Rental Fees Urged for County Departments : Budget: A panel says charges could save $5.5 million a year by forcing agencies to sell or lease under-used properties.
Los Angeles County should treat its departments like tenants, charging them market-rate rent for their offices and other land holdings, a county commission recommended Wednesday.
The precedent-setting idea could lead to an estimated annual savings of $5.5 million or more by forcing the departments to lease or sell under-used properties, according to a report by the Economy and Efficiency Commission.
“Right now they’re not dealing with space as an issue. Space just exists like the moon and the sky,” said Commissioner Randolph B. Stockwell.
In all, a commission study determined that the county owns or leases at least 100,000 acres of property, including parks, roads and 4,355 buildings. Although records are sketchy, the property could be worth as much as $20 billion, the study said.
As examples of wasted space, the commission cited the vacant seventh floor in the County Hall of Records, a parking lot in Chinatown that could be sold for commercial use, and land around the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, which the commission said is too valuable for the one-story medical office buildings that occupy it.
County real estate managers disagreed with the commission’s examples of wasted space, but said their overall use of space could be improved. In fact, the chief administrative office was developing a similar rent program.
The CAO’s plans, which must be approved by the Board of Supervisors, call for charging many departments rent for their offices beginning in mid-1992, said Bob Kuziara, assistant chief of local programs in the CAO’s office. Commission members said they would like to see that extend to other land, such as parks and even flood control basins.
Neither Kuziara nor local government experts in Sacramento knew of similar rent programs elsewhere in the state, although the state Department of General Services has long charged state agencies rent for offices.
The county departments’ budgets would be increased to pay for the new rent charges, but the commission believes seeing the money pass through their hands would encourage department managers to take a closer look at how much space they really need.
“It’s all part of the whole different mind-set in this county,” Kuziara said. “If you’re a clever manager, who can reduce your space or . . . get out from under a lease, that’s your money to keep for your programs. If you have to lease additional space, you have to find the money to do it.”
Representatives of county unions, however, criticized the rental program, saying that county employees will ultimately suffer because managers will move into smaller offices to save money.
Even supporters acknowledge that safeguards need to be created to avoid a county government in which departments move to the less expensive suburbs. A representative of the Public Works Department, which manages about a third of the county’s land, said that most of his department’s land should be exempted because it was purchased with federal and state funds that are saddled with specific regulations governing the land’s use.