Blue-ribbon panel to examine LA city finances is introduced

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor said the
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor said the "Los Angeles 2020" commission will examine L.A.'s troubled city finances, but will avoid placing blame
Frank Stoltze/ KPCC

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Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor Thursday introduced a new 12-member commission charged with examining Los Angeles’ troubled city finances. Kantor, who served in the Clinton Administration, lives in L.A. and created the power-packed panel at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson. He said it would avoid placing blame.

“This is about the future,” Kantor said. “We’re not here to rehash old fights about the past.”

Kantor also said the panel — called "Los Angeles 2020" — would meet behind closed doors, and issue its recommendations in six months – after the May 21st runoff election for mayor. Kantor plans to issue an interim report in July.

“We’re trying to keep it as divorced from L.A. politics as possible,” he said. The Democratic Party heavyweight supports City Controller Wendy Greuel in her contest with City Councilman Eric Garcetti for mayor.

Investment banker and one-time mayoral candidate Austin Beutner will co-chair the panel. Other members include former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, former Governor Gray Davis, and USC Vice President Thomas Sayles, who also serves as president of the commission that oversees the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

The DWP is well represented. The head of the utility’s powerful labor union, Brian D’Arcy, is on the panel. The president of the L.A. Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, Tyler Izen, is also a member.

When D’Arcy was reported to be a possible appointment last week, it raised concerns from City Councilwoman Jan Perry. She said there was an “inherent conflict” in appointing someone whose union will negotiate a contract with the city next year.

Wesson said the panel includes the “best minds” on L.A.’s finances and economy. Usually, the mayor would appoint such a commission. With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa leaving office in July, Wesson stepped into a power vacuum and initiated “Los Angeles 2020.” (See a complete list of panel members below.)

"I am confident that this outside panel, led by Mr. Kantor, will provide constructive recommendations," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The commission plans to look at a broad array of issues, including persistent budget deficits, declining city services, and an unemployment rate that tops 12%. Kantor said the panel would examine how to improve L.A.’s economy, spur job growth, and bring fiscal stability to city government. Pension reform, privatization, new taxes, and public-private partnerships are among the solutions they’ll examine.

“We’ve been kicking the can down the pothole long enough,” said panel member David Flemming, an attorney with Latham & Watkins and co-founder of the L.A. County Business Federation. “I'ts time that we got together and came up with constructive ideas to fix this city permanently.”

Flemming said reducing public employee pensions is one issue on his mind. That likely will face pushback from union leaders on the panel.

Reporters quizzed Kantor about the panel members’ business interests at city hall. “If you’re asking if people around this table have interests, of course they do,” Kantor said. But he said they are a civic-minded group interested in improving L.A.

“Our major interest is saving this city,” Flemming said.

Kantor introduced the panel at his offices at the law firm of Mayer Brown on the 25th floor of a downtown highrise.  That drew concern from Jack Humphreville, a columnist with the CityWatch blog.

“Their credibility from my perspective is sorely lacking,” said Humphreville, who attended the news conference. “This is a downtown crowd. Everybody is politically connected. I don’t see too many people from the valley. I don’t see anybody from homeowners' groups.”

Kantor said the panel would hear from a wide variety of economists, government experts and neighborhood groups before they come up with any recommendations for a new mayor and city council.

“We have a council with seven new members, a new mayor coming in, I think the timing is perfect,” Kantor said.

LOS ANGELES 2020 members: