L.A. City Hall's Year in Review: Big Election, Plastic Bag Ban, and More

It was a year of transitions at Los Angeles City Hall in 2013, highlighted by a pair of major elections that saw seven new City Council members take office and a councilman move into the mayor's chair.

Voters also rejected Proposition A, which would have raised the city sales tax by a half-cent, and approved Proposition D, which bans new medical marijuana dispensaries and pares the hundreds of pot shops in Los Angeles down to the 135 that were registered prior to a Sept. 14, 2007, cut-off.

The beginning of the year saw dozens of candidates in the thick of campaigning for the positions of mayor, city attorney, and controller, as well as seats on the City Council. Independent campaign spending reached $5.1 million -- an all-time high -- and candidates themselves spent upwards of $28 million by the time voters went to the polls for the March primary.

Ultimately, a total of $58.7 million was spent by candidates and independent groups in 2013. Even with all of that activity, only 20.8 percent of voters cast ballots in the March primary and 23.3 percent in the May general election.

The Angelenos who did vote whittled an initial field of five major candidates vying to lead City Hall as mayor down to City Controller Wendy Greuel and Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

Voters eventually chose Garcetti, who prevailed in a close May runoff with Greuel to replace Antonio Villaraigosa, who left office at the end of June after completing two four-year terms as mayor.

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Just prior to leaving, Villaraigosa squeezed in one last out-of-town trip to China and received kudos from former Vice President Al Gore for pushing the Department of Water and Power to begin ending the city's reliance on coal power by 2025.

Los Angeles voters this year also seated seven new council members, of whom four -- Gil Cedillo, Curren Price Jr., Bob Blumenfield, Felipe Fuentes -- are alumni of the state Legislature, with the rest veterans of City Hall politics. Voters also booted City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, replacing him with former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, and voted in political "outsider" Ron Galperin as city controller.

With the changes at the top came shakeups in leadership throughout City Hall. Two weeks into office, Garcetti called in the city's more than 30 department chiefs to inform them they must re-apply for their jobs and that not all of them would be asked back.

Six department heads had announced their retirements or resignations by the end of the year. Fire Chief Brian Cummings, whose tenure was marred by the revelation the fire department had inflated its response time numbers, was among those who announced their departures.

In his first major political battle as mayor, Garcetti locked horns over a new labor contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, which represents 8,200 workers at the Department of Water and Power. The union spent millions of dollars earlier in the year backing Greuel for mayor.

Garcetti said the terms of the proposed contract, including those that would postpone a scheduled pay raise, did not go far enough. He insisted on deeper pension reforms and other changes to close a long-criticized disparity between the compensation received by city employees and the DWP's more attractive benefits and salaries.

Eventually union officials and the mayor agreed on a contract that lowers the starting salaries of several dozen jobs and adjusts the retirement tier for incoming employees. Together with the three-year postponement of a 2 percent cost-of-living pay raise scheduled for Oct. 1, the new terms would save the city $6.1 billion over three decades and help control rising rates for DWP's electricity and water customers, according to city officials.

This was also the year the city voted to ban single-use plastic grocery bags. While the city follows in the footsteps of numerous others, Los Angeles is said to be the largest city in the country to ban plastic bags.

The ban and an accompanying 10-cent charge on paper bags goes into effect Jan. 1 at major grocery stores such as Ralphs and Vons, as well as at big-name convenience stores like 7-Eleven and drugstores like CVS and Walgreens. Smaller independent stores will be required to stop giving out plastic bags by July 1.

Unlike previous years when city leaders grappled with the challenges of an economic recession that contributed to massive layoffs among city employee ranks, officials this year easily passed a balanced $7.7 billion budget that includes funding for additional firefighters, tree trimming, street paving, graffiti abatement, and the purchase of nearly 300 new police cars.

The rosier economic outlook followed dire warnings issued by city officials at the start of the year, prior to voters deciding the fate of Proposition A, a March ballot measure to increase the sales tax by a half-cent.

City officials claimed at the time the estimated $211 million that the tax hike would bring in was necessary to stave off further cuts to public safety and other city services. But critics slammed Proposition A as a money grab by a city unable to control its own spending.

No sooner had voters rejected the measure, city officials advising Villaraigosa revealed that they had revised their projected budget deficit from $216 million to $150 million for fiscal year 2013-14.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou/CNS

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City News Service is an independent wire service that serves Los Angeles area news outlets. Posts identifying them in a byline means KCET-TV has used their story, either in full or close to full.
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