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Will Angelenos soon be trimming city trees? Budget cuts could bring big changes

February 1, 2010 |  7:53 am

The Los Angeles City Council could vote this week on whether to proceed with the elimination of 1,000 positions to address this year’s $208-million deficit and the city’s dwindling reserve fund.

But the city's top budget analyst, Miguel Santana, is also urging council members to focus on even more bracing financial challenges in the years ahead. By the 2013 fiscal year, the city could face a $952-million shortfall.

Santana accompanied his midyear financial status report last week with a “three-year plan to fiscal sustainability” to address the city’s structural deficit. The proposed changes would restructure a number of city departments and could significantly pare back the services handled by the city, which is already scrambling to patch holes left by the early-retirement program offered last fall to 2,400 workers.

Santana urged city officials to immediately begin seeking private operators for the convention center, municipal golf courses, city parking garages and the zoo. Other proposals, which would require the council’s approval, could shift responsibilities from city workers to private firms.

For example, a proposed pilot program in the parks department would contract out 20% of its landscaping duties. The General Services Department, which may lose 15% of its mechanics this year to early retirement, may have to outsource maintenance work on the city’s fleet of vehicles.

And L.A. residents could soon see some unpleasant changes. Santana’s three-year plan notes the city will need to rethink its street sweeping routes, which cover 13,000 curb miles, after 15% of its sweeper operators retire. 

Even tree trimming may no longer be a service that Angelenos can count on. Because of prior budget cuts, very few of the city’s palm trees will be trimmed this year, according to the report. In the future, the city’s top budget analyst is asking City Council members to consider reducing the costs of street tree trimming “to the bare minimum” and returning “responsibility for street tree maintenance to the abutting property owner,” as was the case before a change to city law in 1931.

Members of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee will discuss the proposals at their Monday afternoon meeting.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall

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