Longtime Garcetti aide Matt Szabo tapped to serve as L.A.’s top budget official

A man stands across the street from Los Angeles City Hall.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated Matt Szabo, a deputy chief of staff, to become the city’s top budget official.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has tapped a high-level aide to serve as the city’s top budget official, a post that will be critical as the city grapples with both an intractable homelessness crisis and a lawsuit demanding dramatic action to address it.

Garcetti on Wednesday nominated Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo to be city administrative officer, replacing Rich Llewellyn, a longtime Garcetti advisor who is retiring. Szabo’s nomination requires City Council approval.

Szabo, a City Hall veteran and the mayor’s point person on the budget, has been working to sell council members on Garcetti’s latest spending plan, which calls for restoring services cut during the COVID-19 pandemic, replenishing the city’s emergency reserves and implementing new initiatives aimed at addressing racial and economic inequality.

“Matt Szabo knows city government from top to bottom, and he understands how to steer us through our most challenging and complicated economic circumstances,” Garcetti said in a statement. “There is simply no one better suited for this job right now than Matt.”

Garcetti’s budget proposes nearly $1 billion in spending on initiatives targeting homelessness during the fiscal year that starts on July 1. At the same time, the city has been attempting to settle a federal lawsuit that alleges the city has failed to properly address the crisis.


As part of that case, the city is also fighting a federal judge’s order to offer some form of shelter or housing to every homeless person on skid row. Nevertheless, Szabo said he hopes to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs, a coalition of business owners and residents known as the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, and finalize a plan for constructing more housing.

“If I’m confirmed, I’ll certainly recommend a swift resolution of the litigation so that we can build a multiyear housing plan and work to finance it,” Szabo said in an interview. “Seesawing between orders and appeals doesn’t help anyone, least of all the unhoused.”

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Szabo worked last year to negotiate an agreement in the case to offer 6,700 beds to homeless people along with county social services. Meanwhile, city officials are hoping to finally make major progress on the much-criticized Proposition HHH program, which calls for the construction of thousands of apartments for homeless residents but has been beset by delays and rising costs.

Miguel Santana, who served as city administrative officer from 2009-17, said there are few people who know city government better than Szabo. If he’s confirmed, his big challenge will be the development of a cohesive strategy on homelessness — one that makes significant headway on the problem.

“It starts with the city being clear about what its objectives are, what its shared outcomes are,” Santana said. “That’s going to be a big part of his responsibility on day one.”

Llewellyn, who is set to step down this summer, has worked for the city for 20 years, serving as an aide to Garcetti, Councilman Paul Koretz and former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo. He was named to the top budget post in 2018.

Szabo, 44, has worked at City Hall off and on over two decades. He was an intern in Mayor Richard Riordan’s administration in 2000 and went on to become an aide to former Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

While in Villaraigosa’s office, Szabo dealt with a different financial crisis — the one triggered by the 2008 recession, which resulted in layoffs, furloughs and the reduction of thousands of city jobs.

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In 2013, Szabo made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the City Council that was ultimately won by former Garcetti staffer Mitch O’Farrell. Szabo joined the Garcetti administration months later.

If confirmed by the council, Szabo will oversee a budget that has experienced a remarkable turnaround, following a punishing year dominated by the pandemic and related financial losses.

Five months ago, the city was contemplating the layoffs of nearly 1,000 police officers. Now, anticipating an infusion of federal funds, Garcetti is instead looking to provide a year of guaranteed income to 2,000 L.A. families on the brink of poverty and to distribute 5,000 “comeback checks” — $5,000 apiece — to selected businesses to help them recover from COVID-19.

During the pandemic, Szabo also helped negotiate agreements to delay raises for the vast majority of city employees, including police officers and firefighters. Those pay increases have been pushed into the 2022-23 budget year.