Ramsey Ugarte

The original version of this article, and the photo captions accompanying it, contained multiple errors. See the bottom of the article for additional information. 

Pension reform, bankruptcy, bureaucracy, drug legislation and inflated administrative pay.

With these topics, I could be writing about any level of government, but here I address our very own Los Angeles City Council.

While nearly identical problems are faced by governments across the country, the city council of Los Angeles presents a unique venue for students to become directly involved in important issues that undoubtedly affect them, such as sales taxes, drug legislation and, more broadly, the city’s finances.

March 5 marks the date of the city council election for District 5, which includes Westwood in its jurisdiction. The race pits incumbent Paul Koretz against Westwood Neighborhood Council board member Mark Herd.

At this point, the nature of the race seems clear – Koretz has raised almost $150,000 while Herd runs a much smaller grassroots campaign, which has raised just under $150, according to the most recent count by the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

However, this election’s tale amounts to much more than a longtime council member running against a local activist with seemingly low odds of winning. Even if Herd is simply able to bring attention to issues that have not been addressed and demand a change to the status quo, as he plans to do, he will have run a successful campaign.

web.op.1.29.royce.picA

Daily Bruin file photo

Students may often feel alienated from state and national politics despite their firm convictions. City council should be viewed as a more approachable sounding board for legislation because of its size and immediate proximity.

These local elections should be taken seriously and candidates should not be running unopposed, or else we risk letting current trends continue. Candidates such as Herd are important checks on the establishment to enable much-needed debate.

Perhaps most glaring of these issues is the $222 million budget shortfall that the city of Los Angeles faced as of last year.

This shortcoming was largely due to growing pension liabilities, which currently cover approximately 15 percent of the budget. They are expected to rise to 26 percent of the city’s general fund by 2016-2017, costing the city a total of $1.3 billion, according to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office.

While pensions may seem far removed from students who are just beginning their careers, these numbers are extremely alarming for the city’s future.

Many of us who will remain in Los Angeles after graduation will be subject to the fallout from today’s unreasonable spending in the form of heightened taxes and disappearing city services.

Solutions to these pension problems made by the city council have included raising the retirement age for new city employees. The council has also proposed a new ballot measure to raise the city’s sales tax, which will also be voted on in the March 5 election.

However, this attempt to raise taxes would most adversely affect the working poor and students on tight budgets. Moreover, it does little to combat growing expenditures.

But if pension liabilities fail to motivate students, the city council also has far reaching legislation that could complicate civil liberties – most notably a 2012 ban on all marijuana dispensaries that has since been repealed.

In the marijuana debate, Los Angeles can be used as the testing ground to create a model system for the rest of the country in the regulation and proliferation of medical marijuana, even perhaps recreational marijuana.

Washington, D.C. 227

Courtesy of Carol H. Highsmith

The marijuana issue is particularly important for college students who have grown up to see the fallout of our nation’s “war on drugs.” The “war on drugs,” which has persisted for more than 40 years, has cost American taxpayers an estimated $40 billion a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Intelligent marijuana legislation could provide much needed revenue for the city while, more importantly, saving many from the violence and unnecessary incarceration the current policies have created.

Frankly, the city is plagued with many issues. Now is the time for students to speak up and address regional and national issues at a more local level.

The city’s current path is unsustainable and change is needed. Hopefully this election will provide a stage for intelligent debate on the course of our city’s future.

Email Ugarte at rugarte@media.ucla.edu. Send general comments to opinion@media.ucla.edu or tweet us @DBOpinion.

Correction: The third paragraph of the article contained a block of text that was accidentally inserted. Additionally, the pictures of Yamato and Royce Hall are Daily Bruin file photos.