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Fewer furloughs for L.A. street repair crews urged

January 7, 2011 |  6:22 pm

Three members of the Los Angeles City Council called Friday for fewer street repair crews to take furlough days so the city can get a better handle on the damage caused by recent rainstorms.

Surrounded by organizers with Service Employees International Union Local 721, council members Richard Alarcon, Eric Garcetti and Jose Huizar said they want budget officials to explain why certain employees of the Bureau of Street Services are forced to take unpaid days off even in cases where their work would be covered with federal money that can’t be used to balance the city budget.

The three councilmen said they want to eliminate furloughs for any street worker who is paid entirely with "special funds" -- money that comes from the state or federal government that must go exclusively toward road repairs or other specific projects.

"Nobody is denying that we have to make cuts," Alarcon said. "But we are saying that we must be surgical."

The comments came one day before the Department of Public Works begins Operation Pothole, an effort to eliminate thousands of potholes that have formed or grown in size since last month’s storms.

The remarks also are at odds with the recommendation from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city's top budget official, who called on council members earlier this week to add, not subtract, furlough days to help the city cope.

Santana wants some employees to take an additional 10 furlough days before June 30, bringing their total to 36 for the current budget year.

Meanwhile, Bill Robertson, the head of the Bureau of Street Services warned it would be "more costly in the end run" to exclude any of his 900 employees from furloughs, given the way in which his workers are paid.

Robertston said his department receives enough stimulus money from the Obama administration to pay for 67 full-time workers. But employees who are paid with that money also have a portion of their salaries covered with other funds, such as state gasoline taxes or the city's general fund, he said.

Separating the stimulus money from the other sources would be "just too difficult to manage," he said. "I don’t have enough crews to say, you guys do nothing" but projects funded with federal stimulus money, he added. "If we did that, we would become inefficient and actually increase our costs."

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall