With the March 3 primary election drawing near, The Times asked all candidates for Los Angeles mayor to respond to questions about key issues facing the nation's second-largest city. Here are the responses from candidate David "Zuma Dogg" Saltzburg:
1) What distinguishes you from the other candidates in the race?
First of all, I consider my extensive training of Dr. W. Edwards Deming's 14-point management philosophy the single most important qualification that distinguishes me from the other candidates.
I am a firm believer that until the city of Los Angeles embraces these 14 points (methods for management of quality and productivity) under the leadership of the mayor's office, the city will continue to trip all over itself and waste immeasurable amounts of money; just when we need to do more with less.
My interpretation of Deming's 14 points was praised by Deming himself and published internationally in Quality Digest. So the fact that I have an actual 14-point plan (method) in which to operate the mayor's office distinguishes me as a candidate. As opposed to just pointing out problems with no method to achieve the goal of improvement.
Secondly, I am the only candidate who actually attends almost all of the City Council meetings (including a six-month-plus stretch without missing a single meeting), reviews each agenda, item by item; then speaks out "on the record" before council on the shadiest items.
So I don't think there is any other candidate on the ballot, including the incumbent, who is as on top of what is going on in the city on a day-to-day operational basis than myself.
And while attending all of these council meetings and other community meetings, I have met thousands of people (who see me on TV) who grab my ear and tell me about what is most important to them in their community. What issue is the city plaguing them with. These are truly heartbreaking stories from the most diverse socioeconomic and demographic crowd on the planet. The truest melting pot in the world is L.A. City Council chambers on any given day.
So I have sure been "schooled" by nearly all factions of the community in nearly all pockets of the city, from Marina del Rey to El Sereno. I am just as recognized in Highland Park and Woodland Hills. I am certain there is no other candidate who has spent more time in the streets and meeting rooms throughout the city, being educated on the most important issues in the city.
But the most important and unintended quality that I have taken on while connecting with so many people across the city is the actual importance of "compassion" in making decisions as mayor. It's easy to take an idealist, "perfect world" stance on citywide issues as a candidate. But then you have to deal with a real situation, with real people, in real time. And I wouldn't be prepared to be mayor of this city without seeing and hearing things from other people's perspective.
Everything I have ever spoken on or written about has been brought to me by a member of the community either by e-mail, phone or in person. And it has only been through this process of meeting thousands of people over the past three years as I attend these meetings that I am now ready to represent the voice and spirit of the community.
And they don't teach you how to run the mayor's office in an Ivy League textbook. So luckily, I have studied Deming's management philosophy extensively and have attended hundreds of council meetings and spoken with thousands of people, so I probably know what is actually going on and what to do about it more than any other candidate.
2) Los Angeles likely will face a deficit of $400 million to $500 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, as well as steep shortfalls in the years that follow. If elected, how would you balance the city budget? Specifically, what programs or services would you cut, what taxes or fees would you increase, and what other measures would you take?
I don't want to think about increasing fees and taxes until the city of Los Angeles does much more on its part to reduce the bureaucracy and inefficiency that is wasting much too much of the money in the first place. So by making "waste reduction" the fundamental priority for all projects and services, as mayor, I will be immediately doing as much as possible, right off the bat, at the most basic, fundamental level to help address the deficit.
Because it becomes very expensive when you have to redo everything two or three times. For example, I have heard complaints from city workers of sidewalks being built, only to have to be torn apart immediately and rebuilt again because of some problem no one had the foresight to see in advance. The city has installed left-turn "auto-sensors" all throughout the city that are not timed properly and is making traffic congestion even worse and even more unsafe. Imagine how much actual time and money will have to be spent to "fix" the problem. We could be talking a third of a budget reduction just by reducing this type of "triple effort" waste. And the method to achieve this goal are the 14 points that I will start to implement on my first day in office.
So after we address this unmeasurable waste that must be addressed, I will sit down with all the city department heads and see just how bad the balance sheet looks and if any other measures (like new taxes or fee increases) are really needed. Because as mayor of Los Angeles, any new tax or fee hike should always be the last-resort measure. Not the first thing you run and do to cover all of your wasteful spending.
