Antonio Villaraigosa: L.A. mayor

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 incumbent Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

1) What distinguishes you from the other candidates in the race?

When I took office in July 2005, it was the culmination of a dream to serve the city that has shaped my life. My administration has taken the attitude that our future as a great global city depends on our willingness to dream big and to confront our most daunting challenges. This is our chance to expand economic opportunity to every neighborhood and to unite Angelenos behind the idea that our similarities run deeper than our differences.

It's also a chance to create a different kind of government -- one that is fiscally responsible and socially progressive, one that recognizes environmentally sustainable growth is not a luxury, but a necessity, and one that understands we can no longer afford to leave thousands of young people behind without a high school diploma.

I believe over the last 3 1/2 years my administration has laid a strong foundation to build upon and further improve this city. If I am fortunate enough to be elected to a second term, I plan on pushing even further on my goals to ensure Los Angeles is a 21st century city.

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?

Over the last 3 1/2 years I've worked hard to prove that government can become more efficient at delivering services to neighborhoods. In the face of severe economic downturns, I have delivered three balanced budgets, cutting our structural deficit by over $200 million. The coming fiscal year is no different; we are facing a very difficult financial climate, and we will have to make tough choices to meet our goals.

One of the core services that a city provides is public safety, and maintaining public safety has been a top priority, even in these tough times, and I am going to see through my commitment to hire 1,000 new police officers for our city. The total police force is now more than 9,600 strong and we are on track to reach the highest level of sworn officers in the history of Los Angeles.

During the budget season my office reaches out to constituents and seeks their input on where they believe services should be cut and what services should be maintained. We've even created an online budget survey that allows citizens to tell my office directly what they think the city's priorities should be. I intend to continue this type of outreach to ensure that core services are maintained and to ensure that the public's voice is heard on these issues.

3) To cut costs, you are considering layoffs or offering early retirement to city employees. 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?

While I do not take lightly the possibility of city layoffs or early retirement for anyone, in this economic climate I believe all options should be on the table. Clearly, layoffs and early retirement should not be the first or only solution; cuts in program costs and increases in revenue sources should be coupled with any cuts in personnel.

The elimination of vacant positions is one way of closing the budget without actually laying off employees and that would be my first choice; however I would be doing the entire city a disservice if we did not at least consider the elimination of positions that may no longer be cost-efficient or necessary.

In tough times, tough choices are necessary, and I believe I am the right person to be making those choices. As a strong supporter of labor rights, I would never support unnecessary layoffs of employees.

My economic plan has drastically grown the employment base, placing 100,000 Los Angeles residents in good-paying jobs and quadrupling the number of summer youth jobs.

I was also tapped to be a member of President Obama's economic transition team, where I used my position to advocate for greater assistance for distressed homeowners and call for greater federal investment in Southern California. Going forward, I will continue to push California's congressional delegation and the Obama administration to protect Los Angeles' stake in the economic recovery.

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?

Measure B is the first installment of a solar plan that will provide the city of Los Angeles with 400 megawatts of in-basin solar power by 2014. Ultimately this comprehensive plan will provide 1,200 megawatts of solar energy by 2020 -- making Los Angeles the solar capital of the world.

Measure B will create thousands of good, middle-class jobs in solar installation and maintenance. It establishes a job-training and outreach academy focusing on job creation in underserved neighborhoods throughout L.A. Measure B is also an exciting opportunity for L.A.'s business community to lead the way in building our new vision for Los Angeles.

As you are all too aware, we cannot afford to wait any longer to develop clean, renewable energy sources. Measure B is an important step toward ensuring that future generations will not have to depend on expensive and highly polluting forms of energy. Pollution from burning coal for electricity has contributed to air pollution and smog that is responsible for thousands of cases of lung disease, asthma and premature deaths in Los Angeles each year. This measure will help us save lives and keep our air clean by replacing future dirty energy generation with clean, renewable, in-basin production.

Measure B also contains strong accountability provisions including annual audits by the city controller and a citizens oversight committee to ensure that this program is developed and implemented in an efficient and transparent manner.

5) Should the city controller have authority to perform both financial audits and performance audits on programs run by the mayor or city attorney?

Recently there has been much discussion over whether or not the City Charter specifically grants the city controller the right to audit programs being run by other citywide elected officials. My belief is that this issue should be put to voters to resolve once and for all and not decided in a courtroom.

Accountability is something I strongly believe in, and that is why in September of 2006 my administration created the Performance Management Unit. The PMU closely tracks the initiatives, objectives and performance of city departments to ensure that they are aligned with the mayor's goals. The staff in the PMU assists my policy teams to measure progress towards city goals; help general managers make effective and efficient use of city resources; and help my office drive progress and deliver tangible improvements in critical services for the people of Los Angeles.

The PMU gives a status report on progress of a particular initiative or policy area as requested by my office. The status reports include a general overview of progress to date on the initiative, milestones or accomplishments achieved, emerging issues or potential problems that may cause delay or hindrances to achieving the initiative goal.

If reelected, I will continue this practice and work hard to ensure that the recommendations of the PMU are instituted effectively and quickly.

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?

First-responders, like police officers and firefighters, deserve our utmost respect and admiration. They risk their lives every single day they show up for work and protect us from harm.

As I've said earlier, in tough times, tough choices are needed, and I believe I am the best person to make those choices. While it would be inappropriate for me to discuss upcoming contract negotiations with city employee unions, I can say that any agreements reached would be in the best interests of the city and its residents.

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