Tightwad Ideas Flood Riordan's Contest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sell advertising space on city-owned vehicles, two city workers suggested as a path toward bettering the city's financial health.

Fire me, offered another city worker, who admitted to reading newspapers all day because there wasn't enough to do in the office. (That worker didn't give a name.)

The money-saving ideas submitted to Mayor Richard Riordan's contest are in--147 entries to date and some still rolling in several days after the 5 p.m. Friday deadline. They range from the detailed and highly specific to the general, from the cautious to the wildly improbable. Even the tone varies, from the supremely self-confident to the painfully honest.

John J. Cushing, marketing manager of the Harbor Department, got to the point in his one-paragraph proposal: "Reducing costs and increasing efficiencies can be achieved within the city of Los Angeles by appointing me as chief operating officer of the Harbor Department. I would be happy to discuss my qualifications and business plan at your convenience."

Ricardo Villacorta of the city Department of General Services proposed creating a volunteer pool of retired experts to sift through the city's sprawling bureaucracy in hopes of getting "an honest evaluation of its performance" and some ideas for cost-cutting improvements.

Capt. David Bolding at Fire Station 84 suggested saving the expense of putting Fire Department rookies through a six-month paramedic training program by hiring only those firefighter applicants who have completed the course elsewhere.

And Melinda Bartlett and Karin Smith of Environmental Affairs had a bunch of ideas, including selling advertising space on city-owned vehicles and putting all public employees on a four-day, 10-hour workweek to close city facilities one business day each week.

Then there was the Bureau of Engineering employee who suggested that the city could eliminate several jobs in the department, including the writer's own, adding that most of these particular workers spend a great deal of time reading the newspaper because there isn't enough to do.

The outpourings were sparked by a group of Riordan staffers, who are trying to close an estimated $220-million gap in the city's budget by the start of the fiscal year July 1 and are seeking longer-term solutions in the mayor's quest to improve the city's financial health by reducing the difference between expenditures and revenues.

Plastering city facilities with 300 bright yellow posters announcing "The Mayor wants to hear from you," Riordan staffers offered their fellow bureaucrats a chance to meet with the mayor by submitting one of the top 25 ideas--and, as grand prize, lunch with the city's top elected official.

Scores of the city's 44,000-plus employees answered the call, along with a considerable number of retired city workers and private citizens--including one who lives in the Central California resort town of Cambria--who had read about the contest and decided to throw in their two cents' worth. It was unclear whether the private citizens are eligible for the meeting or the lunch.

"I hope so. I'd like to have a lunch with the mayor," said city resident Lois Zweben, a former bookstore owner who proposed adding a space to the city's business license tax forms that would encourage merchants to add a little something extra for parks, arts and library programs.

Christopher O'Donnell, the mayor's budget director who has been reviewing the suggestions, said many already were being looked at or tried, but that there were many fresh, creative ideas that would require major exploration.

A few others won't work, either because they are outside the city's authority or are antithetical to Riordan's goals and priorities (such as the suggestion to drop the plan to increase the LAPD by 3,000 officers, a centerpiece promise of the mayor's campaign and administration).

Overall, O'Donnell said, he is pleased with the results: "We shouldn't have any trouble finding 25 finalists for a meeting with the mayor."

Some entries ran several single-spaced pages, and one Department of Water and Power employee submitted 21 separate ideas.

The grand prize--the winner of which probably will be announced early next month--was clearly a draw for some:

"I don't usually socialize with my co-workers," one employee wrote, "but I'm really looking forward to having lunch with you!"

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Some for the Money

Here are some of the ideas from city employees and others on how the city could save or raise money:

* Erect billboards on surplus city-owned land and sell advertising space.

* Set up a coat-check service at Central Library special events and charge $1 or more.

* Enlist the entertainment industry's help and financial support in efforts to spruce up Hollywood.

* Eliminate some city departments, including Cultural Affairs and Disabled Access.

* Promote me.

* Fire me.

* Increase the city's use of volunteers, including students, to perform some of the services now done by full-time paid employees.

* Start a city-run lottery, patterned on California's betting system.

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