LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles risks becoming a city in decline as it struggles with poverty, poor schooling, traffic jams and a crisis of leadership, a citizens’ panel warned Wednesday.
The city is “barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward” and must take firm steps to make government more accountable and deal with its challenges, according to the 13-member Los Angeles 2020 Commission that examined fiscal stability and job growth.
Its report, entitled “A Time for Truth,” said the city is trailing others in job growth and doesn’t have a coherent approach to economic development.
“For too many years we have failed to cultivate and build on our human and economic strengths, while evading the hard choices concerning local government and municipal finance presented by this new century,” the report stated. “The city where the future once came to happen has been living in the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out.”
The panel plans to release a second report within 90 days offering recommendations for dealing with those challenges.
“Mayor Garcetti was elected to solve problems and we invite the authors to join our work to improve L.A.’s economy and reform City Hall. We appreciate this report and look forward to the next one,” said a statement from Yusef Robb, a spokesman for Mayor Gil Garcetti.
The commission was chosen and headed by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson. The panelists included former California Gov. Gray Davis and other leaders from government, business, labor and civic groups.
The commission said the government is outspending its stagnant revenue because of rising costs and could reach a point where it cannot afford to provide public services or fund its pension system.
In addition, the city lacks “a coherent or coordinated approach to economic development and soliciting investment” while existing businesses complain of “stifling regulations and an unresponsive bureaucracy.”
Among the commission’s findings:
— The city has struggled with slow job growth and stagnant wages for two decades. As a result, the middle class is shrinking, the 17.6-percent poverty rate is higher than for any other major American city and the roughly 10 percent unemployment rate is among the highest. The report said 10 percent fewer people are employed in Los Angeles than two decades ago while national employment increased 20 percent over the same period.
— The city was the headquarters for a dozen Fortune 500 companies three decades ago, but today there are just four. By contrast, New York has 43.
— The city is “strangled by traffic” and is the most congested urban community in the nation.
“Even if all the ambitious and expensive mass transit projects now underway are successfully completed, they will simply keep things from getting any worse,” the report said.
— The 640,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation’s second-largest — “is failing our children and betraying the hopes of their hardworking parents” with a high dropout rate, and many who do graduate are unable to meet college course requirements.
— City revenues “have been essentially flat since 2009” while expenses continue to grow. Services ranging from road repair and tree-trimming to libraries have been slashed because of budget problems, and the city has no realistic plans for dealing with soaring costs for its employee healthcare and underfunded retirement system. Police and fire departments are under strain from budget constraints, with response times to emergencies climbing. The city claims to have reached a goal of having 10,000 police officers but that figure is “not real” because the city has allowed officers and detectives to take paid time off for overtime instead of paying them in cash, effectively reducing the number of officers deployed.
— The city is “dramatically underinvesting” in modernization of three major assets — its port, airport and Department of Water and Power.
However, Los Angeles also has “all the ingredients of a great 21st century city,” the report said, citing an ethnically diverse population that is useful in the global economy; world-class universities, the country’s largest network of community colleges and an “international brand” that stands for “creativity, innovation, meritocracy, opportunity and a desirable lifestyle.”
“Los Angeles epitomizes the California lifestyle that has been a magnet for entrepreneurs and talent,” the report said. “Our region evokes images of red carpet glamour and warm sunny days, with shoreline sunsets and snow-capped mountains equally near. We are at the forefront of thought and action on the environment, immigration and individual rights.”