Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Los Angeles March 2011 Elections

Library funding: Measure L wins, but at the cost of public safety?

Library As readers of our Opinion pages know, the editorial board was not in favor of Measure L, which commits a greater share of revenue to L.A.’s libraries. The decision didn’t have to do with a dislike for libraries; rather, the board felt strongly it was a bad solution to a difficult problem: “The problem with Measure L, though, is that it asks the question about library funding in artificial isolation. Dedicating more money to the library system without increasing overall city revenues means that other functions of city government will have to receive less.”

Measure L did, however, end up passing this week. Taking our side and expressing outrage is LA Observed’s Marc Lacter:

Look, I love public libraries -- really I do. And it's painful to see their hours being reduced because of the city's budget troubles. Not to mention less money being made available for collections and personnel. Just shouldn't happen. But as an L.A. voter, I don't want to be determining whether libraries have a higher priority than, say, parks or police or street-sweeping. That's why Measure L was so misguided, and why its passage creates all sorts of complications for L.A.'s budget folks (whose lives are already complicated enough). Once again, a tiny percentage of voters (around 11 percent) has been given enormous clout in determining how the city's finances should be managed -- and it's just plain dumb. Not to belabor the obvious, but budgeting is a zero-sum game -- what gets committed for one department is taken away from another, and the considerations behind those decisions are not always as simple as they appear.

RELATED:

Debating Measure L

Measure L's profiles in courageous governing. Not.

Arguments for and against directing more money to libraries via Measure L

Photo: Studio City library. Credit: George Wilhelm / Los Angeles Times

March 8 election: Three cheers for incumbent Bernard Parks

Bernard ParksLos Angeles County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky support incumbent Bernard C. Parks in the race for the City Council's 8th District seat, and so do we.

Molina and Yaroslavsky spoke on behalf of Parks at a rally on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times news blog, L.A. Now, reported:

"What's wrong with the city is that every weak-kneed politician is bending over backwards for special interests," Molina said. "What we've had in Bernard Parks is courageous leadership all the way through. …The only special interests he is responsible to are the constituents in his district."

[…]

"Bernard has had a long vision, a grand vision, of how to keep the city of Los Angeles solvent," said Yaroslavsky, who lives in Los Angeles and said he was speaking as a taxpayer. "If the city would listen to Bernard, we wouldn't have potholes on every street in this city. ... We wouldn't be half a billion dollars in the hole if they'd listened to Bernard. And they’re going to come around to Bernard -- not because they want to, but because they have to because he's right."

Our editorial board agrees that Parks is the best man for the job. "The Los Angeles City Council would have a tough time functioning with 15 members like Bernard C. Parks. But it needs at least one," said the board in its endorsement. "Parks combines independence, strength and acuity, a rare combination on a council where many members prefer to wish away the city's problems."

Find all of the recommendations by The Times' editorial board in our voter guide. And check back here on Sunday for an endorsements recap -– perfect for printing out and bringing to the polls on Tuesday.

RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsements: March 8 city election

Voter guide:March 8 Los Angeles Election

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Bernard Parks, left, and the two challengers vying for his seat, Forescee Hogan-Rowles and Jabari Jumaane, before their debate at Park Mesa Heights neighborhood council meeting held in Angeles Mesa Elementary School on Feb. 13. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

March 8 election: Debating Measure L

MicrophoneAngelenos who still haven't decided how to vote on Measure L, the proposed charter amendment that would dedicate more funds to the Los Angeles public libraries, should tune in to "Which Way, L.A.?"  Wednesday night at 7 p.m. to hear a succinct discussion of the pros and cons. Jack Humphreville, publisher of the Recycler and an ardent opponent of tax hikes, spoke in favor of the measure, and I presented the editorial board's position against it. Host Warren Olney posed some pointed questions to us both, which I hope will help clarify the choice for voters.

Those of us on the "no" side have struggled to explain how one can support libraries but be opposed to Measure L.For the Times' board, it's a matter of principle: We don't believe in ballot-box budgeting, even for noble causes like the library. Voters elect council members (and supervisors and legislators) to make tough decisions about budgets, especially when times are bad and the trade-offs are uglier. It only makes that job harder when voters declare that some departments or causes are sacrosanct. But Olney made a good point when he asked what voters should do when the council makes the wrong trade-offs -- for example, cutting libraries instead of tree-trimming.

