As a guy who’s been covering LA for around 25 years now, I want City Hall to be a happy place. It’s the `60s guy in me I suppose: “Hey everybody take hands with your brother and all get together and love one another right now.” Rarely, it seemed, you did get that mood in City Hall, and when you did, usually something good happened. Like the trainload of relief aid the city sent to Mexico after the `85 quake. Or the anti-apartheid resolutions that spread from Tom Bradley’s office to the statehouse and all over the nation—helping to end South Africa’s undemocracy.
But the times aren’t right for that mood just now. These, in fact, are the toughest times since at least the early 80s— when last there were last real layoffs, as opposed to simply the elimination of unfilled jobs. The insider mood now is fear. Increasingly, the city’s 30,000 or so employees are looking at one another with the suspicion that some of them, at least, won’t ever get to have a retirement party. Does this mean that they’re going to be working harder to help us civilians when we show up at service counters, so that they’ll get better performance evaluations? Maybe so. The offset, however, will be longer waits in line and shorter counter hours. While libraries go back to the two-day-per-week schedule or even close. And after-school youth programs that have painstakingly, over the past decade, liberated some city parks from gangs disappear, and the gangs return.
This is probably why you haven’t seen a happy face for quite a while on the city’s own official visage, Antonio Villaraigosa. I noticed this for the first time early this year, when AV rolled out his State of the City speech in a corner of the city so obscure that it was actually south of Torrance…There, accompanied by a local high school band that played a mean “Watermelon Man” but couldn’t quite make it through “The Star Spangled Banner,” the mayor first rolled out his own sweetness-and-light solution to the city’s first round of 2009-2010 budget problems: everyone take voluntary days off and pay cuts. But as noted above, it’s not sweet honey time. The workers and their union leaders made some quick calculations; the kinds of employee cuts presented as alternatives to the voluntary giveups were small enough to leave most of them safe in their jobs with full pay and too bad for the Jonahs that got tossed over the side.
The mayor’s smile then was tiny and sidewise. A month later, at City Hall, he rolled out the same proposals with the same skepticism as a result. The mayor this time didn’t smile at all. That’s where it’s been stuck ever since—except that the state’s $25 billion post-May 19 election shortfall is going to cascade onto this city along with every other city and county in the state. And make the proposed layoffs a lot worse. So far, the city unions (one of which, the SEIU local, is distracted by its own huge civil war) remain shy of the “hold hands with your brother’’ option. But the focus is still in Sacramento. When the spotlight moves back here, and the extent of the state calamity’s hit on the city becomes clearer, who knows? Could there be love in the ruins?
Meanwhile, Antonio is dating again—and was spotted with the new object of his affection in a bookstore! Has that ever happened before to a celebrity in this screen-loving town? Will the mayor’s apparent literacy hurt his gubernatorial chances? Tune in next time.