Calling Los Angeles “the most significant target of opportunity” for terrorists, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a lobbying trip to Sacramento on Monday to argue for a greater share of California’s homeland security funds.
The two-day trip was the first to the state capital for Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker, since he became mayor on July 1. He is planning to visit lawmakers and is scheduled to meet today with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Villaraigosa also plans to discuss funding for a carpool lane on a stretch of the 405 Freeway.
The mayor’s concern about homeland security funding was underscored by the planned presence in Sacramento today of Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.
“We have the most pressing needs of any jurisdiction in California,” Villaraigosa told The Times on Monday. “We are without question the most significant target of opportunity.”
Villaraigosa’s efforts are part of a larger debate about the nation’s anti-terrorism funding formulas, and whether they short-change big cities. It also comes amid discoveries that Islamic extremists allegedly had planned to attack Southern California targets -- some of them on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks -- until the plot was foiled by law enforcement officials.
The mayor first shared his worry about Los Angeles’ allocation of funds during a July trip to Washington, D.C., where he lobbied against controversial homeland security legislation then making its way through the U.S. Senate.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), would allocate guaranteed amounts of homeland security money to each state. Critics said the formula would give disproportionate funding to sparsely populated states such as Wyoming and Idaho.
Supporters said those guarantees were essential, because terrorism could occur anywhere. The bill passed the Senate and is in a conference committee.
Now Villaraigosa is turning his attention to the way Sacramento doles out the money it receives from Washington.
The Los Angeles area receives about $120 million yearly in homeland security money, said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of California’s homeland security office. About $24 million comes from a program that allots money to each California county based on population.
But Villaraigosa would rather see a “threat-based” allocation. That would ostensibly send more money to Los Angeles -- although it is hard to say how much because it will depend on how “threats” are defined, said Janelle Erickson, a Villaraigosa spokeswoman.
State homeland security officials are willing to consider changes in the funding formulas. Winuk said that using population to determine allocations makes the most sense.
The mayor discussed his ideas Monday afternoon with Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.
Laird said he would support rewriting the formulas if that would get money to the places most in need.
An apple ranch in his district “is probably not a high target, but a lot of places in Los Angeles probably are,” Laird said. The carpool-lane issue was one that Villaraigosa had some success with in Washington, where, with Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), he helped persuade Congress to set aside $130 million in federal funds to partially fund a lane on the 405 Freeway from West Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. But the total cost has been estimated at $471 million, perhaps more.
The mayor said he is pushing Assembly members like Laird to find at least $84 million for the project in next year’s budget.
Laird said that he made no promises about the money to the mayor, but that the meeting helped.
“It’s all about relationships,” Laird said.