Thursday, January 10, 2002
Council Approves Spending for Neighborhood Prosecutors
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The City Council yesterday brushed aside warnings that there is no money for expensive new programs and approved spending more than $1.4 million this year to start a neighborhood prosecutors operation in the City Attorney’s Office.
The 12-1 vote was a major victory for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who campaigned on a promise to post lawyers in neighborhoods around the city to help crack down on quality of life crimes. Delgadillo has won support for several budget enhancements at a time when all city departments are being asked to slash their budgets by 10 percent.
“Some say we cannot afford to do this,” Delgadillo told the council. “I say we cannot afford not to.”
The program will put one lawyer in each of the city’s 18 police divisions to coordinate prosecution of nuisance crimes, such as loitering, graffiti, abandoned cars, unsafe buildings and drinking in public. The cost for the full 2002-2003 fiscal year is expected to be $4.4 million.
Only Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski voted against the measure, saying she supported the concept but that Delgadillo should be able to shift resources in his own office to launch the program without spending new money.
“I think with the 500-member city attorney’s office, we could assign a city attorney to each police division internally, within the existing structure of the office,” she said.
The final hurdle for the measure is Mayor James Hahn, who has 10 days to veto it or sign it into law. Hahn spokeswoman Julie Wong said the mayor favors the program in concept but plans to look closely at the budget implications.
As soon as the measure is signed, Delgadillo said, “we are ready to go right away.”
The City Attorney’s Office is unlikely to hire 18 new lawyers to fill the new posts. Katie Buckland, Delgadillo’s special assistant for neighborhood safety, told the MetNews that deputies already working in the office are excited about the program and have asked to be reassigned to the new neighborhood posts.
But the funding will allow the office to fill the jobs vacated by reassigned deputies.
Council members lauded the program, saying the savings from crime deterrence would be worth the expense.
“Imagine the savings we can generate in the future if we take care of the little problems right now,” Councilman Ed Reyes said. “The deterioration of neighborhoods costs much more money later. Why can’t we do the preventive measure so that the costs don’t increase?”
“I think it’s smart money,” Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I think it’s preventive medicine.”
But some council members were more wary about the program’s effect on the city budget. Janice Hahn said she needed to see results before agreeing to extend the program into next year and amended the council motion to mandate a monthly report on implementation and results.
A Miscikowski amendment to trim funding from $2 million for six months to the four-month $1.4 million program also was incorporated into the motion.
Miscikowski, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, also noted that money spent on reducing quality-of-life crimes would mean less money to spend on other quality of life issues—such as improving parks, maintaining sidewalks, and paving streets
The city is facing the effects of the first recession since the early 1990s and a $155 million budget deficit in the current fiscal year. City Administrative Officer William Fujioka cautioned that with the 10 percent cuts presently being sought from each department, Los Angeles will still end the year in June with a reduced reserved fund, and a possible negative impact on the city’s bond rating.
Like other departments, he said, the city attorney should look first at reassigning staff to manage the new program before requesting new money.
Chief Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton was more blunt.
“You can’t afford it,” he said.
Delgadillo said the city could pay the money in part from savings his office has seen in a $40 million fund reserved for Rampart liabilities. Only $30 million of that money is expected to be spent this year, he said, leaving a $10 million fund.
But that money is expected to be needed for coming years, as larger Rampart verdicts and settlements come in. Deaton said there are still 144 outstanding Rampart lawsuits.
Earlier, Delagadillo held a news conference with several council members and community leaders outside City Hall to press for the program.
“We must not tighten the budget belt around the issue of public safety in Los Angeles,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company