To me, though, Humphreville's argument has an even more glaring weakness. Measure L is the worst kind of ballot-box budgeting: It tells the government to spend more on a program without providing the money to do so. The council agreed unanimously to put Measure L on the ballot after deciding not to ask voters to approve a $39-per-parcel tax hike to raise more money for libraries. Humphreville apparently opposed the parcel tax; evidently his love for libraries doesn't extend to paying more for them.

I know, I know -- the increase the library is seeking amounts to chicken feed in the context of the city's annual budget. But if it's small beer, why didn't council members just make the cuts to other programs needed to keep the libraries whole? Why punt the issue to voters? Not that voters will help with the trade-offs. Measure L simply orders the council to give libraries a bigger share of the pie; it doesn't specify where it should come from.

Related:

Measure L's profiles in courageous governing. Not.

Arguments for and against Measure L

Vote no on Measure L

 

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Measure L's profiles in courageous governing. Not.

LibraryWhen The Times' editorial board came out against Measure L  -- the proposal to dedicate more of the city's revenues to its public library system -- the readers who commented were united in their derision. How could a newspaper that relied on literacy oppose a measure to spend more money on libraries, they asked?

The simple answer to that is that we're not opposed to spending more on libraries. We rather like the idea, in fact. We're just opposed to rewriting the City Charter to dedicate money to any department or function. Such measures take funding decisions out of context, and they give elected officials less flexibility to make the decisions they're paid to make.

But it seems that Los Angeles' elected officials would rather have their hands tied. Consider this line from my colleague Kate Linthicum's recent news story on the debate over Measure L:

Supporters, who include Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and all 15 members of the City Council, say it would help restore service and shield the library from future cuts.

Let's consider that for a moment, shall we? The mayor, who proposes the city's budget, and every member of the City Council, which adopts it, back Measure L. But they already have all the power needed to give more money to the library system. The only thing Measure L would do is force them to use that power, at the expense of some other, unspecified programs.

It's like a scene from a domestic dispute, where irrational anger drives someone to threaten a loved one: "Stop us before we cut the library system again!"

Oh, please. If the mayor and the council truly value libraries, they'll fully fund them without the need for ballot-box budget gimmickry like Measure L.

RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsements

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

Arguments for and against directing more money to libraries via Measure L

Decoding the ballot: Think measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

-- Jon Healey

Photo: Wei Quan Huang reads to her daughter Annie Yao at the Chinatown branch library last March. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Administrators of the pension funds typically compel state and local governments to increase their contributions when the funds don’t have enough money to cover their long-term liabilities.

March 8 election: Can you trust the DWP's rate increases?

DWP While Measure L (for libraries) may be closest to voters' hearts, it's Measures I and J that may be closest to our pocketbooks. Measure I would put a ratepayer advocate in place for the Department of Water and Power, meaning we'd have a third-party independently advising for or against rate increases based on L.A.'s needs. Measure J would force the DWP, which has been known for shady behavior, to work withthe City Council on budget plans. Both measures aim to ensure DWP accountability and transparency.

When L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti  stopped by our office in January, he explained his  impetus for Measures I and J. Here are snippets from the interview that helped the editorial board form its opinion for a yes on both measures.

"The problem is, the DWP seemed too remote. There wasn’t dependable independent information, and they weren’t abiding by the same rules that the rest of the city had to play by on ground budgeting in particular. Measure J […] says the budget should come in on time, the same time that the regular city budget occurs, and that it should be more detailed. It’s essentially just a summary that we’re given when it’s too late to do anything about it for our own fiscal year, and that was seen as a problem." [Read about last spring’s scandal here.] [...]

"I know for a lot of the advocacy community, the environmental community, the neighborhood councils -- they've always said, 'Can we get a real budget so that we can look through that?' I mean, the most basic part of government, which is to get documents, to look at them, and to make our own decisions hasn’t existed on the budget." [...]

