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LA unions protest further cuts, furloughs

January 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles City Council met behind closed doors Wednesday, trying to find ways to ease the pain of massive budget cuts.Dozens of firefighters in matching T-shirts descended on the council chambers Wednesday. The fire department has already been hit by rolling station closures and cutbacks. They've been threatened with $11 million in new cuts.

"This $11-million cut that's being recommended to you would mean another eight or nine engine companies, and you'd be putting on furlough public-safety-critical people," said Pat McOsker, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles union.

"We didn't sign up and take an oath to work in conditions where we're set up to die, without backup, simply because a CAO can't balance their budget," said firefighter Frank Leaman.

The suggestions from the city's chief financial officer include layoffs, increasing furloughs for most workers from 26 days to 36 days, in effect nearly a 20-percent cut.

"How many more 911 calls will go unanswered? How many children will be cast out of services in the library and the Department of Recreation and Parks?" said Cheryl Parisi, chairperson of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions.

For the city council, the choices have been dramatically narrowed for balancing the budget.

"I would rather say to 20,000 people: 'We're not going to furlough you, we're not going to ask you for more, this is the deal, and we will live by it,' than tell 200,000 people you have to go now because we can't afford you," said L.A. City Councilman Greig Smith.

The city has been hoping to lease its nine parking garages to private operators, but local businesses in places like Hollywood wanted concessions, such as free or discounted tickets.

The current financial crisis is mild compared to what the city faces next year. It's now $50 million; next year it will be a $300-million deficit and more difficult cuts as the recession keeps going in Los Angeles.

The rate at the parking lot at Hollywood and Highland is at a low $2, and parking is free at the Broxton lot in Westwood. The low rates are possible because the lots are subsidized by the city.

However, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city in its current financial situation can no longer afford to offer these rates. He is pushing a plan to lease the public parking structures to private vendors.

The mayor said the city could raise $200 million to $300 million with 50-year leases. Some of that money could be used immediately to close the current budget deficit.

The alternative is more city cutbacks and more potential layoffs for city employees.

The council is under pressure from business and community groups that want to retain the low parking costs.

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