LA Council to get Commission Report on city’s ‘decline’

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Los Angeles skyline with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background

Los Angeles skyline with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 13-member citizen panel will present the Los Angeles City Council today with a report saying the city “suffers from a crisis in leadership and direction” along with high poverty levels, unemployment, traffic congestion and other ills.

The Los Angeles 2020 Commission, a panel convened last year by City Council President Herb Wesson to come up with budget-balancing ideas for the city, on Wednesday released a 20-page report entitled “A Time For Truth.”

The report laments that the city is being held back by stagnant economic growth, “failing” schools, low voter turnout, rising city employee retirement costs and “chronic budget deficits.”

“L.A. is treading water and there is a serious prospect of decline,” former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, who chairs the panel, said Wednesday.

The Commission’s other panelists include former Gov. Gray Davis; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Brian D’Arcy, who heads the IBEW Local 18, the Department of Water and Power workers union; David Fleming, an attorney at Latham & Watkins and a board member on the Southern California Metropolitan Water District; Tyler Izen, president of the city’s police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League; and Thomas S. Sayles, senior vice president for university relations at USC and president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners.

The panel’s report starts by pointing to the 40 percent of Angelenos living in “what can only be called misery,” with 28 percent earning poverty wages and the rest unemployed. It also points to “chronic budget deficits” that are preventing the city government from providing quality public services.

The city could face a budget deficit of as much as $267 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to a statement by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana that was cited in the report.

The report, which resulted from a series of eight meetings from April to June, does not suggest any solutions, but the commission plans to submit a set of recommendations within 90 days.

The report “is just a start,” an effort to get people to acknowledge that “a problem exists,” said the commission’s co-chair, Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and staffer in the Los Angeles mayor’s office.

The report drew tepid response from some city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents a district that covers Los Angeles International Airport and Venice, Mar Vista and West Los Angeles.

Bonin said the report “kicked around more dirt than it broke ground,” and while the information was “sobering,” he did not see anything new.

“I think I could have basically gotten the same analysis by asking my constituents on Facebook” about problems they think the city faces, he said.

“I look forward to the following report that lists the solutions.”

An aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti said mayor’s office appreciated the report and they “look forward to the next one.”

The report takes a broad approach to the city’s fiscal crisis by looking at areas such as the city’s business climate, its school system and transportation measures, as well as the city budget.

It warns that the number of Fortune 500 companies has shrunk from 12 to four, while New York City has 43. The city also missed opportunities to cultivate a bioscience hub as New York did, the report stated.

Los Angeles leaders also lack a “coherent” approach to stimulating the economy and attracting investment, according to the report.

“In fact, we do an abysmal job of identifying and servicing the legitimate needs of the employers already located here,” the report said.

A survey indicates that 9 percent of Los Angeles businesses plan to leave the city due to “stifling regulations and an unresponsive bureaucracy.”

Development at Los Angeles Harbor and city-run airports also fell by the wayside, the panel warned. While other ports underwent “major improvements,” the city “bent to the will of special interest groups and NIMBYism,” the report says.

The report warns that the local public school system is not preparing students to “compete in a globalized economy,” with recent studies finding that fewer than 60 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students graduate from high school and only 32 percent students complete courses that meet admission requirements for University of California and Cal State schools.

Local schools are “failing our children and betraying the hopes of their hardworking parents,” the report said.

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