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L.A. budget analyst's report shows council's off-budget accounts

February 3, 2010 |  3:48 pm

As the Los Angeles City Council debated how to close a budget shortfall that is expected to grow to nearly $484 million next fiscal year, the city’s top budget analyst for the first time identified more than $30 million in accounts controlled by City Council members that are generally kept off the books—reserved for special projects in their districts.

When City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana outlined options last week for closing this fiscal year’s $218-million budget gap, some city officials privately grumbled that the offices of council members looked to be untouched. During a budget hearing Monday, Councilman Bernard C. Parks ordered Santana to generate an addendum report showing all possible cuts across the city, including the Police Department.

In a spreadsheet obtained by The Times that was not publicly released as part of Wednesday's addendum budget report, Santana’s office showed $26.6 million in the council’s “discretionary special accounts.” If the council agrees, some of that money could be used to replenish dwindling city reserves, analysts said.

Within those discretionary accounts is at least $6.5 million generated by the sale of surplus properties, according to the memo. (Historically when a city property was sold, half of the proceeds went to the council district where the property was located, while the other half was deposited into the city’s general fund, which pays for basic services such as parks and libraries.)

The $26.6 million also includes $4.8 million in “street furniture” money, which is generated by ads on bus shelters and kiosks, that can be used by council members for beautification projects, or in some cases to pad their salary accounts. There are also a number of small trusts that council members use to award scholarships and rewards to residents whose tips lead to the conviction of vandals and taggers. 

But several city officials cautioned that not all of the $26.6 million is available because some is tied to specific areas of the city. For example, although there is $7 million in a council account called “community amenities funds.” Councilman Greig Smith noted that at least $5.6 million of that money must be spent for community benefit projects within a few miles of the Sunshine Canyon landfill to mitigate the effects of the dump on neighbors. Smith’s office plans to direct those funds to two major projects—a park in Aliso Canyon in Granada Hills and for the relocation of baseball and soccer fields for children in Granada Hills that were scheduled to close.

In addition to the $26.6 million, Santana’s memo showed that there is at least $10 million available in a separate account controlled by council members that is generated in the city’s redevelopment areas, which certain council members can use for economic development projects their districts.

According to the memo, there is also $3.5 million left over this year that was designated for items such as heritage month celebrations and special events citywide such as an El Grito celebration, as well as events in council members’ districts, such as 10k races, Halloween carnivals, parades and street fairs.

In their report, budget analysts also calculated possible reductions to the offices of the mayor and council. Santana said a 5% cut to the $21-million salary accounts of the 15 council members would save more than a $1 million, while a 5% cut to the nearly $8-million salary account in the mayor’s office would save $395,245.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall