manager to say get the bad people out of your building so that the nice people can have peace and quiet. If they won’t do that, sometimes you have to take extremely drastic action. I never had to do what city Delgadillo did in terms of that. We were usually able to move people and evict the bad tenants. I did have to evacuate buildings, though, sometimes when they were so unfit for human habitation. I remember the Olympia Hotel downtown and places like that. That were just rat infested…exposed electrical wiring. It was unsafe for people to live there. I think the city attorney felt the same way here. It was unsafe for people to live here, just as if it was a health hazard. Economic development is key. We created 40 thousand new jobs here in Los Angeles over the four years I’ve been mayor. That’s pulling out of a recession; it’s going to help...
MAYORJAMESHAHN:It’s been all over the city. I’d like to see it more in areas of high unemployment like South L.A. That’s where, I think, a real opportunity exists for this whole new modernization and safety plan at LAX. Part of our community agreement, which is over 500 million dollars for soundproofing the schools in Lennox and Inglewood, …environmental studies. But also part of it is going to be a jobs program that looks to hire people from areas who’ve been impacted by the airport over the years. And just like the PD jobs project...
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I don’t know the exact number. We can get you that. The idea is that we’re going to create 49 thousand construction jobs over the lifetime of that project at LAX. And I want to see jobs offered. I mention the PD jobs programs because that was something I worked on when I was city attorney. That was a whole controversy; we had a lot of interest and opposition. Part of the concessions that the city wanted for that development was we want a jobs program that’s going to hire people who otherwise wouldn’t have been hired. And it’s been very successful.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:That’s not what we ended up negotiating.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I don’t know all the details of that, but obviously, I believe the city attorney is going to work to get relocation systems for people to move to other places. The difficulty will be a lot of them will say ‘well the rent was so cheap here because the place was so bad, we’ll not be able to find, find rent’...The question has been ‘do you let somebody live in a place where kids are going to be shot at all the time?’
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Occasionally we have. Some of those are controversial. When the police have gone in and arrested people who have outstanding warrants, and people who are causing problems. People, wherever they live, whether it’s in the projects or somewhere else ought to be able to enjoy some peace and quiet. I was disappointed that the Bush administration ended the Hope Fix program. Because if you look what’s happened with Aliso Village or Vermont Terrace Housing Projects, you can change the character of the entire community by these projects. Where half of them become home ownership opportunities. There’s very little difference between the amount of money they’re paying in rent, and the ability to actually own something. I think that’s what we’d like to do with every housing project. I’m interested in seeing how we can develop a program to replace what Hope Six was, but figure out some other way. I hope this can be part of the discussion when we’re talking about this 500 million dollar housing bond as well. Have the Housing Authority engaged and see how we revamp these housing projects that were built in World War II to make them communities that really are friendly to the families who are living there. You can see what we’ve done in these other locations and the difference in the communities. I think that’s what we need to do. We need to build more new housing in the city. I think that’s part of the whole agenda. That’s why we’ve doubled the pace of housing in this city. When I came in as mayor I think we were building five thousand units a year. We’ve got 12 thousand units permitted this year.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well I’d have to see what they would send me to look at. I’ll tell you why I’m not enthusiastic about it. We’ve built over 20 thousand housing units since I’ve been mayor, and 30 percent of those have been in 80 percent of medium and below. Of that 30 percent, close to 80 percent of that 30 percent is below 60 percent. I’m kind of the mind if it ain’t broke, what are we trying to fix? No inclusionary zoning policy that I’ve seen goes anywhere near 30 percent affordable. I’d like to stay on track with what’s working right now. We’ve cut red tape. We’ve got a housing trust fund. They’re able to leverage more funds. We’ve gotten developers enthusiastic about building housing. We’re doing it. Obviously I wouldn’t want to slow down.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Nobody knows that though, except for you.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:That’s probably why.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well, obviously, I didn’t get it last time, and I didn’t have the support of organized labor last time. And here I am…because democrats voted for me last time as well as republicans and independents. There were pockets of support for all the candidates. We vigorously contested for that and worked very hard on that. Nobody got to 60 percent.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:It may not matter as much because I was reading in the paper today that I was a little surprised last time of what that county committee endorsement was worth. Before last time I ran, it was a nice line on your endorsement list, and you got some volunteers, and it was great to have this enthusiastic support of your county democrats. But that’s about as far as it went. What happened last time was because of Prop? 34 or one of those state propositions...
