By Victor Omelczenko
As a 10-year resident of West Hollywood, I've lived in three different neighborhoods -- the Eastside near Plummer Park, the Westside in the Norma Triangle, and now the Center City just south of Laurel Avenue Park (the former Weisman/Tara homestead). I've participated in city meetings and spoken before the city council, but this is the first time I've really spent time with a proposed city budget, and I've found several items which concern me greatly.
*Given the recent pension reforms that voters in San Diego and San Jose overwhelmingly voted for, the below excerpt from Page 30 of the WEHO budget particularly struck me:
Wages & Fringe Benefits are the City's largest expenditure making up approximately 38 percent of General Fund expenditures in the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. Wages and fringe benefits have increased due to several factors, the most significant being the completion and implementation of a city-wide classification and compensation study in June of 2006, moving to an enhanced retirement system in December of 2007 (QUESTION: what were these enhancements and when were they ever publicly discussed?), and the increasing cost of PERS retirement benefits (QUESTION: why are these increasing?). These increases have resulted in significant growth in wages and fringe benefits spending over the last few years, (OBSERVATION: during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression!) but the City does not anticipate any additional significant change in wages and fringes anytime soon.
Then, on Budget Page 24, a table on the "Use of Operating Funds" shows the following for Wages & Fringes:
- FY 2010 Actual: $24,049,157
- FY 2011 Actual: $28,134,397
- FY 2012 Budget: $27,828,252
- FY 2013 Proposed: $29,009,483
- FY 2014 Proposed: $30,380,654
OBSERVATION: That's a 26 percent increase from 2010 to 2014 for wages and fringes during a time of severe belt-tightening and recession.
Also, the proposed budget asks for an increase of 5 full-time equivalent positions, from 203 to 208 city employees. One wonders whether all of this is ultimately sustainable.
*Pages 10-11 mention creation of a Special Events Manager position and an Economic Development and Cultural Affairs Coordinator at the same time that they call for elimination of one Code Compliance Officer.
Given community concerns – such as those emanating from the Hudson Block Party debacle, the flouting of noise rules by the Mondrian Skybar, etc – I’d prefer more emphasis on compliance and enforcement, and recommend that this code compliance position NOT be eliminated.
*On Budget Page 13, it’s good to read that the General Fund remains strong but disconcerting that special revenue funds are running continued deficits. I don’t think any of us like “continued deficits.” Thus, I am concerned that, while the city has enough funds from Proposition A to support transit-related social services (such as taxi coupons and Dial-A-Ride), there is not enough for 2013-2104.
Where is the city proposing to get funds for these needed services?
What will be cut to support them or what are the new revenue streams?
* Page 14 says that the Sunset Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID) fund remains in deficit due to unpaid BID assessments by some of the current and former businesses. The city is working toward collecting long-standing receivables. How much money are we talking about here and why are the receivables so “long-standing?”
*Page 10 mentions that the WEHO Rent Stabilization and Housing Department will be become a division within the current Human Services Department. As a renter, I was concerned about this development.
However, upon closer inspection, what are being eliminated are two high-level management positions -- that of the former RSHD Director (Allyne Winderman) and Housing Manager (Jeffrey Skorneck) who have now left the city’s employ. With 1 rent stabilization manager and 11 other rent control counselors/project development administrators remaining onboard, it appears that functions related to rent stabilization/control are NOT being eliminated, and that’s a good thing.
*Page 246 regarding a new “West Hollywood Civic Building” frankly startled me and Steve Martin has written a lengthier post on this topic for the Patch. I went to the city’s new General Plan, and nowhere could I find mention of such an idea. The 28 action items identified under “Infrastructure, Resources and Conservation” of the General Plan do not mention a new civic building. How did this idea come about at a time when a new $16 million parking garage has been touted to the community as a much-needed improvement for keeping the current City Hall operating smoothly? I say stay put on Santa Monica Blvd. at Sweetzer in the Center City, and do NOT approve a $212,000 feasibility study for a new city hall.
*It is wonderful that the city is environmentally attuned to green building standards and that the Human Services Department is involved in a “Greening West Hollywood Plan.” But what I would like to see additionally is more green spread throughout and remaining on the actual ground of our tiny city. Some officials will remember my speaking twice in closed City Council session urging purchase of the lot that served as the now closed Norwich Community Garden. When the price dropped to $650,000 (from a previously outlandish $1 million), I would have thought the City would have grabbed at the opportunity, but it has been lost.
I wonder why this opportunity was never publicly discussed as was the renting of the lot for the new Detroit Street (at Lexington) community garden on the Eastside? I do thank the city for the new Detroit garden, but where’s the transparency regarding the Norwich lot on the Westside? Was there a vote on buying the Norwich lot, and who voted for it and who voted against it? I urge the city to set aside $600,000 for possible future purchase of empty lots that could serve as pocket parks or community gardens.
*And as a former member of the city’s 2011 Bicycle Task Force and now a member of the newly-formed West Hollywood Bicycle Coalition (financially operating under the umbrella of the recognized non-profit Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition), I thank the city for the new bicycle lanes along San Vicente Blvd. and look forward to continued bicycling enhancements as identified under capital improvement projects related to Pedestrian Safety (Page 247), Pedestrian & Bike Improvements (Page 249), Neighborhood Traffic Control (Page 250), and Streetscape Furnishings (Page 262).
I urge all of those who visit the Patch to take some time, if possible, to look at the budget. It can be daunting, but check the Table of Contents, find subjects that really resonate with you, and make your views known to the city, whether in writing or at the June 18 City Council meeting. Here's the link: