In the latest in Los Angeles Magazine's City Thinkers conversations on the status and future of our great metropolis, former Controller Laura Chick chats with editor Mary Melton. She says the current fiscal crisis at City Hall should have come as no surprise — warns "we’re in danger of going under and drowning" — and says she might have considered running for mayor more seriously if the demand to raise campaign money was less daunting. Here's an excerpt:
Mary Melton: Why has L.A. been so ill equipped to weather the economic downturn?
Laura Chick: The city walked right into this crisis with a big, growing, multimillion-dollar structural deficit it had been running for years. As city controller, every year I was writing very strong letters before budget time in March saying, “We need to build up the reserve, we need to save money for a rainy day, this isn’t going to last. We’re spending more than we are making.”
MM: Sounds like your colleagues opted for some deferred maintenance instead.
LC: Do you know how long the city’s leaders have put off stepping back and asking the following question: What is the best and most efficient way to deliver the most high-prioritized services that the public needs and wants for today? When is the last time the city engaged in that kind of effort? No, instead city government has been focused on creating new little things that work in silos and don’t interconnect and don’t necessarily deliver the services in the best way—although they do deliver them in a very expensive way in many cases. The city’s unions also resist change because it is threatening to them. Instead of management and labor sitting down and saying, “Oh, my God, we’ve got a tsumani coming down at us. No way can we keep doing the same old thing, which is raise fees, raise taxes.”
MM: How does this culture of civic incompetence look to outsiders?
LC: I want people living in L.A. to understand: We are the second-largest city in the United States of America. Everyone in the world knows Los Angeles. I don’t want our reputation to be La-La-Land, that we are in this weird city. If that does end up being our reputation, truly earned—that we’re not so much about Hollywood glamour as we are a city that just can’t get things done—then we’re not going to have the reputation for Hollywood glamour, either. If a city becomes a difficult place to live and work in, people don’t have to stay here. There are other places where the weather is pretty good. I moved here as a child in the early ’50s. Now my perspective has changed. I’m living at least two-thirds of the time in Sacramento. L.A. has become a difficult place to live and work in because of the transportation issues, because of the education issues. There are other infrastructure issues that I’m not sure we are handling well.
Previously on LA Observed:
Laura Chick slams Trutanich
Now they put Chick on the cover
Laura Chick to be state inspector general
LAPD behind on processing 7,000 rape kits
Delgadillo and Chick go to war