Friday, May 8, 2009

OPINION: Open Your Eyes, City Council

By Doug Epperhart

Neighborhood councils – including the Central, Coastal and Northwest San Pedro councils – are under attack by the L.A. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, particularly chairman Bernard Parks and San Fernando Valley councilman Greig Smith.

The mayor’s 2009-10 budget proposes giving neighborhood councils $45,000 (down 10 percent from 2008-09). Smith and his budget committee cohorts want to slash that amount to about $11,000 (a 78 percent decrease). Smith’s justification is that the money can be used to save jobs of city workers.

The city council doesn’t understand that the current fiscal mess isn’t due solely to the ailing economy. Much of L.A.’s money woes stem from the council’s mismanagement of city finances. Faced with a depleted treasury, Smith and his colleagues believe leadership means everyone – except themselves – should share in the sacrifice.

The city council members have no intention of giving up one penny of their nearly $180,000 annual salaries at the same time Mayor Villaraigosa is willing to take a 12 percent pay cut. Throw in perks and each councilmember costs taxpayers nearly $300,000 a year. That doesn’t include staff and office expenses.

It’s breathtaking to see 15 highly paid and pampered politicians reward their own incompetence by ordering others to make sacrifices. It’s astounding Smith uses the false dichotomy of killing neighborhood councils or laying off employees while maintaining that his salary is out of bounds.

The money allocated to the 89 neighborhood councils amounts to $4 million in a budget of $7 billion. Each dollar spent by neighborhood councils is leveraged by hours of volunteer time. The benefits to the city are enormous; in fact, priceless.

Open your eyes, city council – neighborhood councils are the best bargain L.A. has ever gotten.
Doug Epperhart is a San Pedro business owner, community leader and member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

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