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Villaraigosa Talks Taxes, Traffic and Trees at Westside Town Hall

The mayor stresses the city's precarious financial position with the 200 or so residents who gathered for a Westside Regional Alliance of Councils open forum Monday night.

About 200 Westside residents showed up Monday night for a town hall with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, during which he answered questions on such varied topics as traffic abatement, tree-trimming and tax reform.

The event was hosted by the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, which includes the neighborhood and community councils of Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Westchester/Playa del Rey, Bel-Air and Beverly Crest, Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades, South Robertson, Palms, West L.A., Westside and Westwood.

"If we did everything everyone wanted us to do, we would run out of money," Villaraigosa said in answering an early question about .

That response would have been fitting for many of the dozen or so questions he fielded during the hour-long session that started at about 7:30 p.m. at the Felicia Mahood Senior Center in West L.A. Although the topics of the questions varied, Villaraigosa's answers mostly emphasized the fiscal crisis the city has been facing, and the progress that's been made under his stewardship over the last six years.

"Everything I've heard from the neighborhood councils is that core services is the No. 1 thing in this town," Villaraigosa said. "A core service, after fire and police, is repairing your streets, picking up your trash and trimming your trees."

He said that the city has been successful at maintaining services, with the lowest per capita crime rate in more than 50 years and "staying even" with street repairs for the first time since 1945.

Still, in the last three years, a third of the city's civilian workforce has been cut, he pointed out. "I'm not proud of it, but I had to balance the budget without raising taxes," Villaraigosa said.

Despite the economic pressures on the city, the tone of the meeting was generally upbeat. The crowd booed loudly when one man suggested that the city "price out" driving by eliminating free parking, but the mayor soothed the participants, reminding them of an upcoming pilot program for congestion pricing on the 110 Freeway.

"Tonight, it felt like a football rally," Westwood Neighborhood Council member Mark Herd said toward the end of the meeting, "but what exactly are you going to do?"

The mayor brought up proposals for public/private partnerships that would put the L.A. Zoo and the city's parking structures under private control as one way to save the city money. He also called on state education reforms and federal investment, and said that the country needs to "find its soul" again to fight poverty and homelessness.

"It was good, it was fun," Westside Regional Alliance of Councils chair Mike Newhouse said after the meeting. "He was really engaged."

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