Friday, December 29, 2006

2006 Year in Review

2006 now comes to an end with some hopes realized and some challenges remaining; with some accomplishments visible, like the unprecedented success of the Orange Line on its one year anniversary and some whose effects are just beginning to show, like the budget passed that will allow the city to hire 1,000 new police officers and put more officers on the street while we train new recruits. We continue to strive to build a sustainable city. We continue to make a secure and decent home possible for every family in the city.

2006 also marks my first year as City Council President. Council offices are collaborating and working together like never before, though it's hard to know about it if you don't spend every day in City Hall ("people working together well" is not much of a news story). We're steadily building a vision for the future of Los Angeles. Our dynamic and energetic mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, has worked closely with the council to help to execute a stronger and safer city. On a host of core issues, we can mark measurable progress for the city.

Improvements in public safety top the list for 2006. The crime rate in Los Angeles decreased for the 5th consecutive year, a credit to the hard work of the men and women at the Los Angeles Police Department and their neighborhood partners. Los Angeles is now the safest it has been since 1956, making it the second safest big city in America. Los Angeles has also benefited from an historic homeland security package that included record amounts of federal money dedicated to improving safety at our port and airport. We have secured full coverage for paramedic service in every local fire station, reducing the amount of time that it takes for paramedics to respond to emergencies. The minutes saved can mean the difference between life and death.

Despite these successes, too many of our children remain at-risk, in danger of falling between the cracks and into the hands of gangs. The development of a strategic plan for youth crime prevention with the help of Connie Rice, and the increased number of after-school prevention programs will help to address this problem. We have our work cut out for us in 2007.

2006 saw numerous improvements to our public transit infrastructure. The Orange Line connecting the Valley to Hollywood, celebrated its first year with triple the riders that were originally projected. A regionally integrated transit system came a few miles of track closer to reality, as the Expo Line got the green light to connect two of the most traffic-congested areas of the city, downtown and the Westside. We saw the expansion of new neighborhood DASH lines and an Eastside rail line nearing completion, more regional rapid bus lines throughout the city and, at the state level, the passage of Proposition 1B, which will bring millions of dollars in road improvements and smart growth elements.

Through the prism of housing we may refract many of the issues facing Los Angeles. With homes built closer to jobs, traffic improves and our air quality clears. By finding affordable housing for families, we can give children a better footing to succeed in school and avoid the dangers of gang life. On this front, we are making clear progress. The city of Los Angeles is home to 15,000 new units of housing built in 2006, a record year for our city. Major building efforts have cropped up in North Hollywood, Hollywood, and Downtown. 63% of voters voted in favor of the $1 Billion Affordable Housing Bond, Prop H. Though it fell short of passage, this strong return gives us a mandate to continue our efforts to fund and construct affordable housing for people at all levels, from the homeless to families trying to buy their very first home.

This year, the city collectively faced the tragedy of homelessness in Los Angeles with an honesty and commitment not seen in years, if ever. We faced the fact that we are the homeless capital of America. The council's new Ad Hoc Committee on Homelessness brought new attention to the issue. We have found funds for hundreds of new shelter beds and worked closely with the mayor to dedicate $100 million for permanent supportive housing, which will offer the homeless not only a roof over their head but the services to help them navigate their way off the streets.

2006 represented another high water mark in the number of jobs added to the region: 120,000. We saw our lowest unemployment rate since 1988. For decades, people throughout the world have flocked to Los Angeles as a place where their dreams can become a reality - these new jobs help a whole new generation of Angelenos realize that dream. We have returned more than $20 million to local businesses through tax reduction, but the stream of new and growing businesses saw our business tax receipts rise. Government and business have created an environment in which companies can thrive and residents can reap the benefits. The successes of this economy must filter down to workers at every level: that's why I joined the city council to pass three ordinances that protect and improve conditions for hotel workers in the Century Corridor near LAX. This legislative package will give a boost to some of the poorest workers in Los Angeles, clustered in communities that are dominated by employment in the tourism and service sectors. A healthy economy means a stronger civic life for us all.

Our ability to fund programs and strengthen each of these endeavors is grounded in our fiscal strength as a city. Responsible budgeting is a critical component of our ability to deliver services to millions of Angelenos. The council and mayor worked diligently this year with city departments to reduce our structural deficit. We continue to hold the highest bond rating of any big city in America. Wall Street's rating brings investor confidence and dollars.

Finally, 2006 saw a more open and accountable city government, one that responds to the needs of the people it represents and advocates for increased participation by its entire constituency. Part of the commitment I made upon assuming the Council Presidency was that council meetings would start on-time, be comfortable, and be welcoming. We started 123 of our 127 meetings within the first fifteen minutes past 10am. The pews of our council chambers now have cushions, offering a softer welcome for those who petition the council. We have protected and expanded public comment. And we saw the passage of Proposition R, whose comprehensive good-government package will strengthen our ethics laws and return power to communities by giving voters the opportunity to keep their councilmembers at work in their district - if they so desire.

And 2007? I know we'll work hard fighting for safer streets, a cleaner environment, more affordable housing, and swifter passage through our streets. I also know we'll face challenges that we can't even guess at. I also know there's nothing I'd rather do than face those challenges together with my fellow leaders of this city. And I count you, my constituents, readers and friends among those leaders.