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L.A. City Council kills parking garage leasing plan

February 16, 2011 |  1:25 pm

The Los Angeles City Council killed a plan Wednesday for leasing nine public parking garages to a private company, ignoring a demand from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to keep the plan as a strategy for solving this year's budget crisis.

On a 12-0 vote, the council halted its search for a firm to run the garages over the next 50 years. That deal was supposed to generate $53 million for the city's general fund, which pays for basic services such as public safety and parks.

Council members made their decision five days after City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget official at City Hall, revealed no firm had expressed an interest in bidding on the garage plan.

"Frankly, it's time to put this issue behind us," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

Villaraigosa had sent a letter to the council Monday, urging it to resurrect the plan in time to address this year's $54-million budget shortfall. He said council members had put so many restrictions on parking rates in the proposed deal, they had "rendered a potentially lucrative city asset worthless."

That message was greeted coolly by Councilman Tony Cardenas.

"We can beat this dead horse over and over and over again, but I would say, let's just move on. Let's call it what it is. It's not a good idea," he said.

Villaraigosa deputy chief of staff Matt Szabo called the vote "disappointing" and warned that additional furloughs are now more likely for certain city employees.

"The outcome from this process turned out to be a counterproductive waste of time that ultimately will not serve the best interests of the city," he said.

With so little time left in the budget year, Villaraigosa and the council are left with limited choices, such as draining the city's reserve fund or imposing more furlough days. Eight more furlough days would generate about $15 million, Santana said.

Several council members said they do not want to pursue that type of budget cut.

"I won't vote on furloughs or layoffs or anything like that," said Councilman Herb Wesson.

The mayor's parking plan had drawn fire from business leaders in Hollywood, Westwood and elsewhere, who warned that a private company would boost rates and drive away customers in the middle of a recession.

They persuaded council members last month to make changes to the plan. Villaraigosa had called on the council to drop those changes and argued that an accelerated push to lease the garages could be done by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Santana sharply disagreed, saying last week that it would be irresponsible to rely on the money with so little time left in the fiscal year.

"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to try to receive this revenue" before June 30, Santana told council members.

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

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