riordan/q & a;/41inches/1stjc/mark2nd
Richard J. Riordan ran for mayor four years ago on a two-plank platform to put more police officers on the street and to make Los Angeles City Hall more friendly to business.
Investing $6 million of his personal fortune accumulated as a lawyer and venture capitalist, Riordan won the election a remarkable accomplishment for a Republican in a Democrat-majority city.
As he seeks a second and final term, Riordan, 66, holds a commanding lead in the polls and in campaign funds over his most visible challenger, state Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles, who accuses the mayor of allowing L.A. to become a city of haves and have-nots.
Riordan met with editors and reporters at the Business Journal last week.
Q: We’d like you to give yourself a grade on how well your administration has performed during your first term.
A: First of all, I’m someone who never grades himself. I’m never satisfied with how things are going. I believe in constant improvement, that every day should be better than the day before. And I think we’ve done that since I’ve been mayor.
We’ve accomplished an awful lot in the major areas of safety, friendlier government, working with homeowners associations to make neighborhoods healthier, making the city more efficient with government, and working with unions and management to get more services out in a more efficient way, such as our work with sanitation or curb work with ticket writers.
Q: Looking back, what are some areas where you would have liked to do a better job?
A: I don’t know about a better job. Again, I’m an optimist. I never look back, but I look ahead saying that there’s a lot to be done.
Maybe the one disappointment I don’t know how we could have done any better is trying to reach an agreement with the airlines at (Los Angeles International) airport (over diversion of landing fees to the general fund).
Q: A new study once again shows L.A. as the most expensive city for business. That’s something you wanted to change when you ran in 1993. Why is L.A. still at the bottom?
A: In government, change takes longer than in other places. We have made some strides. As you know, we have the tax-equity study that is being completed now. I think we will get cooperation from the City Council to restructure our business taxes and our fees.
L.A. government during the ’80s and into the ’90s made up a lot of the shortfall in revenues by adding taxes and, more detrimentally, adding fees in some cases making them 20 times more than they were.
Some areas where we have had success are multimedia, lowering that tax by 80 percent; and printing, tax reclassification by 80 percent. Our sewage fee facility charges have been reduced by two-thirds and we’ve reduced the telephone tax by about 50 percent.
Q: What obstacles have you faced in fulfilling your agenda of making government more friendly to business?
A: Well, as you know, we have come a long ways with our L.A.’s Business Team cutting through red tape for businesses and restructuring Building Safety with case managers who coordinate permitting when there are many departments involved. We’ve got the people behind the counter at Building Safety no longer treating people as their enemy.
But in government, you’re always climbing Mt. Everest, (so) when you finally get to the summit, there’s a mountain twice as big and high in front of you, which is called politics and bureaucracy. And that’s a fact of life in government. Things that should be easy take a while.
I’ve learned a lot of patience, but I’ve also always kept my eye on where we want to get, and we eventually get there.
Q: What happened to privatizing city services? That was one of your planks in 1993 that doesn’t seem to have gone too far.
A: First of all, even when I was running for mayor, I always said I was not an ideologue on privatization. I think privatization is a means to an end. The end is efficiency. I’m an ideologue on efficiency. But a fact of life is that you have a City Council that does not like privatization.
Q: Have there been specific proposals that the Council has rejected on privatization?
A: A lot of times, you just never get to that point. You get to the point where you see you can’t get things done, so you work with the unions, with the workers, to find ways to make your departments more efficient.
Q: An informal poll revealed that the living wage ordinance appears to have a majority support on the council. Should this pass, what does that mean for your push to make city government more efficient?
A: I am against this type of ordinance. I think it sends a wrong business signal to others about Los Angeles. You point out that on taxes we’re not competitive with surrounding cities or with the rest of the state. I think this adds to it. Now it’s not as terrible as it could have been. It has been cut down a lot by the City Council, and I’ve indicated that if they take out the requirements that anyone who gets any help from the city is subject to the living wage such as DreamWorks and the (proposed) sports arena that I would not veto it. I wish it wasn’t there, but I wouldn’t veto it.
Q: If the living wage ordinance comes in, that gives the city unions an insurance policy against privatization because it makes it less attractive to go outside. Is that what’s happening here?
A: I certainly don’t think that privatization should be a way to reduce wages of employees. I think to the extent it is used is to make their time more efficient, things like work rules. But we are working with unions. We’ve gotten unions to change a lot of work rules in the city.
Q: But hasn’t it been the threat of privatization that’s enabled you to do that?
A: I think at first it was a little bit of that, but I think what’s happened is that the unions got over their paranoia and realized we were willing to work with them. It’s now really a strong feeling of cooperation and realization that their members are a lot happier if they’re doing a good day’s work (and) if their voices are listened to.
Q: One of the themes of Tom Hayden’s campaign is that L.A. has become a city of the very rich and the very poor. Do you think that’s the kind of city we’ve become?
A: I think it’s true throughout the country. It’s not L.A., it’s the whole United States and, in fact, the whole world. And if you take the 20 years from ’73 to ’93, the median income purchasing power in this country has gone down about five percent, whereas the top one percent has gone up dramatically.
The causes of it are a number of things: A movement of heavy manufacturing offshore; the downsizing of defense/aerospace; the decrease in government jobs federal, state and local government jobs; the downsizing of big corporations; technology one secretary can do the jobs of three secretaries in a law office, for example; and the decrease in powers of the unions over this period of time.
Q: You’ve fallen a little bit short of your goal in putting 3,000 more police officers on the street. Assess your performance in terms of increasing public safety.
A: First of all, what I pledged to do is to hire and train more than 3,000 officers. And we’ve done that. With attrition, we’ve netted about 2,000 new officers. And we’ve added a new academy in record time.
Safety is one of the keys to quality jobs. We’ve improved safety dramatically in this city. We’ve cut down dramatically on the paperwork of police officers with computers. We’ve replaced worn out police cars and other equipment. We’ve gotten a lot of help from federal government. We’ve gotten over $140 million in federal crime funds. And I constantly challenge the chief and the department to do a better job with deployment.
I think the department still has the same problem that most governments have: not putting power and accountability down where it belongs, which is at the station level. If you’re really going to improve, you have to hold the captains and the sergeants accountable for the arrests, field interviews, how many patrols you have, things like that.
Q: In your assessment, do we need to replace Willie Williams as the head of the Los Angeles Police Department?
A: I think it would be very wrong for me to answer that question because it would be deemed to be influencing the Police Commission. As you know, with the Christopher reforms, the idea is to put the power and the accountability as to whether the chief gets another five years to the Police Commission. I have tremendous confidence in them and I’m not going to try to interfere.