With the March 3 primary election drawing near, The Times asked all candidates for the 5th District Los Angeles City Council seat to respond to questions about key issues facing the nation's second-largest city. Here are the responses from candidate Robert Schwartz:
1) What distinguishes you from the other candidates in the race?
I have 30 years experience creating, implementing and fixing budgets. I will bring something to the City Council that is not there now -- real-world experience dealing with budgets and finances. I have created thousands of good-paying local jobs. I have never run for office before. I'm running to give something back to a city that has been very good to me and my family, not so I can have an office while I wait for another office to open up.
2) Los Angeles likely will face a deficit of $400 million to $500 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, as well as steep shortfalls in the years that follow. If elected, how would you balance the city budget? Specifically, what programs or services would you cut, what taxes or fees would you increase, and what other measures would you take?
First, I would beef up our debt collection operation to be more aggressive in going after an estimated $500 million in unpaid fees, fines and other funds. Second, I would step up our efforts to bring movie and TV production back to our city and reverse and retain production. This holds the potential for adding more than $200 million in new revenue, and creating and/or retaining good paying jobs that we sorely need. Third, I would be more aggressive in levying and collecting fines from the posting of illegal billboards. Both of these would come ahead of further cuts in services. I would not support cuts to fire, police or paramedic services or personnel required to continue our efforts against gangs.
3) To cut costs, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is considering layoffs or offering early retirement to city employees. Do you support either or both of those alternatives? Given the increased need for government assistance in these bad economic times, is now the right time to reduce the number of city employees or cut hours at libraries and city parks?
Desperate times often breed desperate measures. However, the unintended consequence of those measures often turn out to be unacceptable. For instance, reducing library and park services could turn more kids loose on the streets where they could get into trouble and become problems for the community and law enforcement. With building and development slowed by the economic situation, we might want to consider leaving some building and safety jobs and planning department jobs vacant until things turn around. By this I mean not filling positions that come open because of retirements and possibly offering early retirements. I think this approach should be considered selectively rather than across the board.
4) In June, the city's contracts with police and firefighters unions will expire. Should police officers and firefighters be given raises or increased benefits? If so, how would you pay for those, given the city's current financial condition?
I would hope the collective bargaining process can produce innovative solutions that will take into account the needs of our public safety workers and their families and the needs of the city. I believe our police officers and firefighters deserve increased pay and benefits. However, this would be an extremely difficult time to provide those. I know City Council members don't become directly involved in labor negotiations. But as a successful business and finance executive the past 30 years, I often was called upon to work with labor and management to forge creative and fair solutions to difficult challenges.
5) Assess Councilman Jack Weiss' effectiveness on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best score. What parts of Weiss' leadership will you emulate? Are there areas where Weiss could have performed better?
I admire Councilman Jack Weiss' leadership and accomplishments on fighting crime and gangs, protecting the environment and starting to clear up the backlog of DNA testing of rape kits. That he earned the endorsement of Chief [William J.] Bratton in his campaign for city attorney is testimony to that record of achievement. It is a record to which I think others should aspire. On the other hand, I recognize that there have been criticisms. On balance, I would assign a score of 7. In my approach to serving in this office, I would maintain offices in both the Valley and city-side areas of the district and provide the community with senior staff members to serve both areas. With regards to development projects, I would apply some of the skills I acquired during the last 30 years to try to bring all parties to the table to reach mutually acceptable solutions and avoid costly law suits and delays.