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Prepared text of Villaraigosa's State of the City speech

April 14, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Fellow Angelenos:

These are no ordinary times in the City of Los Angeles, or for that matter, any place where people depend on the global economy.

Here in L.A., the recession is taking a terrible toll.  230,000 Angelenos now standing on unemployment lines.  The jobless rate simmering at 12% and rising. The mortgage crisis has now forced 21,000 of our families to box up their belongings and vacate their homes, many experiencing for the first time in their lives the humiliating pain -- the frustration -- that comes in having to put your hand out and rely on the help of strangers to survive.

We have thousands of business owners struggling to make payroll.  Trade flows and ship traffic are idling at the port.  And the recession has done lasting damage to one of our most vital civic institutions: our great newspapers.

Needless to say, the recession has hit government particularly hard.

The need for our services is up.  Revenue to pay for them is down. Here in L.A., we face a $530-million  deficit this year alone.

The situation at the state level — where the system seems hardwired for failure — is even more extreme.  That’s why it is absolutely critical that we lock arms and approve the bipartisan budget stabilization package on May 19 to prevent us from destroying the very services that Californians depend on.

When challenges seem daunting, it’s always helpful to recall the old Japanese proverb: “Adversity is the foundation of virtue.”

If this global economic crisis was brought on by the recklessness and greed of the few, pulling ourselves out of the ditch is going to require the shared sacrifice of the many.  It’s going to take a bold reassertion of our belief in community as a value – here in L.A. and across America.

First off, we are going to need to support President Obama with everything we’ve got.

And we must all demonstrate a new willingness to roll up our sleeves and sacrifice for the common good.

Most of all, we are going to need to constantly remind ourselves of the philosophy that created the crisis in the first place.

For the last half-century, many have argued that our public institutions are the enemy.  An anti-government philosophy incubated in Washington think tanks.  A philosophy that says sensible financial regulation is bad for the economy.  That progressive taxation equals class warfare.

They spread the fiction that frayed the fabric -- arguing that the social safety net traps people in poverty.  And they offered perhaps history’s worst-ever financial advice: “Just do what Wall Street says and, trust us, the dividends will trickle down to your 401(k)s.”

Just imagine what would have happened if we'd broken the social contract by gambling Social Security on the roulette tables of the derivative market -- so that some Wall Street CEO could turn a profit.

Here in California, it’s the same thinking that gave us the two-thirds budget vote and term limits.

Fundamentally it’s the politics of no. Of saying what we can’t do.
No to investment in the long term.  No to what we can do together as parents and neighbors in communities, small towns and big cities across our state.

Today, our path forward must focus on revitalizing our economy, rejuvenating our middle class and helping our hard-working families weather this storm and emerge stronger on the other side.

And in practically every decision we make, we are going to need to rebuild this economy on a foundation of shared values.

If that sounds abstract, I’ll be a little more specific.  Next week, I will present our budget proposal to the City Council.  It's founded on two fundamental principles:  protecting services and preserving the jobs people need in this recession.

I'll be the first to admit: This budget relies on the willing partnership of our city workers, hopefully even the courageous leadership of their union leaders.

This year’s $530-million shortfall could grow to a billion dollars in 2010 because of the market damage to our pension funds. This is not a reason to panic.  This is a reason for urgency.  A reason to come to the table with new ideas.  To recognize that there is no time to waste.  There is not a single moment to spare.

And we have to act now.

To my fellow city workers: We face a stark -- but clear -- choice.  We can reopen contracts and together write a jobs budget or we can stay stuck on autopilot, on a path to a layoff budget.

We can do what some cities and states are proposing.  Despite the deepening chill of this recession, we can turn out thousands of our workers and take a meat cleaver to essential services – threatening meals for the poor, housing for the homeless, libraries for our students, job assistance for the unemployed and police patrols in our neighborhoods.

Or we can ask everyone to come together, pitch in and be a small part of a bigger solution.

In recent weeks, I have reached out to the leadership of all of the city unions with an offer of partnership.  I have asked them to join me in forging a budget that prevents layoffs and protects vital services.

