Mayor Eric Garcetti got up before the cameras on Tuesday and made a big announcement. Thanks to a $1 million donation from Disney, the city will be able to meet its goal of employing 10,000 young people over the summer.
But when asked for a breakdown of the fundraising, the mayor's office clammed up. As it turns out, the big announcement was premature. The mayor has not yet raised enough money to fund the program.
“I think it's a goal,” said Angela Estell, a spokeswoman in the city's Economic Development Department. “The mayor has set that goal. Did somebody say we had already gotten there?”
Actually, not quite. Look carefully at the mayor's remarks, and it turns out he didn't quite say that the fundraising target had already been reached.
“Today I'm proud to announce that we will reach that goal this summer,” Garcetti told an audience in Watts, flanked by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Disney CEO Robert Iger.
A press release from the mayor's office used the same language: “Mayor Eric Garcetti today said that he will achieve his goal of doubling the city's summer youth job program to serve 10,000 young people.”
The key word in both statements is “will.” In other words, it hasn't happened yet, but Garcetti hopes it will. News coverage of the event generally did not grasp that nuance, and made it appear that the funding has already been secured.
Asked after the press conference for a breakdown of the fundraising, the mayor's office was unable to come up with one.
“As budgets are finalized and voted on, and as we work out our rollouts with our partners, I can't share with you an exact breakdown right now,” said spokeswoman Marie Lloyd. “When all is set, will be happy to share that.”
The mayor's office has not laid out a budget for the program. The office has used a cost estimate of $2,000 per job, which would put the total cost at $20 million. Disney's donation would cover 5 percent of that. Another $6.5 million is expected to come from the County of Los Angeles. As for the rest, either it hasn't been raised, or it has and the mayor's office won't acknowledge it.
After a more than a day of questions on this issue, mayor's spokesman Jeff Millman offered this explanation: “We aren't releasing individual numbers at this point but we've made very good progress towards the goal and we're very confident that we'll have capacity for 10,000 young Angelenos when the program starts this summer.”
Garcetti promised during the campaign to provide a summer job to every young person in a disadvantaged area who wanted one. Last year, the program served about 5,500 young people. Another 5,000 were turned away.
In previous years, the program has been significantly larger. When federal stimulus money was available, it swelled to as many as 15,000 jobs, according to EDD figures.
So if the money hasn't been raised, why would Garcetti schedule a press conference to announce – or at least strongly suggest – that it had?
Millman said the goal of the press conference was to encourage young people to apply and to get businesses to donate job placements.
It probably also didn't hurt that Jarrett happened to be in town, and was willing to attend (even though the federal government is not involved in the program), underlining Garcetti's connections to the Obama administration.