Mayor Pushes L.A. in New Direction

With new budget and amendment in hand, Riordan wins voters

In 1993 and 1994, a freshman class of American mayors was swept into office promising to push cities in new directions while dealing with the residue of recession.

Calling for reorganized and reinvented government -- such figures as New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R), Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer (D), and Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell (D) -- have touted a new urban agenda labeled by some as a ''new mayor movement.''

Their ideas: improve public safety, streamline city services, and boost local economies through innovative combinations of privatizing city services and downsizing bureaucracies.

Midway through his first term, one such mayor -- Los Angeles's Richard Riordan (R) -- is getting generally high marks from pundits. And on April 11, he was given a vote of confidence by voters, who approved a charter amendment giving the mayor more power.

''In his first two years, Riordan has demonstrated goodwill and proved himself very different from the right-wing Republican that interest groups and minorities feared,'' says Alan Heslop, director of the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College in California.

His first budget reshuffled the city bureaucracy and expanded some services without raising taxes. His second, unveiled Friday, closes a $200 million revenue gap and boosts the police force again.

Green light from voters

The biggest thumbs up for Mayor Riordan's vision of how Los Angeles should be run, though, came from the approval of the charter amendment that makes it easier for him to fire city managers, with city council approval.

''He has laid a base of personal popularity, reached for more power, and the voters have given it to him,'' Mr. Heslop says.

Last week, reversing a longstanding tradition of voting for the status quo, voters dismantled a decades-old system of civil service protections for 26 general managers, which former businessman Riordan said had crippled his efforts to bring corporate efficiency to City Hall.

''The approval of [Charter] Amendment 2 gives Riordan a tool that Los Angeles mayors have needed for a long time to remove incompetents and to force foot-dragging managers to be more responsive and accountable,'' proclaims one editorial in the Los Angeles Daily News. Charter Amendment 2, which failed on five previous occasions under different administrations, was one of eight charter amendments given the green light by voters.

Several observers say the vote for more accountability is in keeping with the tenor of the times -- evidence of an angry public that wants to make government more effective.

But just as many give Riordan himself the credit, as the measure's chief spokesman and fund-raiser. ''This vote indicates [Riordan] is doing pretty well with voters,'' says Larry Berg, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Center for Politics at the University of Southern California here. ''It indicates an influence far more substantial than when he took office.''

Despite concerns of some that the mayor would immediately replace veteran administrators with his own appointees, there are no indications that firings are in order for the 26 department heads who are the targets of the measure. There is some concern that the amendment may have to withstand a challenge in court, though.

In the meantime, Riordan has said that mere passage of the charter may suffice for the degree of control he is after. ''I expect there will be greater accountability,'' he said at a press conference. ''When they know they can lose their jobs, they'll do a better job.''

Eliminating waste

Part of his strategy for holding managers' feet to the fire was unveiled Friday as Riordan released his proposed $3.9 billion spending plan for the 1995 to 1996 fiscal year. Dubbed ''Blueprint for a Better Los Angeles,'' the document closes a $200 million deficit in expected revenues and is considered further evidence of Riordan's promise to reshape the sprawling municipal government that he has criticized as wasteful.

The budget, if approved by city council, will eliminate 1,200 of 32,500 city government jobs while boosting the police force by 600 officers.

It will also give further business tax-and-fee breaks and reduce by 25 percent the current tax on wholesale and manufacturing businesses.

The budget must be approved by the 15-member city council, where it has received mixed reviews. But at least one city councilmember has praised its innovation.

''Dick Riordan is the first mayor to come along that has an alternative to the time-worn approach of raising taxes or cutting services,'' says Councilman Joel Wachs.

Riordan aide Michael Keeley says the new document ''was born and fertilized in the business world of Riordan'' before he came to office. It boasts nongovernmental aspects such as ''goals and objectives, management streamlining, and accountability.''

A prominent feature of the blueprint is the first-time use of written, annual goals for each department that can be used to evaluate future success or failure.

''The mayor used to walk into meeting and say, 'Who's in charge?' and people would answer, 'Well ... it's complicated,''' Keeley said in a Monitor interview after the budget unveiling.

Flipping through the first-ever, four-color budget summary, he notes Riordan's plan to clarify city government: clear summations of goals and objectives for each department as well as identifying who is responsible.

''My favorite example is the building department, which has a reputation, frankly, for being obnoxious to the development community.'' Turning to page 46, he points to the No. 1 goal: To ''nurture a department corporate culture that enables development.''

''That is not something that would have been written four years ago,'' he continues.

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