The alternative is too painful to contemplate.  If we are unable to negotiate some flexibility in this emergency, we could be forced to lay off more than 2,800 city workers.

And together with the council, I am committed to a budget that preserves jobs and protects the social safety net.

Here are examples of some modest sacrifices we all can make:

If every city worker – beginning with me – takes off just one unpaid hour per week, we will prevent more than 500 layoffs.

If we each contribute just 2% more to our health and pension benefits, we will prevent another 700 layoffs.

By simply deferring automatic pay raises, we will save as many as 1,300 jobs.

And I will make our city workers this iron-clad commitment:  We will work immediately to repair the damage this economic storm has inflicted on our pension systems. Working with the City Council, I intend to explore a series of responsible public-private partnerships and advertising opportunities with the potential to generate more than $1 billion over the next several years.  Money that we can put in a lock box to help shore up your retirement security and address other critical city priorities long into the future.

I know these options aren’t easy.  But there are thousands of jobs at stake.  Thousands of families looking to us to do the right thing.  And it’s up to all of us to see the bigger picture, to take action to protect jobs, save pensions and preserve vital services when our families need them most.

Now, more than ever, we need to focus our city efforts on promoting economic recovery.  Our office is pursuing an aggressive multi-pronged strategy. 

It begins with training people for the jobs of tomorrow.  I’m pleased to say that over the last four years we’ve laid a foundation for economic growth and progress in our workforce development strategy.
We’ve invested millions of additional dollars each year in summer youth jobs programs.

Working with nonprofits, the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses, we’re getting thousands of young people onto the economic ladder, in reach of good jobs and secure employment.

And I am proud to announce today that this city and its partners have a strategy in place to put 16,500 young people to work – placing more students in good jobs than at any time in the last 15 years.

We know that career training starts with our community colleges.
That’s why from Trade-Tech to the Harbor, these campuses will soon be home to our WorkSource Centers connecting students to jobs and education to job placement.

We now have $1 billion in Prop. J funds to build satellite campuses focused on job training, to retrofit community college buildings, to power campuses with renewable energy and to train students to build and install solar panels.

And with a federal stimulus package hitting our streets and a president ready to invest in our urban areas again, I believe the City of L.A. will once again have the resources to put thousands of our young people to work, off the streets and out of trouble.

Second, we are using this crisis to confront the need to reinvent the way this city provides services to our poor:  by refocusing our efforts on programs that work; and reviewing each investment to make sure that it meets the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

We are going to better connect help to the people who need it by creating 21 Family Source Centers located in our hardest-hit neighborhoods.  Where people will be able to seek assistance for themselves and their families, file for critical tax credits, access affordable medical care, and benefit from programs at every level of government – and all on a single form.  Each year, this program will serve at least 50,000 people.

And in the coming months, we will roll out a $30-million program to provide rental assistance and supportive services to 4,000 of our lowest-income families – the households hardest hit by this crisis.

With this strategy in place, we are sending the message that we will not leave our neighbors behind no matter what the cost.

Third, here in Los Angeles, we know that our ultimate prosperity is going to be determined on the laptops of small-business owners.  From Van Nuys to Venice, from Brentwood to Boyle Heights, these entrepreneurs are the true engines of our recovery.  They represent the backbone and the building blocks of new industries and new markets.

And in Los Angeles, we are working to attract, retain and offer assistance to small businesses at every turn.  After a record-setting first term in new development.  After bringing $17 billion of new construction into L.A. and creating 140,000 well-paying jobs in the process.  It is now time to change our tune and focus our time, resources and energy on our city’s start-ups and smaller enterprises.

And it’s time to take our game to a higher level.

In the next year, our Business Team will assist over 1,000 local, small businesses throughout our city.  In the coming months, we will build on the success of our Minority Business Opportunity Center to create a broader “Office of Small, Local, and Disadvantaged Business,” whose sole purpose is to use federal funds to help businesses succeed across L.A.  Businesses that employ local workers and recycle dollars back into local communities.

