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Activists seek ballot measure to cut L.A. elected officials’ salaries in half

October 3, 2009 |  2:43 pm

A group of Los Angeles neighborhood activists is organizing a campaign to put a measure on the November 2010 ballot that would slice the salaries of Los Angeles elected officials in half.    

Under the City Charter, council members currently make $178,789 – an amount pegged to the salary of Superior Court judges. The mayor's salary is set 30% higher at $232,426, while the city attorney and the controller make $214,547 and $196,668 respectively. Whenever Superior Court judges get raises, Los Angeles elected officials automatically get the increase.

When officials received a 4% raise in late 2007 -- which was the fourth in 2 1/2 years -- the mayor and at least four council members, including Janice Hahn, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss, told reporters they would forgo the increase. Two council members, Dennis Zine and Jose Huizar, planned to give the raise to charity. Council members and other elected officials are not permitted to earn outside income.

But discontent with the council's performance was evident today at a daylong neighborhood council action summit held at Los Angeles City College, where the ballot measure was debated during the first of a series of panels concerning issues facing the city.

One of the ballot measure's organizers, Doug Epperhart of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, noted that council is the highest paid in the country. "Compared to salaries of other city council members, elected officials in the United States it's ridiculous," Epperhart said. "For instance the city attorney, whom I like, makes more than the attorney general of the United States."

"We're not getting what we paid for, so let's pay for what we get," Epperhart said.

Bill Christopher, who argued against the measure as a panelist, questioned whether it was the best use of activists' time and resources. Proponents must gather 240,000 qualifying signatures -- the equivalent of 15% of registered voters in Los Angeles -- over 180 days to meet the threshold for a charter change.

"That is a huge undertaking," said Christopher, who helped found the Citywide Alliance of Neighborhood Councils. He warned there might be "a bit of blow-back from politicians" that could diminish the influence of neighborhood councils.

Audience reaction was mixed at the forum, which drew about 70 people.

Jeff Jacobberger, chair of the Mid City West Community Council, said the average house in his area costs around $1 million. In some council districts, he said, "if you are relatively young with a family, and a relatively new mortgage with an expensive house, that is not enough money to live on, and you are telling young, talented people that they are ineligible to run for City Council."

Speaking in favor of the measure, Nina Royal of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, said the city should "give [the money] to the neighborhood councils and give the neighborhood councils more power."

In an informal poll, 32 of the community activists involved in the discussion said they supported the idea while 20 said they were opposed.

Epperhart said his group formed a state committee and plans to file official paperwork with the city as early as December.

-- Maeve Reston at City Hall