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Riordan, Council Closer on Budget Pact

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even amid a mayoral veto and continuing vows to override it, sudden olive branches are sprouting between Mayor Richard Riordan and the City Council over the budget.

In a carefully conciliatory tone that belied the intensity of the fight over his Police Department expansion plan, Riordan on Friday released his short list of budget vetoes and announced a new effort to work with the City Council to find long-term ways to pay for the expansion.

Although some key council members said that it isn’t enough to change their minds about the pace of the expansion, they said they saw hopeful signs for a better relationship with the city’s top office-holder.

The mayor made it clear, however, that he will continue to battle the council’s move to slow down the ambitious expansion program, which calls for increasing the force by about 2,800 officers over five years.

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Among the dozen major changes the council made to the mayor’s $4-billion budget proposal last week was downsizing the hiring goal from 710 officers to 450 next year, unless voters approve a tax to cover the difference. Council members, on a 8-7 vote, said they were worried about the ever-increasing cost, especially when the federal grant paying for a large chunk of the expansion runs out in three years.

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The escalating battle over the police expansion, which is a key part of the mayor’s top priority, improving public safety, threatened to bring Riordan’s rocky relations with the council to the crisis point. It did threaten his relationship with his strongest council ally, veteran lawmaker Richard Alatorre, who, as chairman of the council’s budget committee, led the charge to curtail the breakneck police hiring pace.

The first veto Riordan announced Friday was the police hiring rollback, adding back $24 million to the spending plan that starts July 1. He also vetoed the council’s $12-million reduction in the police overtime account, money he said would put the equivalent of 250 officers on the street.

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As expected, Riordan also took issue with the council’s deletion of $10 million for street repaving, a move he said would drop 50 miles worth of badly needed repairs.

The mayor made two more, comparatively minor changes by shifting $1 million from a Department of General Services alterations account and $793,000 from a special parking revenue fund to bring the city’s reserves to about $30 million. At the last minute, he decided not to change a council decision to shift money from the Fire Department’s overtime account, a move Alatorre said he saw as an important gesture of compromise.

The mayor let stand several other key council decisions, including reducing funds for a regionwide marketing campaign he strongly believes in, the deletion of contested airport revenues and a small addition to the city’s sanitation equipment charge. He also did not balk at the council’s raising to $10 his suggested $5 addition to parking fines.

The mayor’s much-softened tone--he went from saying last week the council “wimped out” to thanking members Friday for “thoughtful deliberations” in “grappling with an extremely complex set of issues"--will not stop opponents from seeking to override at least his veto on the police hiring issue.

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“I am going after the override,” Alatorre said Friday, adding that he believes he can muster the 10 votes needed to overturn the mayor’s action. The override vote is scheduled for Tuesday but may be postponed to Wednesday.

Alatorre said he has not had time to think about which other vetoes might be overridden. Councilman Nate Holden, however, has signaled his deep unhappiness with the restoration of street repaving funds, which he believes takes funds from regional transportation projects.

But Alatorre said he is heartened by the mayor’s tone and believes that it signals an important turn for the better in the mayor-council relationship.

“I think he recognizes that he doesn’t know everything, that other people can feel strongly the other way,” said Alatorre, who had several private conversations with Riordan over the last few days.

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“I told him ‘I think you lost too many people who agree with you . . . and you’ve got to have a cooperative situation,’ ” Alatorre said.

Councilwoman Laura Chick, chair of the public safety committee and one of the mayor’s leading critics on his insistence on putting the department expansion above all else, also hailed the mayor’s softened tone.

“That pleases me so much,” Chick said. “This is how we should be doing business--the council and the mayor should be working together.”

Council President Ferraro, who said he also spoke privately with the mayor Friday morning, echoed Chick.

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“Contrary to what people might think, we on the council are a team, and he’s got to work with us,” said Ferraro, who offered to help the mayor put together an ad hoc committee to work over the summer on the long-term funding issues.

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He said the council’s concerns about the expansion’s affordability could be eased in time for the council to accept the full federal grant for the officers. The city must tell the federal government in August whether it is accepting all the funds; it would turn back roughly $19 million under the scaled back version.

“We can change the budget any time if the votes are there . . . things change all the time,” Ferraro said in explaining why an override would not necessarily sink the full expansion.

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Riordan got some support for his views that the expansion should come first from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City), who said Friday that he understood the council’s concerns but believed that money could and would be found to minimize the financial risk. He said prospects are good that Washington could be persuaded to add more funding down the line.

“Yes, there is a risk [that money can’t be found later], but it’s even riskier for us to remain an underpoliced city,” said Berman, who worked hard to get Los Angeles the police grant and who is weighing a challenge to Riordan’s reelection bid next spring. “More cops on the beat is the most important need this city has right now. It’s essential for public safety and for economic survival.”

The police union, however, stepping up its criticism of the mayor as moving too fast to expand the department at the cost of training and other issues, blasted Riordan’s continued push in a news release Friday. The Police Protective League’s newsletter featured a cartoon of Riordan on its cover, pouring new officers into a bucket that is leaking out seasoned officers at the bottom because of “low morale, low pay, no management support” and other issues it blames for the department’s high rate of attrition.

Times staff writer Henry Chu contributed to this report.

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