MAYORJAMESHAHN:That meant that the state party could get involved so the contribution limits were meaningless in the mayor’s race, and people were able to give a hundred thousand dollars to the party, and it went directly into my opponents campaign for mayor. It was worth a lot then. Clearly that put me at a disadvantage last time with the County Federation? of Labor? and the Democratic Party??. They were spending enormous sums on behalf of my opponent. But you know what I tried to say was, you know, just because the County Central Committee? wasn’t with me didn’t mean that I was abandoning the principals that I think that they believe in. I wanted to build more housing. I want to get more kids in after school programs. We want to fight for better wages and better benefits for people who live in this city. I believe in a bottom up economy, not a top down economy. That’s why I got the support of organized labor. They saw me out there marching with the pickets with UFCW workers at grocery stores. They saw me campaign on behalf of security guards. They saw me out there with the long shore workers.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well good question, we had an ordinance passed in the city that people described as an anti-Wal-Mart? ordinance here, but it actually doesn’t mention Wal-Mart. It just talks about big block stores that come into the city have to basically do kind of a community impact statement. What’s going to be the impact of this store coming in the community? What’s going to be the impact on other businesses? What’s going to be the impact on jobs? If a store can go through that impact analysis, whether it be a Wal-Mart? or anyone else then they can locate in the city. So we aren’t banning Wal-Mart’s? in the city of Los Angeles?. What we are saying is that if a big company wants to drop a big box store in a neighborhood, we’re going to assess all the impacts of that decision, and decide whether or not that’s in the best interest of that community, or whether or not those impacts can be mitigated sufficiently to allow the store to go forward. If a Wal-Mart? or any other company for that matter would come into the city of Los Angeles?, and understand that they can’t come in and depress wages in that community, that they can’t have negative environmental impacts with traffic and congestion, that they’re not going to do things that are going to basically leave us with a deterioration in that community, then they’re free to come here.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Well again, one of the things I thought was important was to eliminate business taxes for our small businesses. So we’ve done that. And that’s 60 percent of our business license holders who are now paying no business tax. I just formed a small and local business advisory commission patterned after other such small business commissions we’ve seen around the country, to see what other hurdles are here. We think that the airport presents an opportunity for some small business also to participate as vendors. If that project gets its final approval from FAA. I also saw a problem with small businesses that didn’t like to do business with the city because it took too long for them to get paid. I worked on a project to make sure our small vendors got paid properly. That was very discouraging to other small businesses doing business with the city. Other things that are discouraging are too high of a bonding requirement. Like you pointed out, trying to bundle these things into huge contracts.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:That was pushed by the previous mayor and Joel Wachs. I’d like to take an analysis of it now and really take a look and see if we actually are saving the money that we thought we were going to save. Sometimes you get locked into some of these contracts. I remember the city a long time ago had a contract with personal computers. They wanted to buy personal computers from one place…for every department in the city. The problem with that was that we were paying far more for buying a hundred computers than it would cost you to buy them if you just walked down the street and bought them at Fry?’s by yourself. We have to look to see if these contracts really are cost effective. But that’s what our job is, to make sure we’re delivering value for the money for our taxpayers.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I think if you look at big city mayors in America?, New York? City and Chicago?, the mayor is the one who’s in charge and accountable for the school district. A lot of people in the city think the mayor is already. That isn’t the government structure that we have. There have been a lot of things on my plate when I came in as mayor. I said ‘what impact can I make on the school district that’s positive?’ And so I was a big fan of the L.A.’s Best Program?? that Tom Bradley? started??. I think that after school programs are great. I decided I’d concentrate my efforts there and try to raise more money. I think we’ve added over 40 schools to L.A.’s Best since I’ve been mayor. I think there were less than 80 when I became mayor. I also thought that we actually had a situation involved where the CRA was going to have a legal battle with the school district over a school site out in the valley. I said well this is not good. The taxpayers paying for two agencies to sue each other. We also had the Housing Department?? interested in a piece of property for housing that the school district was interested in for a school in central Los Angeles?. They talked about going to battle. We worked out a memorandum of understanding, a written agreement with the school district that said we’re going to be partners in finding new schools and school development and we’re going to figure out ways that we can help each other rather than get in the way of each other. We actually helped somebody in my office who is working with the school district and identifying sites. I know the school district is in a hurry to build more schools and I appreciate that, after not building them for 30 years. But we’d like to have input in saying, ‘well maybe you don’t need to take so many houses.’ I saw Riordan spent a lot of time and energy raising money to elect new members to the school board. I think one of those still remains on the school board, if I’m correct.