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
Abel wrote in an e-mail to L.A. Weekly: "L.A. city voters and those dependent on city services, disgusted by the mayor and DWP's 'bush league' threats, the electricity rate surcharge's lack of substance and transparency, and the theatrical dueling with City Council this past week, are understandably upset with talk of 'imminent bankruptcy' and the reality of ballooning deficits next year."
Abel continues, "Needed immediately to restore public trust — a fiscal truth-teller. Laura Chick, where are you?"
Following is a time line of the past month of events in L.A.'s fiscal crisis:
• In early March, Villaraigosa set off an intense debate by pushing for a surprisingly steep DWP hike of up to 28 percent, citing the pricey future cost of his as-yet-unformed plan to invest in some type of renewable energy.
• The mayor persuaded his political appointees on the DWP Board of Commissioners to approve the hikes.
• As public outcry grew, Villaraigosa shifted his emphasis from green energy to warn instead that unless the City Council backed his DWP hikes, the city could face bankruptcy.
• Furious at being whipsawed, the City Council exercised its considerable powers, ordering that the DWP rate-hike plan come before it for a formal vote.
• On March 23, Villaraigosa turned up the political pressure on the council, persuading former vice president Gore to appear via satellite to urge L.A. residents to embrace a special DWP surcharge — a move that backfired politically.
• With DWP General Manager David Freeman away on what appeared, at first, to be merely an ill-timed vacation, his underling Raman Raj claimed that the DWP was in poor fiscal shape and would not send the long-promised $73.5 million to the city treasury — unless the City Council approved the rate hike.
• On March 26, Miguel Santana, the city's recently hired top fiscal officer, upon whom Villaraigosa had heavily relied for cogent budget advice, left to enter an alcohol-rehab program after getting arrested for a DUI — while driving a city car.
• On March 30, in a tight vote, the City Council ignored the growing community fury and approved an immediate rate hike of 4.5 percent for residents and 5 percent to 6 percent for most businesses, laying the groundwork for three much higher utility hikes planned by Villaraigosa later.
• In a late-night pissing match on March 31, Villaraigosa's appointees on the DWP board unanimously rejected the City Council hike as insufficient, backing a slightly bigger, 5.7 percent increase. In a game of brinkmanship so strange that TV news reporters actually showed up for a utility debate, the council vetoed the DWP's slightly higher increase. At midnight, the city missed its April 1 legal deadline to enact a springtime rate increase, thus losing millions of dollars.
• On April 5, City Controller Greuel, previously criticized for getting $250,000 in campaign help from the DWP union, run by labor boss D'Arcy, made national headlines by announcing — and days later retracting — that L.A. would go broke May 5.
• On April 6, the mayor made national headlines by ordering city officials to devise a plan for shuttering city government two days a week.
• Widely slammed for that, Villaraigosa two days later announced a "surprise" turnabout: The city had taken in an unexpected $30 million in extra property- and other taxes, making a shutdown of government unnecessary.
• Greuel announced that she, too, had a new plan: auditing the DWP's books, something she has promised since 2009.
The amateur-hour feel to the past month has fueled extensive rumors and anger, and not just among the public.
Parks says it is fairly "widely assumed" among leaders inside City Hall that outgoing DWP chief Freeman, repeatedly criticized for misreading the public mood on costly green initiatives such as last year's failed solar initiative, Measure B, was told by Villaraigosa's team to overstay his vacation so the mayor's advisers could use their greater political savvy to push through the DWP rate hikes.
If that was the plan, it failed, with both Parks and Zine suggesting that Villaraigosa's handpicked advisers Beutner, Carr, Carson and Szabo share very little municipal policy expertise between them. Budget expert Jan Perry, one of few council members who stands up to Villaraigosa, has also been openly unimpressed by Szabo and others on the mayor's team, who are essentially political spokesmen.
"When the mayor said he wanted to implement a city shutdown on April 12, and he set that as the effective date, he hadn't spoken to any of us," says Zine, who put aside time between a funeral and a workshop he hosts on coping with foreclosure to explain these antics.
"The mayor created a belief, a strong belief, that the right hand and left hand do not know what they are doing. That's not how the second largest city in the nation should be run."
Carr is a local minister whom Villaraigosa hired to run his still-unproven $20 million–a-year "antigang" program. Carr quickly won a promotion to become the mayor's chief of staff, "something he knows nothing about," Zine says. Yet Carr must now somehow wrangle powerful city department heads to move in the same direction.
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