By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The fact that both the L.A. city and California state budgets are reeling out of control, with legislators turning the budget fight into a national embarrassment, can only provide momentum, some veteran strategists believe.
“Oh, absolutely,” says Kathay Feng, the L.A.-based executive director of California Common Cause, devoted to accountability in government. “Just as there was a tremendous backlash against the AIG [corporate officials] getting huge bonuses while collecting bailout money, there’s also a sentiment that our state and local elected officials should not be getting exorbitant salaries.”
Pressure on the Legislature to slash its salaries is escalating. UC Santa Cruz constitutional-law teacher Ryan Coonerty, in an L.A. Times op-ed, made a case for cutting in half the $140,000 legislators receive annually in salaries and per diem allowances, while doubling the number of legislators to cut down the size of existing, giant legislative fiefdoms.
The same arguments could be applied to L.A., where residents sick of the City Council’s chronic, often inexplicable citywide failures on congestion, billboards, pot dispensaries, overdevelopment and graffiti might as well be howling in Mirkwood forest.
Professional signature-collectors typically demand $2.50 or more per signature — but sometimes far less if a petition is an easy sell with voters, as would likely be the case here.
But, Gelfand says, “The difference is, we’re not trying to fool people into signing a Trojan Horse” that is purposely misleading, like Measure R, aggressively pushed in 2006 by City Council President Eric Garcetti, Villaraigosa and the League of Women Voters as “ethics reform,” when in fact it gave City Council members the right to an extra four years in office. “We’re not going to lie to the public,” Gelfand says.
Epperhart says the Weekly’s February exposé about council salaries and perks was followed in May by yet another boneheaded move by the City Council that acted as the tipping point. The well-to-do council voted to decimate the $50,000 office budgets for each of the Neighborhood Councils — a network staffed almost entirely by volunteers. The volunteers fought and won back most of their office budgets.
That’s when these neighborhood groups realized the royaltylike City Council members were trying to undercut their activism. The Neighborhood Councils now spearhead the campaign to cut the City Council salaries.
L.A. Citizens Compensation Committee co-chairman Michael Cohen is getting favorable early reactions. “I go to the dog park, and people say, ‘Where’s the petition? I’ll sign now.’ I went to the Neighborhood Council — the Reseda council — and they said, ‘Make sure you bring the petitions by. We’ll sign.’ They want it tomorrow.”
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