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League of Women Voters of California Education Fund
The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles and asked of all candidates for this office.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).
Questions & Answers
1. What do you think is the single most important issue facing the City of Los Angeles today? As Council Member, what would you do to deal with it?
The biggest problem facing the City is the budget. We can't do anything unless we get our fiscal house in order first. I address this in my answer to the next question.
The next most important issue is over development. As a city, we have not done a good job in this area and it has negatively impacted our quality of life. City Council districts have traditionally been run like individual fiefdoms. This is especially true with regards to land use issues and development. Development projects which require zoning changes or variances are either approved or not at the whim of the Councilmember. Far from being a "nation of laws, not men", when it comes to development in LA, the "men" rule, not the laws. This must change. City Council members must be made to adhere to the zoning rules, and especially the Community or Specific Plan, and this must be enshrined in our city code and/or charter. We must also rein in the abuse of the 245 motion Councilmembers use to overrule the decisions of the planning commission. I would favor a prohibition on Council Members from using a 245 motion to overrule planning decisions for the benefit any political contributors.
In addition, for large projects, we should begin to view development from an area-wide perspective, not property-by-property. The are some areas of the city which are so overdeveloped that critical services, such as public schools, police and fire services, water and sewerage, as well as transportation infrastructure cannot reasonably handle the added impact of new major construction. Large development projects in these areas should be deferred unless those impacts can be mitigated.
We must also speed up the reforms to the city's Mansionization Ordinance. This ordinance, which was enacted in 2007 has never worked to accomplish what it was meant to do. We currently allow too much house to be built on too little property. This drives up the price of housing and makes LA unaffordable for the middle class. After seven years, the council is finally getting around to tackling this issue. But they tell us it will take another 18 to 24 months to come up with a new ordinance. There's no reason it should take this long to fix something that's been broken for seven years. I'll commit to pushing for changes to be finished within 6 months of my taking office.
I have pledge to have the most transparent city council office in the history of Los Angeles. I will:
1. Promptly disclose whenever my office is officially approached about a development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person or group representing the developer. This information will be posted on my Council office website. Neighborhood Councils and other groups (homeowners/residential/business) in the area of the project will be promptly notified to check for information on this website.
2. Follow up meetings with me or any of my staff regarding the project will also be posted. Post, on my website, my official schedule so constituents can see who I've met with and how I am spending my time representing CD4.
3. Immediately post any changes contemplated in CD 4 by any City Department that would make changes to the Community Plans, i.e. Bike Plan, Mobility Element, and Recode LA. Too often the majority of stakeholders receive no advanced notice of these changes.
4. Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each Community Plan in CD 4, as well as Policy 3.3.2 of the Framework Element.
5. Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the infrastructure in the area of any contemplated project (requiring discretionary approval) will not be threatened in relation to user needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and transportation infrastructure.
2. The City Administrative Officer has estimated a $300 million budget shortfall for 2015-2016. What steps do you propose to deal with this problem and how much do you estimate each step would reduce the shortfall?
While I don't mean to minimize next year's projected budget deficit of $165 million, this amount is about 2% of the city's total operating budget. Surely, with a little more belt tightening, we can find this amount in wasteful expenditures and non-essential line items. We can also help make up the difference by being more proactive in collecting taxes and fees due the city. The controller has already identified a number of items that go uncollected such as fees that should be paid by utility companies that cut into streets to replace water or electric lines and the parking users tax that is often paid by motorists but pocketed by parking lot operators who accept cash payments. Another source of uncollected revenue are "in lieu" parking funds that property and business owners are required to pay in some areas of the city in lieu of providing enough parking. Often times, these fees that are supposed to be paid monthly are not paid at all and the city has no mechanism to track or collect these unpaid fees. Additionally, replacing burned out light bulbs with new energy efficient bulbs could save millions of dollars in city energy costs over the long run. No one item listed here will make up the deficit, but every little bit will help. I'm confident that if we combed through the last decade or so of Controllers' audits we'd find millions of dollars in recommended savings that were never implemented.
The City Administrative Officer has recommended no raises or cost of living adjustments for City employees and that civilian workers will contribute 10% towards the cost of the City sponsored health plan. I not only support this but would work to achieve it. It's one thing to say you agree with something, it's another thing entirely to work to implement it. With regards to employees paying more into their healthcare costs, I'd push for an even higher contribution amount if we could get it. When I ran a five doctor veterinary hospital with about 40 workers, we offered health insurance at an 80%/20% split. This is about average for the private sector. There's no reason the city should be more generous with taxpayer dollars than businesses are in the private sector.
I also support the unanimous recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City's finances as long as the office had some real teeth and could act, rather than just make recommendations. We saw how the Ratepayer Advocate's role was watered down by the City Council and we need to avoid a repeat of that.