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I think it would. People are always looking for that one person they can hold accountable for things. I’d like to figure out how i can help the school district. Right now with the present governed structure, …I think Roy Romer? has done a good job. I think the schools are getting better…test scores are improving. He’s the biggest developer in the city now? building more construction than anybody else. Brand? new schools are going up everywhere. I think the school district is doing a better job. I think that the difficulty for people is that they expect the mayor to be accountable for everything. I think that there’s no single institution that’s more important to the future of your city than the schools.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:I do tout the city a lot. We have built a lot of energy around the idea of making this a safer city. And that’s what we’ve got neighborhood councils energized about. And I think we have this vision of, this is what I don’t get when people say there’s no vision. That’s a huge vision to say I want to make this city the safest big city in America?. That’s as big as you can get. And we talked about a 100 million dollar housing trust fund, the largest of its kind in the country…that’s big vision…building housing for this city. We talked about revamping LAX after 40 years. A construction project that will have huge benefits for our region for years to come. I think substance is more important than style. I think results are more important than rhetoric. That may be a little different than some of the other politicians out there. I watched my dad for four years in office, and he was a great, gregarious, storytelling, and fun guy. And I’m not as engaging and as fun as Kenny? is, I know that.he was just great. But you know what, his campaign platform every year he ran was ‘Hahn??? gets things done.’ That’s what I got from him. At the end of the day you’ve got to point to stuff and say I did that. That made a difference. I love being city controller and city attorney, but when I came into the city attorney’s office I said “I got to Kenny? Hahn??-ize this office’. To be able to do things where I can see I’ve made a difference. I know that was controversial and your newspaper wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about it. But that’s what gang injunctions were about. Gangs? are a public nuisance just as much as a factory spewing out pollution in a neighborhood is. If you get rid of that public nuisance, you totally change the character of that neighborhood. Do you go after that apartment where all the drugs are being sold and fix that? You’re taking out that source of pollution that’s polluting that whole neighborhood. And then you can come back to that neighborhood and say I worked hard to make a difference, and I can see that it’s different now than when I started. And I think that’s the joy of politics for me. And I think that’s the joy for most politicians who want to be in government. I mean politics really is the art and science of government. You want to see that you’ve made a difference. You want to be able to see it with your eyes. And that’s when I go into Hollywood and MacArthur Park. I see that I’ve made a difference in those places. I spent a lot of time over the years going all over this city. I know what this city has been like. I know when it’s gotten worse and when it’s gotten better. Being able to see that and being able to see that you’ve made a difference from the hard work is what’s rewarding about this job. I want to get everybody else excited about that as well. See, this is what we can do together. This is how we made our neighborhood better, because everybody got involved. If I failed to communicate that excitement, I guess that’s my fault. I remember one time when a news reporter asked me at a press conference when I was complaining about the state government taking our money away. And she asked me a question, “Well, Mayor?, why are you having such a hard time getting this message across to people?” I said, ‘what about you? You’ve got to cover this issue. ‘You’ve got to tell people what’s going on. If you don’t tell them, if the news media doesn’t tell them, you know, me going around to a hundred community meetings is not going to get that same kind of impact that a newspaper gets, or a radio show gets, or a TV show gets. I think you can see the difference of what’s going on in Los Angeles?.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Oh, no. I got to go.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Yeah. Who are my opponents again?
MAYORJAMESHAHN:Yeah. I think the mathematics is pretty clear there. I would venture to think that it’s probably going to be a repeat of four years ago. But you never know if things will go on.
MAYORJAMESHAHN:All right. I think Senator Alarcon is a very thoughtful individual. Someone, I think has done very well in the debate. I think he is somebody I worked with on doing things like the gang injunction. He helped make that neighborhood safer. I’ve worked with Antonio? Villaraigosa before. When he came on the City Council???, I thought he would be very helpful at MTA with his background, having served there before. And, he’s somebody who’s had a long experience in government. The problem I see with Richard, Antonio? and Bob is they all come out of the Sacramento? mentality. They didn’t think there was anything wrong in transferring local taxes up to the state of California? to solve budget problems up there. I think that the difference between me and them is that I’ve spent my entire career here fighting for people in Los Angeles?. And they see things in Sacramento?. They’re all people who certainly demonstrated they’re capable of winning elections and, you know, they’re formidable opponents. Bernard Parks?? was elected overwhelmingly as a City Councilman?. I didn’t think he should continue as police chief. He’s a strong candidate, too. I think at the end of the day, I’m going to be able to talk about what I’ve done. They’re obviously going to say, I don’t think the mayor’s doing a good job, and elect me. I think that’s why their negative attacks are all about changing the subject. They don’t want me to talk about crime going down 18 percent. They don’t want me to talk about doubling the pace of housing. They don’t want me to be able to talk about increasing the number of after school programs by 50 percent. They don’t want me to talk about what we’ve been able to do in places like Hollywood, MacArthur Park and North Hollywood??. They want to change the subject because they want to have my job.