Regarding what programs or services to be cut, I would go in and evaluate each program and see which programs are not providing the services to the community as initially promised and obviously cut those programs because one of my top two concerns in this economic crisis is the fraud, waste and abuse of federal and state money provided to deliver services to the community. The concern being the money is wasted by front-end loaded management contracts, the community doesn't see the money, the services are not provided, the community falls into further disrepair, then the mayor comes back and asks for more money in the form of higher fees, new taxes and bonds -- after the city just wasted the money that was supposed to provide those community services in the first place.
I know we will be having a serious discussion about these "special event fee waivers" where the city picks up the tab for these private events like the Academy Award and Grammy parties while talking about program and service cuts.
3) To cut costs, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is considering layoffs or offering early retirement to city employees. Do you support either or both of those alternatives? Given the increased need for government assistance in these bad economic times, is now the right time to reduce the number of city employees or cut hours at libraries and city parks?
Of course no one wants to cut library or park hours. But what if you found out that if you didn't cut back library hours, that when you call 911 for the Fire Department they might not be able to show up that day? Or what if we keep the parks open until midnight but the trash will be piling up all over your neighborhood? Given the economic crisis the city is faced with, I don't think we will be asking the question if now is the right time, but what is getting cut. And the job of mayor is to evaluate the entire picture and make the decisions that have to be made from a compassionate standpoint. Any candidate who says nothing will be getting cut in these economic circumstances should be running for Santa Claus, not mayor of Los Angeles.
Regarding layoffs, I think the city under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has gotten pretty fat, with a lot of room for improved efficiency. I would think, through methods of management of quality and productivity, each department would be able to do more with less.
So maybe there will be opportunities to first offer early retirement if that is necessary as a first line of employee reduction. And since I agree that more government assistance will be needed in these bad economic times, I would look to see if there are people in certain "fatter" bureaucratic departments that can be moved into some of these other departments that will be needing more staff.
But we can't just let the city continue to operate so wastefully and inefficiently just because it is providing jobs. I think we have seen the result that philosophy produces. I know where there will be some massive layoffs however, on my first day as mayor: In the mayor's office. I hear there are about 90 extra people on the mayor's roster that I would not need to surround myself with.
4) Do you support Measure B, the city's proposed solar power initiative? Why? How do you believe it will affect Department of Water and Power rates?
Not only do I not support Measure B, if I have one message to get across to voters this election season, it is please vote "No" on Measure B. The measure was rushed onto the ballot without much discussion or input. It will drive up the cost of DWP rates. I think just about everyone in the city would agree that solar energy is good. But this is an extremely risky plan that reports say may cost at least double the initial proposed cost. It's a blank check for an aggressive plan that DWP is not ready to take on. But the worst part is that it is not really about creating a strategic solar plan for the city. There was no competitive bid for the program. Because Villaraigosa already decided this one, single plan must use a certain solar panel company in China and must be installed with the union workers of his choice. This Measure B will shut out private industry in the city from installing these solar panels. So what I think this is about isn't about solar, but helping the mayor secure his re-election by putting this deal together that is too expensive, too risky, noncompetitive, will drive up DWP rates, takes the solar industry out of private hands and requires blank-check spending. So that's a "No" on B for me.
5) Should the city controller have authority to perform both financial audits and performance audits on programs run by the mayor or city attorney?
The city controller should have authority to perform both financial and performance audits on programs run by both offices. However, as a citizen who has thought about this as it was discussed at a council meeting, you do not want the controller to be using the position as a tool to go after your political opponents.
Regarding financial audits, that can be done by the controller's office, because it shouldn't be subjective to interpretation, since you are dealing with numbers that should all be adding up. However, regarding performance audits, that is where there is room for a controller to slam a program's performance for politically motivated reasons. So you need to have an independent agency, even if it is hired by the controller's office, to perform the performance side of the audit to make sure you are getting a completely independent and impartial review.
6) In June, the city's contracts with police and firefighters unions will expire. Should police officers and firefighters be given raises or increased benefits? If so, how would you pay for those, given the city's current financial condition?
Even though I feel police and firefighters should be the last to be cut and the most important workers in the city with the toughest and many times most thankless jobs, I do not see how the city can afford to offer raises and increased benefits when the mayor is talking about firings.
As mayor, the first priority must be to ensure public safety throughout all 15 districts. And although I probably just lost the support of the police and firefighters union, I would hope that all city workers would prefer to remain at current salary and benefit levels, rather than have to fire people in the two most critical city departments.