Last month, I approved a $15-million loan fund to increase credit opportunities for small businesses.  And starting on July 1, we will direct the Community Development Department to make an additional $15 million available to loan out to business owners, to help them reinforce their bottom line and allow them to continue providing essential jobs, products and services to our residents.

Fourth, we are aggressively growing the industries of the future here in L.A.  We need to build a future in which clean technology is as synonymous with Los Angeles as motion pictures or aerospace.  Where L.A. is acknowledged as a growing capital of the green economy.

With our Solar L.A. plan, we’re working to cut our carbon footprint and to transform L.A. into a clean energy powerhouse.  With the nation’s most far-reaching green building ordinance, we believe we can create America’s most vibrant job site in sustainable construction.  And at the Port of Los Angeles, I’m proud to say tonight that we’ve sent 2,000 dirty diesel trucks to the junk yard and replaced them with vehicles that run on natural gas and electricity.

I believe L.A.’s economic future starts right here, in places like Balqon, where the next generation of electric trucks are being designed, tested and manufactured; where we are literally revving up the engines of our Clean Truck Program; where the wheels of a clean, green port are turning; and a new high-tech venture is producing clean fuel vehicles IN L.A., for the betterment of LA.

This facility will serve as the model for our Harbor Clean Tech Center; for investments in the latest vessels for green development; for the San Pedro Bay Port Technology Development Center -– home of green companies serving our port.

A few miles up the 110, we are building a literal “Clean-Tech Corridor.”  A business corridor bringing together researchers, designers and manufacturers from around the world dedicated to sustainable solutions and to creating green-collar jobs.

Located just outside of downtown, this corridor will house our Clean Tech Manufacturing Center, a catalyst for smart growth that could create as many as 1,000 high-paying jobs.

It will host our Clean Innovations Research Center, where the world’s leading experts will come together to define future renewable energy sources, water conservation strategies and green building advances.

The Clean Tech Corridor will rest alongside the Cornfields Arroyo Seco – the first and only LEED-pilot neighborhood by any big city in the United States of America.  A cluster of pedestrian-friendly streets sitting along public transit lines.  A model for future communities where residents walk more, drive less  and have access to quality jobs and affordable housing.

This is a unique moment of opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to stand at the forefront of the clean-tech revolution; to transform our old industrial core into ground zero for green jobs and sustainability.

And if we follow this path, we can turn a new page toward a green tomorrow.  Write a defining chapter in L.A.’s economic future and start a new book where environmental progress and economic growth go hand in hand.

In the end, we know that responding to our current crisis requires that we forsake short-term politics for long-term investments.

We can’t lose sight of our core values – recognizing that the long-term building blocks of economic growth and vitality in Los Angeles have always been public safety, public education and public transportation.  We know that safety is the fundamental precondition to prosperity.  And we’ve made tremendous progress over the past few years.

The numbers speak for themselves:  crime at historic lows; our police force at historic highs; homicides down to levels unseen in almost four decades; and a new citywide gang prevention and intervention strategy already proving itself on our streets.

Our budget will protect police and fire, keep our   commitment to put
1,000 cops on the street and continue to attack the root causes of gangs and youth violence. 

I respect the critics who say we can't afford it, but frankly, they have it backwards; we can't afford not to.  We cannot break the compact we made with the public on police hiring.  An investment that grows only more urgent in a struggling economy.

This is why our budget also expands our investment in gang prevention.
On April 1, with the close of the Bridges program, we changed the math.
We ended the old divide-by-15 calculus that has historically governed anti-gang and other spending.  I am proud to say that today every new gang reduction dollar we spend in L.A. is being focused for maximum impact in neighborhoods of need.

Jeff Carr, our citywide anti-gang leader, is creating innovative new tools to identify and serve youth most at risk of joining gangs.  This year we will expand our successful Summer Night Lights program from eight to 15 parks.  And in the coming months, we will be developing a joint initiative with the county to break the cycle leading from juvenile detention to a lifetime of trouble with the law.

