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LA Summit focuses on budget, accountability, activism
By Charlene Muhammad
Western Region Correspondent
Updated Feb 25, 2009 - 11:53:00 AM

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) - Newly elected County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas launched his historic term as the first Black man elected to a chief executive’s seat by hosting a Second District 2009 Annual Budget Summit Jan. 31 to tackle local and national financial issues that impact the community.

Mr. Ridley-Thomas launched the summit along with the Empowerment Congress, which works to improve the quality of life for the county’s diverse communities. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas founded the Congress while he was a city councilman in 1992, following the police beating of Black motorist Rodney King. A primary goal was to improve the quality of life for South L.A. residents who were impacted by the riots.

“Government is designed to be responsive to the needs of the people that it represents but that will not happen unless those people cause government to respond. The whole proposition for our being here today is essentially to ground the notion of accountability,” stated Supervisor Ridley-Thomas as he opened the summit.

The summit was designed to educate community leaders on the major provisions of the 2009 California state budget and the federal economic stimulus bill; provide an opportunity for community leaders to voice their concerns and priorities; and offer solutions to increase citizen interest and involvement in the budget and economic stimulus process.

“There’s something in this for all of us and we’re not about change for change sake. We’re not here to talk about change as an abstraction. We want change that delivers results. Change absent results is just talk,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the summit throughout the day, seeking jobs with the many county vendors on hand, and seeking answers about the status of the yet to be determined California budget. At press time, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators were still holding closed-door negotiations to resolve the state’s budget deficit.

“I know that you would like to see us solve the budget soon, but please be aware of what soon could mean. A $42 billion budget deficit is what we’re facing in Sacramento and I hope to say that in the next couple of weeks—I want you all to pray for us up there—we will have closed that deficit,” said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

A primary cause for the budget crisis is that California is only one of three states (with Rhode Island and Arkansas) that requires a two-thirds vote to pass its budget and their populations are much smaller, Speaker Bass said. In addition, Sacramento is much more partisan compared to local government.

“My real concern is that our leadership doesn’t seem to have an answer for how to handle this budget crisis. I don’t hear the questions or demands that we should be bringing loudly or consistently on our end. It’s not a doomsday pronouncement, but it is a great need for us to have an agenda or agendas to present, otherwise, we will simply be reactive all the time and that is not in our best interest,” said Larry Aubry, an activist, education advocate and Los Angeles Sentinel columnist.

Mr. Aubry believes that the Empowerment Congress is fledgling for now, but it could mean a lot to people. He supports it because of its potential to help poor folks in the trenches.

The summit included a one and a half hour opening session that addressed the State of the 2nd District, which is comprised of 2.5 million residents in the cities of Carson, Compton, Culver City, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lynwood and Los Angeles, as well as several unincorporated communities.

Its breakout sessions focused on how the economic and budget climate impacts home foreclosures and predatory lending, public safety, health and social services, small business, and local job creation.

“What I heard today is the rally to get the human spirit up in our communities so that we can forge ahead. Certainly we should not be looking for a handout but just stimulating notions of coming together as a community, doing the right thing and developing more communication within the community to do the right thing is what I’m getting out of this,” said Bobbee Zeno, a community advocate and host of “Experience Talks,” heard weekly on the Pacifica Network’s 90.7 FM/KPFK.

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