Council’s Austere Budget Includes 120 Layoffs : Finances: The plan going to Bradley for approval cuts deeply in almost all departments. ‘This is just the beginning,’ Yaroslavsky warns.


Face-to-face with the bleakest budget picture in city history, the Los Angeles City Council on Monday approved an austerity spending plan that calls for 120 layoffs and deep cuts in virtually all departments.

The $3.8-billion budget now goes to Mayor Tom Bradley for approval. Even if the departing mayor agrees with it as is, city officials warned that all the numbers and complex negotiations may prove meaningless in the coming months if the state follows through with up to $300 million in planned cuts.

“Get ready, because this is just the beginning,” Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, warned his colleagues as the day-long budget session began.


The budget outlook forced some painful decisions--including the first layoffs of city employees in recent memory, a continued hiring freeze and cuts in programs ranging from street resurfacing to tree trimming to after-school activities for children.

“We’ve raided all the trust funds,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is the last budget before the rubber hits the road.”

At the same time, however, the council balked on some cuts--refusing, for instance, to follow a recommendation by the council’s budget committee to eliminate the Board of Public Works for an annual saving of more than $1 million. On an 8-6 vote, the council majority said the full-time panel, headed by environmental activist Felicia Marcus, is critical to the operation of the massive Department of Public Works.

Councilman Joel Wachs, however, argued that his colleagues were backing away from making the really tough choices. Referring to mayoral candidate Richard Riordan’s campaign motto, “Tough Enough to Turn L.A. Around,” Wachs said that if his colleagues wanted to know why so many people are “buying into the slogan,” they could look at the need to implement reforms such as those called for in the budget package.

Despite the wide swath of budget cutbacks, the city did find $2.2 million to restore 90% of the city’s arts and culture program, $3.2 million for an after-school program for latchkey children in the Los Angeles Unified School District and $1.2 million to continue operating libraries six days a week.

“This city is not just going to be safe by more police and fire,” said Councilman Richard Alatorre. “This city is going to be safe by developing the culture too.”


The budget approved Monday is less severe that the one proposed last month by Bradley, in part because of a new 10% utility users tax on cellular telephones that will raise $4.5 million a year, more aggressive collection of debts owed the city and other revenue sources discovered by budget planners in recent weeks.

Bradley’s plan had recommended reduced library hours, abbreviated recreational activities, cuts in an after-school program for thousands of children and a drastic slicing of funding for the arts. It also recommended that the city tap into a special $38-million parking fund and eliminate trash receptacles on city streets. While regretting such drastic measures, the mayor deemed them “unavoidable.”

Many of those reductions were restored in subsequent budget deliberations as the budget committee pored over financial data and uncovered some new revenue.

Citing last year’s civil disturbances, committee members argued that the city could not afford reductions at this time in programs aimed at young people. The council also restored the trash cans and decided to apply parking meter revenues to construction of off-street parking in Westwood and Studio City.

Employees in the Planning and Building and Safety departments were targeted for layoffs because of a slowdown in building applications across the city caused by the continuing recession. Eighty percent of the city’s budget goes to payroll, budget analysts said.

The city is working to find alternate positions for laid-off employees in other departments and has already found alternative assignments for several dozen, city officials said. By the time the layoffs take effect in July, most of the 120 employees will probably have other jobs in City Hall, officials said.


To further lessen the blow of layoffs, Councilman Hal Bernson introduced a successful motion calling on employees to voluntarily cut hours from their workweeks to free additional money to keep employees on the payroll. It was unclear what impact the program would have.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas vigorously protested the layoffs because he said that the vast majority of those affected would be minorities hired in recent years as part of efforts to diversify the work force. Under council rules, layoffs are based on seniority--even though some council members have complained loudly about that practice.

Others saw the layoffs of building inspectors as especially unwise, coming in the wake of the recent deadly apartment fire in the Westlake area that highlighted the city’s sluggish inspection efforts.

Police, fire and sanitation are the three city departments that would be spared across-the-board 20% cuts. The budget authorizes a 7,900-officer police force, although it would take a while for the department to hire and train the more than 200 recruits needed to reach that level.

Once they are hired, new squad cars would be waiting for some of those officers. After a two-year freeze on vehicle purchases, the budget calls for 327 new police cars, along with additional firetrucks and street sweepers.