Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs on Wednesday canceled his plans for a 13-day European trip after drawing the wrath of a colleague for leaving “while the city is going to be reeling” because of the Department of Water and Power strike.
The San Fernando Valley lawmaker announced that he was dropping his trip to Austria and Germany only moments after Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky introduced a motion to cancel all excused absences for council members as long as city DWP workers are on strike.
Before the vote on the motion, Wachs said he supported it and was canceling his trip. The motion passed unanimously.
Wachs has had the council’s worst attendance record during 1993, according to city records. They show that he has been absent 26 days, not counting the five consecutive council meeting days that he had planned to miss to take the European trip. City records show the lawmaker identified the trip not as a vacation but as a “personal business” trip.
Wachs’ trip was to have begun Wednesday with a flight to Vienna and was to end Sept. 13. DWP workers went on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
In an interview, Wachs denied that he dropped his European trip under pressure from Yaroslavsky or other colleagues.
Instead, upon learning Wednesday morning that DWP workers were on strike, Wachs decided to cancel the trip, he said. “I called George (Lefcoe, the USC law professor who organized the excursion) this morning from my home,” Wachs said. “You can’t leave town with something like this going on. You can’t go until it’s settled.”
The trip was organized as part of the USC Property Forum, an ongoing educational program headed by Lefcoe. The trip was designed for the study of economic development and land-use strategies in Austria and Germany. The itinerary shows tours of homes, architectural and historic landmarks and public facilities.
Wachs was scheduled to be joined by Conn Howe, the city’s planning director, and Supervisor Ed Edelman, he said.
Wachs went on a similar Lefcoe-organized urban-affairs trip to Rome in June, 1992. Then, Councilman Hal Bernson was also in attendance.
This month’s program was to run from Sept. 5 to Sept. 10 and include visits to Vienna and Salzburg in Austria and Munich, Germany. Before and after these dates, Wachs, a well-known art collector, had planned to visit museums and artists in Europe, the councilman’s chief deputy said.
On Tuesday, Wachs publicly criticized the council’s proposal to offer a 9% pay hike over four years to DWP workers, drawing Yaroslavsky’s ire.
“He’s leaving on a trip,” Yaroslavsky responded, “while the city is going to be reeling in this crisis.
“I think it’s the height of audacity for him to hold a news conference exposing the city’s negotiating position and not be around to pay the consequences.”
Replied Wachs: “I thought it was important to let the public know what the council was doing. After all, the public has to pay the bill.”
Wachs voted against the proposal to offer the 9% hike over the life of the four-year contract, calling it irresponsibly high.
Wednesday, however, there was some contrition. Wachs said that in retrospect, it would have been better if he had not divulged the terms of the city’s offer until after DWP union officials had received it.
“They should have heard it first from the city,” he said.
As for his poor 1993 attendance record, Wachs denied that it signaled a loss of interest in his City Hall job. “When I was running for mayor I took a lot of time off, but that’s not been my record over a consistent period,” he said.
Wachs finished third in the mayor’s race.