"A lot of people say, 'Oh, you want a ratepayer advocate who is just going to argue for low rates no matter what.' We don’t want the lowest rates no matter what. We want the lowest rates given the priorities of building out our infrastructure, greening this utility; we know that it’s not going to be the cheapest power we have, we just don't trust when they do want to do these things that they actually are telling us the truth about how much they need."

RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsements

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

Decoding the ballot: Think measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: DWP workers stand near a geyser created from a water main break in Van Nuys in November 2009. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

March 8 election: Arguments for and against directing more money to libraries via Measure L

Library Among the many measures on the March 8 city election ballot, Measure L -- which would direct a higher percentage of property tax revenue to libraries -- seems closest to people’s hearts. Writing on our Facebook page, a reader reminded us of the wonderful Walter Cronkite quote: "Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation."

Author Susan Patron took a similar view in an Op-Ed on the subject. Her reasons for voting yes on Measure L include:

--"The library's budget is only 2% of the total city budget. In the past two years, the library force has been reduced by 28%. The book budget has shrunk to $1.70 per capita, versus a national average of $4.20. This is shameful. Measure L can change it."

--"The measure doesn't call for a tax increase. It calls for a change in city priorities, a change in how we allocate the funds Los Angeles already collects."

--"Children have little say in their quality of life; they entrust that to us. I'm voting yes on Measure L -- yes on open doors, yes on big ideas, yes on a welcoming refuge at their branch library for every kid in every neighborhood."

The editorial board, however, urges Angelenos to vote no on Measure L. In this difficult decision, the board argued:

We love libraries too, and consider them a core part of a city's responsibility. They help make literate Americans out of rich residents as well as poor ones. In L.A., they are the largest provider of after-school programs, keeping kids off the streets and providing computers and Internet access to those who cannot afford them. We would like to see them well funded and open as close to 24/7 as possible.

The problem with Measure L, though, is that it asks the question about library funding in artificial isolation. Dedicating more money to the library system without increasing overall city revenues means that other functions of city government will have to receive less. In the abstract, cutting library hours seems hard to defend. But what if the alternative is to hire fewer police officers, or to cut gang-intervention efforts, or to make new businesses wait longer for permits, or to close down graffiti-removal programs?

The voters elect a mayor and City Council to make those kinds of choices through a comprehensive annual budget process, adapting their allocations to the city's ever-changing needs and circumstances. Mandatory funding proposals such as Measure L ask voters to make choices about particular programs without knowing how those choices will affect the rest of the budget. That is why The Times opposes them.

 



RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsements

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

Decoding the ballot: Think measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: The Studio City Branch Library. Credit: George Wilhelm / Los Angeles Times

Politics: If not marijuana, can an old-fashioned political brawl boost the youth vote?

Huizar

If Proposition 19, which would have legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana, couldn't get younger voters to the polls during November's midterm election, does the March 8 election even have a prayer? While younger voters should care about pensions (Measure G) and whether or not the DWP's being sketchy with its annual rate increases (Measure J), many just aren't there yet -- much less planning about what they will care about in the future.

When L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti met with the editorial board in January, he spoke a bit about engaging the younger demo in local politics. He discussed leveraging social media (he's nominated for a Shorty Award) and initiating such special projects as "Operation Pothole" to get the community involved.

But, in the case of the upcoming election, it may just be the nasty, scandalous race for the City Council's 14th District seat between incumbent Jose Huizar and Rudy Martinez (you may know him from A&E's "Flip This House") that gets tongues wagging all the way to the polls.

In Tuesday's Opinion pages, Jim Newton lays out all the juicy details in "Bare-knuckle politics." Huizar hasn't made much progress during his current term, and he doesn't seem connected to the people. Martinez has misdemeanor assault convictions on his record; and what's this about him possessing an LAPD badge that didn't belong to him? A Huizar aide, since fired, said he wanted to put "a political bullet" in Martinez's forehead. (Uh, where was that guy during last month's all-encompassing national conversation about vitriol in the wake of the Tucson massacre?) At Martinez's sushi restaurant in Eagle Rock, he renamed his "Huizar" sushi roll to the more generic "CD 14" roll. And to think, these guys used to be friends.

