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Villaraigosa seeks to drum up support for city budget

April 23, 2009 |  8:11 pm

The first stop in Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s traveling road show to drum up support for his proposed $7.05-billion city budget was the western San Fernando Valley this evening, where he received a much warmer reception than he did in the March election.

Villaraigosa, addressing a group mostly of Valley business leaders in the first town hall meetings on the budget, offered a somber message about the need for “shared sacrifice" to close the city’s estimated $530-million budget shortfall, a theme he has repeated for weeks.

“We don’t have the money, so let’s figure it out together," the mayor told the audience in the ballroom of the Providence Tarzana Medical Center.

Villaraigosa laid out his proposed budget, released on Monday, saying he was striving to close the gap without major tax hikes, cuts to city services or the need to lay off thousands of city workers. The plan relies heavily on winning salary and benefit concessions from city unions and privatizing city parking garages.

Most of the comments were well-received by business leaders in the audience. (The event was hosted by the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn.)

“Everybody has to recognize the situation we’re in, that we’re all in this together," said Mel Kohn, an accountant from Encino.

Tarazana was an interesting pick for his first town hall on the budget. Villaraigosa failed to win more than 50% of the vote in the western portion of the Valley in his March 3 reelection, despite being challenged by lesser-known, underfunded candidates. Businessman Walter Moore beat Villaraigosa in the northwest Valley.

During the event, Villaraigosa was asked if he intended to run for California governor in 2010. He didn’t rule it out.

“If you knew you had a shot to be governor at a time when the system was broken and you thought you could make a difference, you wouldn’t just dismiss it out of hand," Villaraigosa said, then implied that L.A.’s budget crisis will show if he’s up to the challenge.

“I shouldn’t run for dogcatcher if I can’t make the tough decisions here, and I don’t want to make them, but I will," he said.

Villaraigosa canceled plans to attend the state Democratic convention in Northern California this weekend and will instead spend that time at City Hall in talks with the public employee unions trying to hammer out a concession agreement. The unions favor making the cuts by offering an early-retirement package, but Villaraigosa expresses reluctance, saying it could lead to cutbacks on libraries, parks, street repairs and other city services.

The mayor will hold town hall meetings in South Los Angeles and the Eastside in the next two weeks.

-- Phil Willon