In 2003 the city's share of pension payments was 3% of budget expenses. It is now over 21%. Granted, the much lower percentage in the early part of the last decade was due to the city underfunding the pensions, but even without that, we have had an explosion in pension costs due to elected officials giving unsustainable benefit increases and padding the city workforce. The city has underfunded the pension plans for over a decade and we realistically can't expect to fix the problem in the short term. However, we must begin the process now or it will be too late. First, the city must create a new tier of pension benefits for new hires and we must vigorously oppose any attempts to eliminate or delay this reform. This is critical or we will never get our pension costs under control. Second, we must hold the line on any salary increases. As salaries go up, so do pension costs as they are directly related. Third, the city must negotiate with the unions to get city workers to pay a larger share of their retirement costs. City workers get a guaranteed payout upon retirement regardless of what happens in the economy or the vagaries of the market. If employees wish to continue getting a guaranteed payout, then they must pay more into the system for this privilege. Currently, they have the best of all worlds + low pay in, no risk, guaranteed reward. That is an unsustainable formula.
In the long term, I believe we must move away from a Defined Benefit Plan system and move towards a plan where payouts are somewhat dependent on the return of the invested funds. For example an "Adjustable Pension Plan" could work to protect both workers' retirement benefits and taxpayers.
Further, I support the LA 2020 Commission's proposal to form a Committee on Retirement Security that will report its recommendations on how to "achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020" Again, the devil is in the details and we must ensure that any such committee is made up of independent experts insulated from the influence of the unions and politicians.
3. What is the single most important issue facing your Council District today, and how would you deal with it?
The biggest issues facing the district are traffic congestion, failing infrastructure, and development. I dealt with the development issue in question #1.
Here's my plan for reducing traffic:
1. Expand commuter transit lines - We need to identify where most of the commuter traffic flows from and to, and then create convenient transit options between those points. For example, we need to create dedicated transit between the West Side and the Valley. It's unconscionable that we endured a huge construction project on the 405 including roadway closures and the rebuilding of major bridges, yet our elected officials didn't think ahead and include the creation of a dedicated transit line similar to the Orange Line Busway which could then be converted to light or heavy rail once the funding became available. This was a major failure in leadership. We also need to complete the other transit lines currently on the drawing board, especially an east-west and north-south transit connection to LAX. In addition, we must begin to interconnect our transit system and create transit hubs where commuters can park conveniently or arrive by another convenient form of transportation such as a Dash Bus.
2. Eliminate roadway choke points - While it's true that we cannot build our way out of our traffic problem with significantly more roadway, we can improve what we have now to alleviate some of the major choke points. This includes fixing the 101 north to southbound 405 interchange by eliminating the jug-handle exit ramp that currently exists and building a "flyover" ramp to more efficiently move traffic between the two highways. Also, we need to fix the 101 south to the 101/134 split by adding an extra lane from the 101 onto the 134 providing three lanes exiting onto both roadways. We also have to identify and fix the engineering problems causing the continual back-up on the 101 south between Melrose and the 110. On the 101 north near Universal, the design causes a lane reduction south of the Ventura Ave bridge and the lane resumes on the north side of the bridge. This causes huge backups every weekday. We must redesign the roadway so traffic does not lose a lane in this area. On local roads, we need more dedicated left and right turn lanes with dedicated turn arrows.
3. Incentivize Telecommuting - A large part of our traffic problem comes during the morning and evening rush hours as hundreds of thousands of people travel to and from work. Currently about 5% - 6% of the workforce works from home. If we can increase that to 10% or 15% or 20%, that will significantly decrease traffic during commuting times. Technology has advanced to the point where this is entirely doable and many workers would eagerly join this movement as it would improve their quality of life. The city can lead on this issue by creating incentives and programs for city workers to telecommute. For the private sector, the city can create other incentives such as tax breaks and restrictions on regulations for businesses that increase the percentage of their workforce that works from home. The best thing about this proposal is that we don't have to spend billions of dollars building new infrastructure to accomplish it.
With regards to infrastructure, the City Council plays a very clever shell game with our tax dollars. First, they spend the money on something the populace would never vote for, such as the 5 year, 5% annual raise for city workers (30% overall) passed in 2007 by the city council along with Mayor Villaraigosa. Meanwhile, they starve our infrastructure of needed funds, allowing our roads and sidewalks to deteriorate to the point where we cry out for relief. Then they tell us we need to vote to raise our taxes if we want our streets and sidewalks fixed. We don't need another tax increase. Instead, I'd put a bond measure on the ballot to raise the needed funds to fix our infrastructure now rather than later. If we rein in our other costs and get the budget under control, we could pay for our infrastructure bonds out of the general fund, not by raising taxes.
Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League. Candidates' answers are presented as submitted.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).
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Created from information supplied by the candidate: February 27, 2015 20:28
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