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Garcetti asks constituents to compete for beautification grants

April 16, 2011 |  5:10 pm

Los Angeles may be facing a $350-million deficit next fiscal year, but that doesn’t mean the city is completely out of cash for small improvements such as murals, community cleanups and beautification projects. This spring, Council President Eric Garcetti has asked his constituents to compete for dollars for their neighborhoods.

The city’s 15 council members have discretion over several different pots of money that are replenished through the sale of land or leases in their districts, an annual slice of tax revenue from redevelopment areas, and the advertising on city kiosks and bus shelters (known as “street furniture”).

The way council members have chosen to parcel out the funds has sometimes caused controversy at City Hall -- most notably when members dipped into the so-called special funds to boost their staff salary accounts at a time when officials were preparing for layoffs in other city departments.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who will present his 2011-12 budget next week, tried to scoop up $40 million from the council's off-the-books accounts to help solve the city’s budget deficit early last year. (They ultimately gave up $12 million). 

Council members insisted that the money has gone to good uses –- including traffic signals, sidewalk repairs, bike racks and pocket parks -– even if the city’s budgeting process makes it difficult to trace where the special funds have gone and how much is available.

Garcetti, who is weighing a run for mayor in 2013, says he is trying to introduce a little more transparency into the process. He is asking constituents to apply for beautification grants of up to $2,500 for projects in the neighborhoods that he represents -- Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Historic Filipinotown, Hollywood and Silver Lake. The $45,000 that Garcetti is devoting toward the program is to be divided equally among the eight neighborhoods.

“What better way to overcome any cynicism than to completely daylight the process,” Garcetti said in a recent interview. “The street furniture funds are supposed to be for street improvements, so let them pick which ones.”

Applications, which are available online, must be submitted by May 5. Community members must show there is support for the project in their neighborhoods, and residents will get to vote on the projects after semi-finalists are selected.

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-- Maeve Reston

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