We know our long-term prosperity depends on improving our infrastructure.  With the passage of Measure R, I’m proud to say that Los Angeles is in the business of building again.

Some people didn’t think we had a chance, not with the two-thirds requirement, not just weeks after the meltdown on Wall Street.

But Angelenos didn’t buy the politics of no. They said yes.  Yes to a $40-billion investment in new transit, rail and highways.  Yes to a Subway to the Sea.  Yes to a funding stream that will create some 210,000 jobs and will give Los Angeles the world-class, state-of-the-art public transportation system it deserves.

Finally, the effort to bring reform to L.A.’s schools has never been more urgent.  In less than one academic year, our Partnership schools are becoming models of efficiency, accountability and transparency.  We cleaned up the campuses and made them safer.  The teachers and students are getting more support.  Parents have been empowered to get involved and take the reins of leadership on their children’s campus.

At Locke High School – where just 3 out of every 100 students go to college – Green Dot has broken down the barriers to reform and created
eight small college prep schools – taking their success in charters citywide and applying it to a campus once considered a lost cause.

On the Eastside, the Alliance has partnered with Cal State L.A. to build a school focused exclusively on math, science, technology and engineering, equipping students with the skills to thrive in the 21st century.

These are just some of the things that are happening because we raised our voice and said it is time for fundamental reform.

We can no longer afford to tinker around the edges.  I am committed to leading the charge for reform until every last child in Los Angeles has the chance to succeed.

With Ray Cortines at the helm, the LAUSD now has a leader with the vision, commitment and nerve to step up to the chalkboard and answer the toughest questions. 

But he cannot do it alone.  We are helping Ray recruit a team of change agents to help lead the district – Change Agents NOT bureaucrats; innovators who will demand high expectations for students and will stop at nothing to make that happen.

I am committed to raising private funds to hire this reform team.  And tonight, I'm announcing that we have already secured more than $4 million over the next three years to put this team in place.

Here in Los Angeles, we are blessed with some of the highest-performing charter schools in the country – schools run by experienced educators; by individuals who know how to open new campuses and transform old ones; by men and women who understand the problems we face and have the expertise to solve them.

These organizations must not get shut out of the conversation simply because they upset the status quo.  Every new school we build must be a reform campus -- committed to measurable outcomes and results.  Charters must be able to partner with the district, propose their ideas, offer their input and play a central role in the wider effort for reform.

And when our lowest-performing schools fail, when campuses reach the point of no return, when it becomes crystal clear that wholesale change is the only answer, we must close them down.  Close them down and turn them over to charter operators, the Partnership or local universities.
Because we know that a strong education is our kids' best shot at a better life.

I believe we have the opportunity in the coming weeks and months to once again define what we’re all about in the City of the Angels.  We can enact a city budget that reaffirms our values by sharing responsibility and the sacrifice that comes with it. We can prevent unnecessary job losses.  We can step up to help our neighbors.  We can make our communities even safer.  We can provide every kid an education that gives them a real shot.  We can define the boundaries of the 21st century economy here within our own city limits. We can, and we will, beat this recession.

We will do it if we remember the journey of three centuries.  If we reawaken our senses to the basic idea that has always made Los Angeles the destination of dreamers everywhere.

It’s the spirit that transformed a dusty pueblo into a global metropolis.  It is the spirit that impelled my grandfather – and countless others like him – to come here for a better life.  It’s the spirit that imagined an infrastructure worthy of a nation-state.  It is the central thread.  It’s the meaning behind the Hollywood sign.
It explains the life of Tom Bradley.

And across Los Angeles today at this very moment in kitchens and in dockyards, in classrooms, offices and union halls, translated in more languages and into more personal stories than we could ever possibly chronicle or count. 

It is the understanding that the future is not a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The future is a matter of what we are willing to say yes to.

It’s the belief in a better day, the faith that together, with hard work, sacrifice and, yes, a little bit of luck, we can do anything – we can be anything – in the City of the Angels.

God bless you all.  Thank you for listening.

Source: Office of the Mayor