Despite dire news from other parts of the financial landscape, Supervisor Mike Antonovich reassured the crowd at the inaugural State of the County luncheon that LA County is doing just fine because of rainy day savings that the governor can’t touch.
After regaling the 300-plus crowd with a joke about adapting to change, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich launched into a long list of optimistic news about the county and its myriad of projects.
“We’re seeing that the Governor (Schwarzenegger) couldn’t change,” he said. “When he took office, he brought together 475 individuals to look at state finances, who produced 2,500 pages of recommendations that would have saved the state $32 billion. Where is that list?
“Today we have a problem,” he continued. “The state has third world quandaries. This used to be the Golden State, the one people would come to for opportunity. Now it’s a fiscal mess with a $22 billion state deficit that continues to climb.”
Antonovich shared the details of a letter he sent to the Governor last week, where he suggested radical changes such as a part-time legislature, structural changes and a two-year budget.”
One suggestion that brought thunderous applause was the consolidation or elimination of commissions, with a $100 per diem limit placed on commission appointees instead of six-figure incomes for attending 12 meetings a year.
He encouraged legislators to spend less time in Sacramento and more time among the people they represent, working in business, teaching, side-by-side with their constituents which would give them a better grasp on reality and foster fiscal responsibility.
Antonovich said that consultants from business schools brought in several years ago recommended changes that the county adopted that were able to save up to $3 billion.
“If this (fiscal problem) is not resolved, our children will be selling souvenir postcards of what this great state used to be,” he said.
Current reductions in the county’s $23 billion budget total nearly $400 million, before any further reductions from Sacramento.
“We put money in a rainy day savings,” Antonovich explained. “The City of Los Angeles didn’t and now they have a $1 billion deficit. Because of our rainy day savings, we were able to cut departments without impacting fire or sheriff delivery of services and as a result we will get by this year.”
He said that while property tax was up approximately 6.9 percent this year, estimates for 2009 and 2010 are down 1.6 percent.
“The Board has been united in keeping a prudent reserve and our employees have had no increases this year,” he said. “Public safety is our top priority; our jail facilities and open and operational.”
In talking about the Governor’s plan to release “non-violent” criminals to relieve overcrowding in state prisons, Antonovich preached a cautionary tale.
“You’ve got someone who was arrested for attempted murder, but we all know by the time they plea bargain down, they’re in for disturbing the peace, which looks like a nonviolent crime when they’re really hard core. Look at arrest records, see what people are really in trouble for.”
Antonovich’s own DISARM program, which supports interagency cooperative probation sweeps, has been successful in getting more than 5,500 guns off the streets, collected more than $300 million in drug money and sent 10,000 parole and probation violators back to jail.
Plans for a new sheriff’s station are in the works, with developer fees already collected and a new courthouse is planned for this area. In the last year, one new fire station has opened, as have two new temporary station; Antonovich said that by 2011, five new fire stations will be completed.
He also bragged about the fire readiness of Los Angeles County, citing the minimal loss of life and property and crediting the team approach to firefighting, especially the air units that go up at the first sight of flame.
Antonovich said that Community Standards Districts established to protect ridgelines in the area are now serving as blueprints for Malibu and Topanga. He said that a district proposed for San Francisquito Canyon will preserve the equestrian and rural character of the area and in mid-2010, a district will be established for the Sierra Highway corridor.
Another hot issue for the afternoon discussion was the “Westside Self-Determination,” in which analysts hired by the County will share the results of a feasibility study for the area west of the I-5. Those communities, which include Stevenson Ranch, West Ranch and Castaic, will be asked to express their preferences after information is shared; they will be asked to choose between staying an unincorporated area of the county, incorporating into their own cit(ies) or being annexed into the city of Santa Clarita.
Meetings are scheduled June 15 and 18 (details here  ).
The meeting was organized as a joint effort of the County of Los Angeles, the Santa Clarita Valley and Castaic Chambers of Commerce.