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Broad Budget Cuts Weighed in L.A.

Times Staff Writers

Drug-abuse education for schoolchildren, building code enforcement and community arts programs all may be on the chopping block as Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn’s office gave the first indication Thursday of how he plans to close an approximately $250-million hole in the city budget.

Hahn does not plan to propose a budget for the 2004-05 fiscal year until April. But his office has been working for months to prioritize city services and identify those that could be trimmed or eliminated to make up the projected shortfall.

On Thursday, the mayor’s budget director sketched a list that includes scaling back city support for the arts, closing youth programs, reducing inspections of problem properties, and suspending a program that closed alleys that were magnets for illegal dumping and drug trafficking.

Budget director Doane Liu emphasized that the plans are preliminary, and that no figures were attached to the programs in Thursday’s presentation. The mayor’s office projects a total shortfall of $350 million in the budget year that begins July 1, but plans to mitigate that figure with the use of $100 million in reserve funds.

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Among the programs likely to face elimination first, according to the outline, are: the Police Department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, a program designed to resolve neighborhood disputes over pets, a summer jobs program for at-risk youths, and one of the city’s public-access television stations.

Hahn’s budget planners have identified other services -- such as meals for homebound residents and hours at new libraries -- that could be trimmed if the city had to make deeper cuts.

“We all find this extremely painful,” Hahn said Thursday. “But we just can’t keep doing things the same old way.... We can’t do everything. And we certainly cannot do everything next year that we’ve done in the past.”

The mayor’s office also has begun work on plans to eliminate about 1,000 jobs from the city payroll, mostly through attrition, early retirement and elimination of vacant positions, Liu said.

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A sluggish local economy and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans to use millions of dollars in local property taxes to help balance the state budget have combined to push the city’s budget far into the red this year.

To balance the budget, the mayor inaugurated an exhaustive new budgeting process this year designed to prioritize 1,400 city services.

For months, Hahn has been crisscrossing Los Angeles trying to build support for his case that public safety should be the city’s top priority.

Last year, he failed to persuade the City Council to hire more police officers, and council members took the unusual step of rejecting the mayor’s budget.

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This year, Hahn does not plan to add officers. But to retain the current force of 9,211 sworn personnel, the mayor’s office is preparing city leaders for potentially extensive cuts in other programs.

The process has won praise from some City Council members, who last year berated Hahn for failing to work with them to prepare the budget.

But there already are signs that passing a city budget will not be easy.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who heads the council Budget Committee and is mulling a run for mayor next year, did not attend a budget meeting Thursday when the mayor outlined his priorities.

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The mayor’s office said Parks was invited. But Bernard Parks Jr., the councilman’s spokesman, said Parks didn’t know if he had been invited because he had been in court all week testifying in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. Parks is a former L.A. police chief.

At the same time, the prospect of cuts already is generating criticism in some quarters.

Two weeks ago, dozens of women and teenage girls protested on the steps of City Hall about a proposal to save money by consolidating five city departments, including the Commission on the Status of Women.

On Thursday, Rabbi Allen Freehling, head of the city’s Human Relations Commission, said he was distressed that some commission programs to reduce tensions among young people may be cut.

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“Obviously, it’s something we need to talk about with the mayor’s office,” Freehling said. “Our reach into the community has really become profound in terms of reducing tensions and showing people they can relate to one another in the most positive ways.”


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