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Mood tense as Villaraigosa meets with managers to discuss budget gap

January 26, 2010 |  7:24 pm

As Los Angeles officials continue preparations to eliminate as many as 1,000 city positions to bridge a nearly $200-million budget gap, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa met with his general managers today to seek their ideas for shrinking the size of city government.

Matt Szabo, the mayor's deputy chief of staff and budget adviser, said the mood was tense.

On Friday the city's top budget analyst, Miguel Santana, is expected to outline positions and departments that could be eliminated in a report to the City Council.

But Szabo cautioned that city officials are continuing to explore ways to move workers off the payroll while maintaining their jobs. One example under serious discussion, Szabo said, is turning the L.A. Convention Center over to a private company, but negotiating an agreement by which current employees would work for the new operator.

“We’re looking at ways for smarter, better reductions in costs -- that doesn’t mean we’re going to be lopping off services and sending employees to the unemployment line,” Szabo said. “It’s highly likely that the mayor and council will determine that we don’t need to run the Convention Center anymore, perhaps we don’t need to run the zoo anymore or our municipal golf courses. We could figure out a way to still provide those services to the public without the city incurring the direct cost of running those programs.”

Villaraigosa and some council members hope to avoid hundreds of layoffs by transferring workers to jobs that are not paid for by the general fund--vacancies in some of the city’s special-funded departments including the airport, housing and sanitation.

The City Council, meanwhile, met behind closed doors for nearly two hours to discuss the city’s declining revenues and the possibility of layoffs. Council President Eric Garcetti said that beginning next week, the Council would devote two of their three meetings each week to the budget crisis and job creation.

“We are in a full-blown emergency with the worst downturn to our city’s revenues since the Great Depression,” Garcetti said. “The last time we had four quarters in a row where the revenues went down by double digits was the Great Depression.”

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, chairman of the council’s budget committee, said layoffs appear to be inevitable. “We’ve pretty much eliminated all vacant positions over the last several months,” Parks said. “So we’re talking about real live people sitting in positions and those positions being eliminated.”

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall

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