Los Angeles City Council set to vote on layoffs, furloughs

The Los Angeles City Council is set to vote today on a budget proposal to lay off 761 city employees and furlough thousands more starting July 1, if their unions refuse to take pay cuts or make other concessions to help reduce a $485 million budget deficit for fiscal 2010-11.

"The concessions that we would ask for would be equal to the 761 layoffs," City Council President Eric Garcetti said on Friday. "I think the number is $57 million."

Garcetti expressed confidence that the gap can be bridged, noting the city and the unions collaborated several months ago on an early retirement incentive program that helped take 2,400 workers off the city's general fund payroll.

"They made concessions in additional pension payments and other things to pay for that, so we have a decent track record, but this [layoff plan] guarantees that if we can't come to some sort of agreement, we aren't just left hanging out there," Garcetti said. "People want to be able to count real money and have protection if the money isn't in place."

Up to 1,000 other positions could be eliminated on Oct. 1 unless the city brings in $64 million through leasing city-owned parking garages, fining banks for failing to maintain foreclosed properties and collecting additional documentary transfer taxes, Garcetti said.

The council's Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday recommended eliminating 1,761 positions. By Friday, however, several council members agreed to proceed with just 761 layoffs on July 1 if the unions do not make concessions, and eliminate additional positions on Oct. 1 only if projected revenues fall short.

Coalition of Los Angeles City Unions chairwoman Cheryl Parisi hailed the decision to lower the layoff numbers.

"I think the council made a good first step today by recognizing some revenue sources that the committee had rejected out of hand," Parisi said on Friday. "We're quite optimistic that there are ways to be able to achieve a budget that is balanced, that does not lay off workers, and does not furlough workers, the goal being to retain services."

Parisi declined to answer questions about pay cuts and other concessions.

Under the budget proposal, 761 layoffs would result in the closing of the Northeast Valley Animal Shelter, as well as several child care centers whose operations are subsidized.

It would also result in libraries being open only five days a week instead of six, and delays in pothole repairs and tree-trimming.

Funding for adult day care centers, gang intervention programs, cultural affairs events, and parks and recreation activities will also be reduced.

The Police Department will continue to hire officers to replace those who resign or retire. However, it will drastically reduce overtime, which may delay murder investigations.

The Fire Department will maintain a hiring freeze and continue to keep several fire trucks and ambulances out of service, potentially slowing emergency response.

Budget analysts have not provided details on how an additional 1,000 layoffs would affect services.

Not all council members believe staff reductions are necessary.

Councilman Herb Wesson on Friday submitted a spending plan that restores services and eliminates layoffs and furloughs by adopting revenue-generating measures proposed by the Coalition of Los Angeles City Unions.

"Trust me, if somebody calls you and says, 'I got a wild dog running around,' what are you going to say? 'I'll get it on Friday.' People are going to want you to deliver those services right then," Wesson said.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana has said some of the coalition's revenue projections may be unrealistic.

Wesson's plan counts on $7.5 million in "voluntary fees" that residents could opt to give the city for emergency medical services; $20 million in surplus revenue from the Department of Water and Power which has not been formally proposed by the board of that utility; and a $6.4 million reduction in contract costs that the city would have to negotiate with its contractors.

"I think that when you're going through difficult times like we are now, it's in our best interest to be as creative as we can be, because what people are really recognizing is if we reduce staff, we're going to have such service reductions that we will not be able to deliver the needs that the constituents want, need and expect," Wesson said.

According to the budget proposal, the city would save $57 million by laying off 761 employees on July 1, and $63 million by forcing thousands of civilian employees to take up to 26 unpaid days off.

Garcetti's staff said if the unions come up with $57 million worth of concessions and eliminate the need for layoffs, the city would no longer be hit with about $63 million in bills that accompany layoffs, including unemployment insurance payouts. That could then cancel furloughs.

The proposal to eliminate an additional 1,000 positions was expected to save the city about $64 million.

Miller said that amount could be offset with about $53 million in revenue from the lease of parking garages, $5 million in fines from banks that fail to maintain foreclosed homes, and a $6 increase in documentary transfer taxes.

Villaraigosa insisted the city will have the money from the parking garages by the first quarter of the upcoming fiscal year, noting 15 bidders have come forward.