Villaraigosa Uses Budget Ax On Neighborhood Councils

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday announced he's folding the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Community Development Department into one entity in order to shave 27 positions from the ailing city budget.

Some activists, however, were up in arms, as Neighborhood Empowerment was created to support the city's more than 80 neighborhood councils that were entitled in 1999 to provide grassroots input on City Hall decisions. The baby councils woke up to the city's latest budget crisis much faster than the mayor and City Council, for example, holding an emergency meeting in early January. The council only last week voted to have the City Attorney return to it with language declaring the city is in a state of fiscal emergency. At least on the budget, the tail was wagging the dog.

So it's no surprise that some see an anti-neighborhood council conspiracy in Villaraigosa's move to trim its City Hall patron department. " ... The response of the Mayor and Council is to crush them," writes blogger and former Daily News editor Ron Kaye. " ... To take away the small amount of money doled out to them. To take away the small staff that supports them."

"What you are seeing in the LA bankruptcy melodrama is a calculated and deliberate effort of the Mayor and his colleagues on the City Council to silence the voice of the people," Kaye writes.

Villaraigosa spun the consolidation, however, as a move that will "serve to take the bureaucracy out of community empowerment." It's "an opportunity to create the volunteer opportunities that engage communities and foster participation in our neighborhoods," Villaraigosa states.

As part of the move, Bong-Hwan Kim loses his job as the head of Neighborhood Empowerment, and Community Development Department general manager Richard Benbow is the mayor's pick to lead the joint Department of Community Development and Neighborhood Empowerment.

The city is facing a $212 million deficit, with an additional $485 in red ink due in July. The mayor and the City Council have called for the layoffs of 4,000 employees, although few if any of those cuts have actually been made. Union contracts give workers guarantees that will be hard to break unilaterally.

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