Sunday, December 21, 2008

The City "asks" for your advice- Really?

Today's Sunday L.A. Times story starts off like something clever, "Go ahead: Try to run L.A. better; A city questionnaire let residents weigh in on how to allocate fund, given a budget gap of $433 million," by Marve Reston. I know that the writer does not control the headlines used, but this sounds like an outright challenge to the residents to come up with a way to do a better job than the City Council and the Mayor.,0,1574151.story

It would be a nice thought to believe that our city's managers are thinking about the wishes of the common folks in how the city operates, but in my opinion, it's a rare occasion that such a thought crosses their mind. Actually, I don't think they intend that this really is to “manage” the city, but really functions to see what numbers of people will be bothered by what the Council and Mayor will be doing anyway.

The idea that we are getting a chance to tell them anything is totally fallacious- phony, bogus, completely untrue. First, the mess they are in is really pretty much beyond our limited input to change at this stage of the game. Now if they had told us they really were looking for ideas maybe, say, earlier when they were SPENDING the money, it might be believable. Well, now that they are finding that their budget was blown, and all was "overspent,” it’s something of a waste of time. But we don't get "invited" for a real participation since we don't have a real idea of where the spending choices came from to make our tax dollars disappear because they hide information from the public and they don’t want anyone in their way.

It's really just another illusion of “participation” that is supposed to make you feel like you have a responsive government. The city survey is posted on the city home page, according to the story. I think I saw it while I was going through the website in several different and unsuccessful efforts at finding the Council Meeting Agendas “posted within the 72 hours before the meeting” that Council President Eric Garcetti says are there. If the surveys were really something that we were SUPPOSED to know about in the first place, you would have the council phones and all the websites and newsletter of these council members telling you that it's there. How many of you knew they were looking for your opinion? Maybe I am too critical.

They ask you about what should be cut. Where was that question when it was time to ask what money should be SPENT? Here’s a little taste of how freewheeling the council is. There is an event fee waiver category that allows city services to be done for free to the event organizers. That is, without having the costs collected or charged to them, as with expenses when there is a parade or festival or something that calls for more police and other services.

Some events that are for all the public and free are good reasons, but there used to be things like $7,000 here for the Dodgers playoff traffic control costs a few years ago and other money-makers getting a free ride, too. The continual complaints by the people that go to City Hall and bring it up every time seems to be getting them to cut down on the generosity, since we ARE in a budget crisis after all.

We really should have been consulted before the choices were made to dive head first into more debt. The Mayor tries to sidestep this problem and act like it was a surprise, but he was playing fast and loose with the budget money years ago and allowing some generous pay raises to happen in DWP contract negotiations. A consequence of those big raises was to make other departments expect the same big raises. They were not happy when that didn’t happen, creating a hostile frame of mind at contract time, with some work stoppages having occurred to show their displeasure.

No, we don't get to be part of the spending spree, but this slimy way that they want to say, "See, it's not so easy to run a city," doesn't fly with me. Asking if we should spend more on police and fire protection is kind of a loaded question- we need that, but with all the development and "smart growth" that they try to press on with, it just makes the need more urgent when more people are put into the same space. The Council and Mayor cannot be so stupid as to NOT see this, OR, maybe they are. (The mayor already announced he’s not cutting back on his spare-no-expense crusade to achieve his 10,000-police officer level for the LAPD. He’s ego and campaign involved here, but that, too, will be another story.)

In an odd way, their actions may show some logic in the way they happen to work out. By continuing the over-development of the city- besides getting money flowing to their special interest-campaign fund contributor-developer friends for construction and sales to generate profits- more development will mean there will ALWAYS be a need for MORE police officers and fire fighters. How about SLOWING DOWN on this trend to lighten up on the demand for services? Sorry, the Council and Mayor are way too far into development and “DENSIFICATION,” or packing more people into the same space that had LESS people before, for them to back up now and disappoint the special interests or admit they actually goofed it all up.

The other purpose that I think is too attractive for them to resist is the money they see coming in when development happens. They see that more people and business will make more numbers in the taxing operations of the city so that it's "making money" for the city. They ignore the fact that it also makes more traffic and parking problems, more crime, more pollution and more demand for good streets, water supply, police and fire protection services and just about anything else needed by people. In the end, I would say that the city comes out short.

I liken the Council's method to how a thief will sell the stolen goods, like a watch or electronic device, for just a small fraction of the price that the victim actually paid for it. The thief thinks it's a fine profit since he started out with a zero cash figure and now has some money. The victim who paid a full price loses out completely since ALL the value is gone by reason of the theft; the victim might even have been financially better off if he could have been able to buy the stolen goods back for whatever bargain price it was sold for.

So the city, by collecting taxes from the larger group of taxpayers, is doing the "selling" like the thief (and I don't think the labels are completely separated) and it's all profit to it. The residents who were here before now have to "share" an already insufficient amount of services and infrastructure with the addition that development brought in.

The city doesn't really care. Look at the giveaway of sign rights that happened a few weeks back when the council approved a deal that lets a developer have rights for Convention Center electronic billboards to be erected. The council gave this right away for peanuts when the advertising will bring in millions of dollars to the advertising company.

Furthermore, the electronic billboards are more accurately called a "blight" on the environment. Let’s see, first you had a clear view of things and now you have a big electronic billboard cluttering up the view and shining on with its messages all the time. And consider this: Is there a traffic hazard involved here? The council doesn't think so, or, at least not compared to the money that they will get- and as I mentioned earlier, ANY money is worth a lot to them, even if they ripped themselves off by the giveaway price collected. You can compare your own experience when passing the big billboard by the Harbor Freeway between Staples Center and USC, or the billboards on the Citadel property by the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) in Commerce. Can you keep from looking at them?

I will continue with this in the next installment- and there’s a lot to question when it comes to our shifty city hall occupants.