Scandal. Soap opera plot lines. An underdog. It makes for juicy reading, which helps get the local election on the radar. Is it enough, though, to get the under-30 crowd to the polls?

RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsement: Rudy Martinez for L.A. City Council's 14th District

Reader opinion: Rudy Martinez vs. Jose Huizar for L.A. City Council's 14th District

Decoding the ballot: Think Measure M for Marijuana, N for No-good-reason...

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Reader opinion: Rudy Martinez vs. Jose Huizar for L.A. City Council's 14th District

Martinez

In the race for the L.A. City Council's 14th District, the editorial board endorsed Rudy Martinez over incumbent Jose Huizar. They wrote:

Indeed, what Martinez could bring is something that today's council has too little of: representatives who focus on the communities that elect them. That once was the mainstay of Los Angeles city politics, when council members such as John Ferraro, Richard Alatorre and Ruth Galanter understood that the city's needs were paramount but also understood their districts and labored to improve them. Martinez offers a return to that tradition.

Based on an informal count of lawn signs around the 14th District by a fellow staffer, you'd think that the neighborhood would agree with our endorsement. But a quick trip to Twitter and our comments board* shows some resistance to our stance.

A couple of Huizar supporters in their own words…

"In my lifetime of civic involvement throughout Los Angles and my approaching ten years in the neighborhood council movement, I have never worked with any council person (or any public official - or any council staff) who has been more accessible or more willing to listen to us about our area's problems than Jose Huizar.  But he doesn't just stop there.  He then takes it one more step - and works - effectively -  to fix those problems. 

It doesn't matter if it is a burned out street light, a struggling business needing help with the DWP's sometimes unreasonable demands or a non-profit that gets caught between the conflicting demands of two different city agencies - he and his staff have always been there for us.

However, the Times seems to believe that instead of doing his job - that Huizar should instead be spending his time asking people to vote for him by pushing their doorbells instead of doing the work they elected him to do.  But, if Huizar was doing that - of course - the Times would then accuse him of ignoring the needs of his district and spending all of his time running for re-election.

Fortunately, though, it will not be the LA Times Editorial Board but the voters of the 14th District who will decide who will represent them in next month's election and that will be Councilman Jose Huizar."bradywestwater (a.k.a. "L.A. Cowboy")

"Are you kidding me???? The LA Times endorses Rudy Martinez, as being in the tradition of "representatives who focus on the communities that elect them. That once was the mainstay of Los Angeles city politics, when council members such as Richard Alatorre  understood that the city's needs were paramount but also understood their districts and labored to improve them."

"What??? Has the Times forgotten that Richard Alatorre was caught for political corruption and is a convicted federal felon?? This is what the Times thinks is the type of City Council Member the residents of the 14th Council district deserves?? This is who Rudy Martinez reminds them of???

If this is not the best reason to support Jose Huizar than I don't know what is." --TerryW73209


 …vs. Martinez supporters:

"I have lived in the district for over 40 years and follow the local political scene.

What I like about Rudy Martinez is the same things that the LA Times observed: energy and a commitment to get things done for everyone.  What this says is that Jose Huizar lacks energy and doesn't get things done.

Rudy Martinez says he will clean up Boyle Heights and El Sereno so that it no longer looks like a third world country.  Huizar and his staff have let the Latino bedroom communities look so filthy that it is embarrassing. Downtown may love him but we don't.

I took a look at Martinez's sushi bar, Mia's, and restaurant/bar, Marty's, and they appear to be very clean establishments.  Rudy Martinez seems to take pride in presenting a good product.

To those that dwell on the past, especially things from our youth, don't have the capacity to grow or have not realized that we all can grow from our past mistakes.  Rudy Martinez's brother was murdered and he inappropriately handled himself during the grieving period, but that was then and today he is not that same person.

The Rudy Martinez of today wants to bring his skill and talent to a local political office.  I commend him for getting in the ring and wish him luck in March.

