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
Villaraigosa Trip — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to make a whirlwind trip to San Antonio today for a re-election fund-raiser, then return to Los Angeles tonight.
Villaraigosa is scheduled to attend a morning news conference on improving South Los Angeles, then fly to San Antonio in his second out-of-state trip in two weeks. Villaraigosa was in Palm Beach, Fla., last week to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2008 fall leadership meeting.
The $100 to $1,000 per person fund-raiser is hosted by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and AT&T executive John T. Montford, a former Texas state senator.
That news was preceded a week earlier by a Los Angeles Daily News report about City Hall’s fire sale of public land, which began with the words, “If you’re in the market for some good deals on fire stations, animal shelters and vacant land, the city of Los Angeles would like to talk.”
The San Fernando Valley–based daily called City Hall’s move, in a devastated real estate market with still-collapsing land values, “a key feature of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid to balance the city’s $7.1 billion budget.” But now, the $14 million to $22 million Villaraigosa expects to raise — if the surplus land is sold before values tank further — looks like a drop in the bucket.
On Saturday, Villaraigosa showed up in a pink shirt, sans necktie, for a carefully choreographed event in the ornate City Council chambers. The “Budget Day” meeting of the Neighborhood Council movement took on a propagandist feel, as a security guard in the outer hallway barked at two other guards: “Get as many people in there as possible. The mayor is not going to enter until there’s a large crowd. Hurry up!”
After Villaraigosa entered, he boasted to the roughly 300 neighborhood activists that he’d spent 22 hours at the Metrolink crash site and had filled many potholes citywide. Then he got to his real news: that earlier estimates of a $297 million city deficit may be far too low. “I frankly think the number could be as high as $400 [million],” Villaraigosa said. “To weather this storm, we’re going to have to change course.”
The erratic route he’s taken so far could not be more starkly different than the fiscal caution exercized by the Board of Supervisors. At the county board, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says, “We have already decided to defer all new ongoing programs not mandated by the courts or involving public safety. The City of Los Angeles can do these things too. But to do that you have to be able to say no — no to yourself.” Joel Bellman, spokesman for Yaroslavsky, says county government learned a terrible lesson in 1994 and 1995, when it faced fiscal collapse from the skyrocketing costs of providing free health care for poor people, a key county duty. A Clinton administration bailout of $1.3 billion averted a disaster some experts thought might eclipse the Orange County bankruptcy fiasco of the same year, brought on by bad investments made by infamously risk-taking Orange County tax assessor Robert Citron.
Comparing Los Angeles County government to the Villaraigosa administration, Bellman said, “I know this sounds self-serving, but we are just better off despite [suffering] the same economic times.”
He adds, “We have avoided massive new expansion of programs and massive new building campaigns, and the county payroll has grown very, very modestly over 10 years, from about 90,000 to 100,000. We have been very, very cautious: If you look at the raises the county unions have gotten and what the city unions have gotten, it is apples and oranges. The city has been far more generous. We have been planning for uncertainties.”
Jill Stewart contributed to this article.