June 30, 1994 - From the June, 1994 issue

Ron Deaton: Staff Work by CLA Empowers City Council

As the city of Los Angeles steers a new course under the Riordan Administration, The Planning Report interviewed the City's Chief Legislative Analyst, Ron Deaton, to discuss how the Mayor's first budget and related proposals will influence city policy. 

What is the mission of the Chief Legislative Analyst's (CLA) office? 

Basically, the CLA's office is staff to the City Council and all of its fifteen committees. We are general advisors to Councilmembers and City Council staff. Also, we maintain legislative representation in Sacramento and Washington D.C. on behalf of the City of Los Angeles. We have a total of about 40 staff members. 

The City Council has just completed its review of Mayor Riordan's budget. Could you share with us your analysis of the Council's changes to the Mayor's $4.3 billion dollar budget? 

Basically, the budget put to a halt to the deterioration of the services for recreation, parks and libraries. Also, there was a shift of $27 million of police overtime to the unappropriated balance, basically an ability of the City Council to monitor how quickly the police department is using that money. 

As we speak the Police Protective Union has rejected the City's offer. What are the implications for the City's budget related to the costs of Project Safety and the unraveling of the police contract negotiations?

Well, let's take the police contract. The rank-and-file police officers rejected the offer put forward  by the Police Protective League. It is a complicated situation, one which I am not aware of happening in any city government. 

They are also not the only employee group that has not received a pay increase. The city firefighters have agreed to no pay increases for the last two years, and basically, a commitment that the city would provide for them whatever is provided to the police officers. Some of the civilian employees have gone two years without pay increases and arc not likely to see increases over the next two years. So it's very difficult to do anything for the Police Department when we have done so little for the civilian employees and no retroactive pay for the fire fighters. As the saying goes, "We're between a rock and a hard spot," 

And the implications for the budget even if the contract is eventually approved with similar terms? 

If in the first year you provide $20 million in salary increases which is about a 3 percent increase of police salaries, then another 3 percent the second year, that compounds to a $40 million problem growing over time. If the City's revenues are increasing then that's not a problem, but after four years of declining revenue, and the best news lately is that revenues have leveled out, we don't foresee the economy turning around until maybe a year from now. 

Review for us the implication of the transfer payments from the proprietary agencies: $20 million from DWP, $5-10 million from the Airport, $10 million from the Harbor Department, etc. 

In the case of the Airport and Harbor, it's not a transfer, but a payment for services such as police, fire and other related city services. In the case of the CRA's $25 million transfer, that's a payment of debt for the Los Angeles Convention Center which is in the CRA project area. 

There is a misconception that we are taking CRA money to pay for police officers. That is not the case. We have been paying general fund monies for retirement of the Convention Center debt, but because the Convention Center and the Central Library are in CRA project areas, we can use CRA funds which benefit the project areas in order to free up general fund money. 

Included in the Mayor's budget pro­posals that went to the City Council were the elimination of the full time board of Public Works, the consolidation of a number of agencies into a Community Services Department and the consolidation of the Housing Department and the CRA into a new city-wide Community Development Corporation. Those consolidations have been delayed for consideration. Could you give us your perspective with respect to these reorganization proposals? 

Let's take them one at a time. The combination of economic development and housing is basically the merger of a city department - the Housing Department, and the CRA, organizations with different personnel systems, retirement systems, employee groups. There are some 40 people with the CRA who work on housing, while there are approximately 250 people in the Housing Department. But the ones in the Housing Department are civil service employees, and the ones with CRA are not. My office felt that there were some serious personnel issues that needed to be worked out. 

We are looking at how there might be a better merger of these functions, perhaps some way to protect the employees’ pension rights to allow a better merger of these functions. 

Unfortunately, all three of the proposals suffered from the City Council not getting the specifics until well after the Mayor's budget had been presented. All three proposals require ordinances to be passed, but the ordinances showed up late in the process. The review of the ordinances is not something that can necessarily be done in a six week process. 

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When you want to reorganize multiple city functions that have significant impact on people's lives, i.e. setting a direction for housing, economic development or community services, these are not the types of issues that are quickly resolved. As a result, the chairpersons of the respective City Council committees plan to review these proposals and come up with recommendations in early fall. 