I plan on voting for him!" --CD 14 Watcher

"I am delighted to read your endorsement of Rudy Martinez. Or rather, I am pleased that the Times did not endorse my council member, Jose Huizar. In almost two decades of living in CD14, I remember just two years of great service from my council member. And the L.A. Times put a stop to that with, not only its endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, but with its with its fawning coverage of him - corrected somewhat lately by Jim Newton's recent column - that propelled his protégé, Jose Huizar, into office.

For me, not a neighborhood council leader or any sort of leader in my community, just a small businessman, paying taxes, employing 25 people, I get no response from my council member, Mr. Huizar. I was appalled that he rated constituents on their fealty to him - what else could it have been? It did smack of Nixonion politics. It is very clear in the neighborhood where I live who gets called returned and who doesn't.

I do not believe (I hope not, anyway) the Times would be complaining if Mr. Huizar was "...spending his time asking people to vote for him by pushing their doorbells..." and I am amazed that he doesn't engage directly with ordinary constituents, especially at election time." --eastside maven

 (*Spelling corrected for clarity.)

RELATED:

Los Angeles Times Endorsements: LAUSD school board race | Paul Krekorian for City Council's 2nd District | Rudy Martinez for L.A. City Council's 14th District

Decoding the ballot: Think Measure M for Marijuana, N for No-good-reason...

Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Portrait of Rudy Martinez. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Submission forum: What would you like to ask the local candidates on the March 8 ballot?

Huizar With the March 8 city election around the corner, the editorial board has begun churning out its endorsements, starting with recommendations for LAUSD school board: the Rev. Eric P. Lee in District 1, Tamar Galatzan in District 3, Luis Sanchez in District 5 and Richard Vladovic in District 7. Stay tuned for endorsements for Los Angeles City Council and the 11 ballot measures, which editorial writer Robert Greene decoded in December; we'll have recommendations to guide voters to the best of the 17 candidates vying for council seats in Bell as well as the one councilwoman who is trying to defend her seat against a recall election. Meantime, we've launched a voter guide that'll continue to grow as the election nears. One forthcoming feature will include a Q&A series with the candidates, care of our friends in Metro. If you have a tough question you'd like to ask any of the candidates, now's your chance. The submission forum is open until the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 2.

RELATED:

Voter guide: March 8 City Election

Endorsement: For the L.A. Unified board

Decoding the ballot: Think Measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

Measure G: Planning for pensions

DWP needs more independence from elected officials

Rushed to the ballot

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Councilman Jose Huizar at a campaign rally in Boyle Heights. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Decoding the March 8 ballot: Think measure L for Libraries, M for Marijuana and N for No-good-reason

The March 8 Los Angeles city ballot will include 10 measures. Or maybe 11, if the City Council changes its mind and reinstates the troublesome K. And by the way, is that Measure K, Proposition K or Charter Amendment K? Don't worry about it. If it ends up on the ballot, it will just be K.

Here they are, with a bit of background, and the names of those designated to write the pro and con ballot arguments. If there were a contest for most ballot arguments written, Councilwoman Jan Perry would win the derby.

G. Charter Amendment: Adds a new (lower) pension tier for new police and fire recruits.

Why “G”? It’s the next letter available after A through F, which were used this year in elections in other Los Angeles County jurisdictions. But it may as well stand for “Gee, haven’t we seen this before?” Here’s some language from 2001 for the argument for Charter Amendment A. That’s the ballot measure that created the higher pension tier that is now causing the city such financial anxiety and which this measure seeks to cut off:

“Charter Amendment A will allow the City to restructure the existing Fire and Police Pension System to reduce costs to the City without reducing benefits. An actuarial study shows that the City should save $196 million in the first five years. After that, additional cost savings are expected to continue for another five to ten years.”

Those efficiencies were supposed to pay for new, richer annual benefits -– up to 90% of salary at retirement for officers who had served 33 years. It must have sounded like a good idea at the time. The ballot argument was signed by, among others, then-Mayor Richard Riordan and then-Police Chief Bernard C. Parks. No one submitted an argument against it. The measure was endorsed by The Times.

This year’s ballot arguments in favor of G, which would roll back some of those benefits, are being written by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and council President Eric Garcetti. Once again, no one asked to write opposing arguments.

Here’s the proposed charter language


Find measures H-Q after the jump>>

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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