Divided L.A. council votes to eliminate 761 positions while seeking concessions from unions

A divided Los Angeles City Council voted Monday to move ahead with plans to eliminate 761 positions while continuing to seek concessions from the unions that represent thousands of city employees.

On an 11-4 vote, the council pressed forward with an array of cuts, eliminating dozens of child-care positions, reducing library hours and drastically scaling back the number of trees that will be trimmed.

The job cuts are scheduled to go into effect in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The council also approved between 16 and 26 furlough days over the next year for certain civilian employees.

The four who opposed the cuts were council members Richard Alarcon, Jose Huizar, Janice Hahn and Herb Wesson. Alarcon said he would continue pushing to avoid layoffs by searching for other money, such as $20 million from the Department of Water and Power.

Over the course of a 10-hour meeting, the council rejected a last-minute request from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to delay a vote while the city’s budget team continues to negotiate with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 22,000 public employees. That request baffled some council members, who thought that the mayor had been seeking to trim the workforce.

“I can’t understand what mayor we’re talking to sometimes,” said Councilman Greig Smith. “One day he says, ‘Let’s do it.’ The next day he says, ‘Let’s not do it.’ ”

Garcetti said the vote would help Villaraigosa with his negotiations. “We saw last year that when we all delayed, we paid the price,” he added.

Although the council brushed aside the mayor’s request, Villaraigosa’s deputy chief of staff, Matt Szabo, predicted that the mayor and the council would “end up at the same place.”

“He is going to work as hard as he can between now and July with our partners in labor to try to achieve those concessions to reduce the number of layoffs,” he said. “That is still his goal, and he’s completely committed to that.”

Opponents of the cuts tried to circumvent the vote by adjourning the meeting ahead of schedule. That proposal failed on a 9-6 vote. Alarcon, Huizar, Hahn, Wesson and council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian voted in favor of adjournment.

The city’s employee unions tried unsuccessfully to secure passage of an alternative budget backed by Wesson, which called for zero layoffs and furloughs.

“We always knew it would be difficult” to obtain the votes, said Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721.

Although Wesson’s proposal went down to defeat, the council backed his suggestion that a tax on billboards be placed on the November ballot. That initiative passed unanimously.

The $6.7-billion budget was approved on a 13-1 vote, with Alarcon opposed. As part of that fiscal plan, the council backed away from some of the planned reductions.

The council rejected closing an animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. And it preserved $1.3 million that was scheduled for elimination from the mayor’s anti-gang program.

Councilman Tony Cardenas found money to pay for those two programs by submitting a plan to increase the cost of parking tickets by $5. Parking tickets currently range from $45 to $80, depending on the violation.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions had spent the past month lobbying against job cuts, warning that such a move would prove costly because it would trigger a package of raises for those workers who remain. In exchange for getting the union to put off pay hikes last year, city negotiators agreed to grant $32.3 million in raises if any of its members were laid off next year.

The plan for balancing the budget produced deep divisions among the council’s 15 members. The budget hawks who have pushed most aggressively for cuts were council members Bernard C. Parks, Smith, Jan Perry and Dennis Zine. At the other end of the fiscal spectrum were Koretz, Alarcon, Hahn and Huizar.

Villaraigosa and the council have already agreed to reduce the size of the city’s payroll by giving early retirement to 2,400 workers, laying off 100 employees and transferring more than 300 workers to agencies unaffected by the budget crisis.

The council also backed a series of fee hikes, including an additional $5 for animal licenses and $15 for late parking fines.

Monday’s budget votes left the vast majority of Villaraigoa’s budget intact. Untouched was his plan to continue hiring enough officers at the Los Angeles Police Department to replace those who resign or retire.

The council decided to rely, at least tentatively, on his plan for deriving tens of millions from a plan to lease 10 public parking garages. Although Villaraigosa pinned his hopes on generating $53 million for the budget from that initiative, the money would not arrive until Oct. 1 at the earliest.

If that money does not materialize, the council would need to reduce the payroll by another 1,000 positions, officials said.