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L.A. parks department could lose 341 vacant jobs under new budget-cutting plan

Los Angeles, CA - March 27: A young girl taking advantage of warm weather walks around Echo Park Lake, in Los Angeles, CA, Monday, March 27, 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
A girl walks around Echo Park Lake in March 2023. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

A plan to get rid of nearly 2,000 unfilled Los Angeles city jobs would cut especially deep at the Department of Recreation and Parks, resulting in the elimination of 341 positions at that agency, according to an analysis released Thursday.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, the city's top budget official, provided his recommended list of 1,974 vacant positions to be eliminated as part of a larger strategy to erase a looming budget shortfall. Of that total, more than 17% would come from the city's parks agency, which handles the upkeep of Griffith Park, Elysian Park and hundreds of other open spaces.

An additional 14%, or about 280 positions, would be eliminated at the Bureau of Sanitation, which carries out cleanups at homeless encampments and removes large items from city curbs. More than 11% would come from the Bureau of Street Services, which repairs streets and sidewalks, while 5% of the vacant posts, or 105 positions, would come from the Department of Transportation.

Cutting those positions would save more than $155 million in the 2024-25 fiscal year, Szabo said in his report. Because they are already vacant, the cuts would have a "comparatively limited impact" on services, the report said.

Read more: L.A. looks at eliminating up to 2,000 vacant positions as the city's budget outlook worsens

Asked about the proposal, an aide to Mayor Karen Bass said her upcoming budget, which is scheduled to come out next month, will "prioritize the services that residents need" and "put the city on a path towards more sustainable finances."

"Right now we are talking about vacant positions — some of which have been vacant for years," Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said.

Bass has promised to ensure that police officer, firefighter and trash truck driver positions are excluded from the cuts. Szabo's proposal does call for the elimination of 91 positions at the Los Angeles Police Department, including 10 9-1-1 dispatchers and about a dozen crime scene lab technicians.

The city would save nearly $25 million by cutting the recreation and parks jobs, including scores of maintenance positions, according to the report.

The proposal to reduce the number of unfilled positions has stirred concern in and outside City Hall. Michael Schneider, founder of the advocacy group Streets for All, said he worries that the cuts could add new delays to the repair of streets and sidewalks.

"Our unsafe streets cost the city money every year in lawsuit settlements. No one seems to be weighing that," he said.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia criticized the budget proposal, saying it is "short-sighted and hints at panic." The city, he said, "needs a strategic approach to living within its means, not arbitrarily eliminating positions simply because someone recently retired or was promoted, leaving a vital job unfilled."

"If you chop off 20% of a Lexus, you don't get a Camry, you get a wreck," he said.

Szabo has been arguing for the reductions for several weeks, saying they're needed at a time when the mayor and council are giving, or expected to give, pay increases to police officers, firefighters and civilian workers represented by the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. The police raises have already been approved. A vote on the coalition agreement is expected next month.

Last week, Szabo reported that the city has overspent by $288 million so far this year, with about half the overruns incurred by the police and fire departments. At the same time, the city has been taking in lower-than-expected taxes on property sales, hotel stays and business operations.

The cost-cutting proposal also comes amid a serious labor shortage in city government. If Bass and the council approve the reductions, the city will still be left with 1,625 vacant positions, including 43 in the parks department, this week's report said.

Even after the reductions, the LAPD will have more than 150 9-1-1 operator positions that have not been filled, Szabo said.

Times staff writer Rachel Uranga contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.