Entry 2

At the gym this morning, I glance up at the television monitor and think I see John Kerry in a white suit singing, then realize it is Ric Ocasek in the video for “Magic.” Kerry and he were definitely separated at birth: stars with hits (but never a No. 1), long faces, cool wives. Maybe Kerry’s campaign song can be “Just What I Needed.” (Does anyone know if Kerry has an official campaign song?)

While working out, I read Los Angeles Times; there is a column in the business section that talks about the troubles of our city’s Jewish Community Centers, most of which are being closed down or sold off. There is one in my district in Silver Lake. I have received hundreds of letters, e-mails, and faxes in support of the center, from everyone from parents who have children at the center’s school to Sofia Coppola and NPR’s Madeleine Brand, both of whom e-mailed asking us to save it.

For the past two years, my office has worked to support the local parents who are fighting to keep the center open. The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation are both involved in the negotiations, and we are close to preserving the center. The Times column mentions that today I will be meeting with the president of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. I am optimistic we can finally resolve the issue after months of uncertainty.

After the gym, I gulp down a protein bar for breakfast while listening to radio coverage of the same-sex weddings beginning today in Massachusetts and of the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. It is both a history-making day and a historical one. My own chief of staff got married that first weekend in San Francisco; I have supported equal marriage on the council.

I rush off to City Hall. (In Los Angeles, City Hall is the building that doubled as the Daily Planet in Superman the television series.) Today, it is used as the backdrop for countless courtroom dramas in series like JAG and Alias. For a recent Alias episode, the elevator lobby had some Russian signs slapped up on it. (It was supposed to be a room inside the Kremlin.) And on The West Wing, City Hall often stands in for the halls of Congress.

The budget requires painful cuts 
The budget requires painful cuts 

Today is probably the most important day of the year in City Council. It is our annual special meeting to vote on the $4.5 billion 2004-05 fiscal-year budget for the City of Los Angeles. I serve on the budget and finance committee of the council, so I have been living with the budget for the last three weeks or so. This is the full council’s first crack at it. The ongoing state government fiscal crisis, a stubbornly slow economy, and declining revenues have made this a particularly tough year. About 20 members of the public come to speak on the budget. A proposed cut in arts funding brings out many arts advocates. In the end, we have a well-balanced budget, but not without some pain. Cutbacks include a reduction of women’s, youth, and aging programs and an extension of our citywide hard hiring freeze,which means no department can fill vacant positions without special council and mayoral approval. There are a few increases: about 30 new police officers, some ambulances for fire stations that don’t have one, more building inspectors, and extra slurry sealing for our streets.

A warm welcome from Valley VOTE 
A warm welcome from Valley VOTE 

Midday, we break for an hour as the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP sponsors a lunchtime program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. At 12:52, bells ring in the city to mark the time of day that the decision came down in 1954. As a side note, Los Angeles has an interesting place in the legacy of Brown. In 1944, Gonzalo Mendez, father of an 8-year-old Mexican girl named Sylvia who had been denied access to the local school, took his life’s savings and sued the school district in Mendez v. Westminster. A federal court found in his favor and on June 14, 1947, then-Gov. Earl Warren signed into law the desegregation of schools in California. This case was said to have influenced him greatly when Brown came to his attention on the U.S. Supreme Court.

After lunch, we go through the rest of budget. Los Angeles has the highest bond rating of any big city in the country, reflective of the discipline we have imposed over the last few years. One of my colleagues finds some money to restore many of the arts cuts. Another one makes sure the new police station serving his district will be open on time.

Citizens engaged in the budget process
Citizens engaged in the budget process

At about 3:30, though the budget is not quite done, I cut out and run to my meeting with the president and the chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. I leave the meeting hopeful that the center can be saved.

In the evening, I head north to the San Fernando Valley. I grew up in the Valley, in Encino, just as Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” hit its peak. I spent many, many hours in the Sherman Oaks Galleria’s arcade (featured in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and still consider the San Fernando Valley home, even though I now live on the other side of the hill.

I have a meeting at Galpin Ford, the country’s largest Ford dealership, to talk to Valley VOTE, the group that led the secession movement in the San Fernando Valley in 2002. The secession campaign sought to create a separate city out of the portions of Los Angeles that are in the Valley. If the San Fernando Valley had seceded, it would have been the sixth-largest city in the country with 1.2 million residents. Although a majority of Valley voters chose independence, state law required a majority of the entire city to approve, and citywide the measure lost. The city stayed whole.

A year and a half ago, this group and I stared each other down from opposite sides of the bitterly contested secession fight. Tonight, I find them welcoming and warm. I have come to talk to Valley VOTE about the possibility of launching a movement for clean money campaigns in Los Angeles. I wind up speaking for about 30 minutes about clean money, budgets, tax reform, redevelopment, housing policy, and schools and I answer another half-hour of questions. A lot of questions focus on housing policy, as L.A. is in the midst of one of the worst housing crises in the country.

I leave the meeting at 9:15 p.m. and race home to try and have dinner with Amy. At 9:45, we sit down for dinner and a few minutes’ relaxation in front of CSI Miami as it goes to New York in order to introduce CSI New York. Gary Sinise owns David Caruso.