What is the altitude of the City Council and the CLA's office with respect to the City Council acting as the board of the CRA? 

We believe that there are only four or five cities in the state in which the city council is not the governing body of the local CRA. We see no particular reason that the Los Angeles CRA should be different from the majority of cities in California.

The public's perception is that the Mayor's Office is the center of power in most cities, but in this city the City Charter limits the Mayor's power. How has the balance of power relationship between the City Council and Mayor in Los Angeles changed over the last few years?

In city governments there are weak mayor/strong council, strong mayor/weak council systems of government. The Mayor of Los Angeles does not have the same executive role as the President of the United States or the Governor, in Los Angeles the City Council is the governing body of the city. This means that there is a lot more interaction between the Mayor and City Council on day-to-day activities. For instance, without City Council approval, you can't fill city positions. Thus, in an effort to review every position, the City Council has frozen at one time or another every city position. Quite frankly, this has forced the Mayor, the general managers and heads of departments to come before the City Council to explain why each position needs to be filled. This is not a normal legislative function. 

Structurally, the city of Chicago and Los Angeles are virtually the same, but because the mayor of Chicago has other functions, for example, the elder Mayor Daly was head of the Democratic Party in Cook County, so his power was more derived from his other responsibilities than being Mayor. Also, in Chicago as opposed to Los Angeles, every position above senior typist is exempt from civil service. Therefore, the Mayor in Chicago has wide discretion on who is hired, but that is not true in this city. In Los Angeles, outside the Mayor's Office and the City Council offices, there are probably only 15-20 positions that can be filled by the Mayor, and everyone else is civil service including the general managers. Thus, there is not only the weak mayor/strong city council form of government, but the civil service process is independent of the Mayor's discretion. 

Historically, the Mayor has been able to appoint commissioners to the various city commissions such as the Harbor, Airport, Rec. & Parks, and the other city commissions. Through the Mayor's Office and the commissioners, the various departments could be operated very independently. A few years ago, Prop. 5 passed which amended the City Charter to allow the City Council with 10 votes to take jurisdiction over the various proprietary departments and act as the DWP commission or Airport commission, for example. Therefore, the Mayor's ability to act independently has been limited by the City Council. 

In light of this diffusion of power, Charter Reform has been raised as a possible solution to a perceived lack of accountability in government. Share with us the attitude of the CLA.'s office toward Charter Reform.

There are probably a few things from a simplicity standpoint we could do through Charter reform. To substantially alter the management of the city, I don't see any great need for that kind of fundamental change. 

Shifting to a related subject, the City Council, in the next few weeks, will be receiving recommendations from the Mayor's Development Reform Committee, chaired by Dan Garcia. What are we likely to see happen with these proposals, some of which require amendments to the City Charter? 

It's not unlike the process we talked about with consolidations. The committee will come forward with some Charter changes, new ordinances, and they will go through the normal committee process the Planning Commission, and there will be a lot of discussion. Members of the City Council would like to streamline the development process, but I don't believe that the view is to eliminate the ability of people to participate in the process. Hopefully, we can eliminate the problem the city has in processing development activity without diminishing citizen participation. 

Turning to privatization of city services, what do you think will be the City Council’s reaction to proposals from the Mayor to begin privatization? 

Each proposal will be reviewed on its impact on city employees, service delivery, the cost differences, and what will drive the cost differences. In some of our discussions comparing city costs versus contract costs, in the final analysis, the contract employees make the same salaries but make less benefits. I doubt that the City Council will contract out services if the private sector doesn't provide benefits in a comparable range to city employees. For example, regarding refuse collection, if you reduce the benefits, which is quite common in the industry, the city pays more than the private sector. But if you factor in benefits to the private side, the total benefit packages are comparable. 

There are also other issues such as where will privatization experiments take place, how do you judge productivity, etc. For example, the pilot project for parking enforcement on the Westside of Los Angeles includes issues such as traffic coordination and abandoned vehicle service, additional duties that decreases the ability of officers to issue parking tickets. The City Council will need to review those factors to make sure they are comparing apples to apples.

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