Former Los Angeles Councilman Gilbert Lindsay once noted: "The problem with City Hall is it takes too long to get nothing done."
Never were truer words spoken to sum up the City Council's accomplishments, or lack thereof, in 2011.
For starters, the council faced an overwhelming public mandate when voters in March approved the creation of a ratepayer advocate to scrutinize rate hikes proposed by the Department of Water and Power.
Nine months later, the position has yet to be filled. With new rate increase proposals already on the table, the committee tasked with filling the position just started meeting in September and the appointment itself is not expected to be made until at least mid-January.
Similarly, a "responsible banking ordinance" proposed in 2009 by Councilman Richard Alarcon languished in committees, at least until the Occupy L.A. movement hit the city.
Alarcon used support for the Occupy movement to revive his proposal - only to again see it deferred with a call for more study on its financial impact.
Much of the City Council's time this year was consumed with the city's budget crisis, and trying to find ways to cut services while limiting the need for layoffs.
Council President Eric Garcetti, who is stepping down from his leadership role after five years as he prepares a run for mayor in 2013, said the biggest single accomplishment was in what the city did not do: declare bankruptcy.
"These have been the toughest economic times in my lifetime and the fact we were able to balance the budget is a huge accomplishment," Garcetti said. "We have had to cut our workforce, put in half a billion dollars in pension reforms and other concessions. These are savings that will last a long time."
As for the other issues, Garcetti said critics don't recognize the magnitude of some of the changes and the time needed to implement them.
"The ratepayer advocate received overwhelming support from the public," Garcetti said. "But we had to go out to the community to hear what the public wanted. We held 15 hearings in all parts of the city."
Garcetti said the council put as tight a deadline as it could on the citizens committee that is filling the ratepayer advocate position and was told by at least one executive recruiting firm that it could not take on the job given the time constraints.
Garcetti's decision to step down as council president was only partly motivated by his mayoral ambitions, he said.
"I have always thought it was important to have change," Garcetti said. "I would be stepping down even if I wasn't running for mayor."
Councilman Herb Wesson, a former speaker of the state Assembly who is taking over as council president, said he plans changes in how the council does its business and makes committee assignments.
His ideas will be influenced by the results of the election in the San Pedro-to-Watts 15th Council District, where Assemblyman Warren Furutani is squaring off against police officer Joe Buscaino to fill the seat vacated by Councilwoman Janice Hahn's election to Congress. Wesson has endorsed Buscaino.
"Once we have that seat filled, we can decide what we will do," Wesson said.
Wesson has yet to resolve simmering tensions between him and the council's other two African-American members, Jan Perry and Bernard Parks. The two have offered little support for the council's first black president and were absent on the day he was voted to the post.
Perry stepped down from the council's No. 2 position as president pro tem out of concern about backroom deals on the council's leadership and redistricting. Both Perry and Parks remain concerned about losing some of their power base under redistricting, an effort that will be led by a deputy to Wesson, Andrew Westall, who was named executive director to the city's redistricting commission.
Wesson said he hopes to deal with the image problem of the city and the City Council.
"It's always a concern when you look at our accomplishments," Wesson said. "It could be we need to narrow our focus so that this council gets a reputation of getting things done."
Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and an author who has lived in Los Angeles for 35 years, said he has been saddened by the conditions he sees in the city.
"Fundamentally, essentially, Los Angeles has stopped functioning as a democracy from the very lively debates I remember from 20 years ago," Kotkin said.
"You had people like (former Councilmen) Ernani Bernardi, Joel Wachs and Marvin Braude who had all these different ideas about the city and they would fight it out and the city was better for it.
"Today, you have this corporate-labor agreement where everyone says the same thing and nothing improves," Kotkin said.
Part of his work is assessing what cities offer and Kotkin said Los Angeles is always at the bottom when it comes to issues such as manufacturing or technology.
"You don't sense any excitement or commitment," Kotkin said. "We have 12 percent unemployment in this city - the worst it's been since after the (1992) riots - and you don't sense anyone is doing anything about it. In other cities, all the leaders are sitting down and getting something done."
Robert Stern, the president of the Center for Governmental Studies that is closing down, said he believes the city is caught in the same economic problems it has had for the past three years.
"In a sense, everyone is waiting for the economy to improve and who will be the next mayor," Stern said. "The city has lots of excellent candidates, who won't be able to accomplish much if the economy stays in the doldrums."
Stern said he did see some positives this year, such as the council's work on a downtown football stadium and the way the Occupy L.A. protesters were removed without the violence that occurred in other cities.
Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of politics at California State University, Los Angeles, said the city's financial problems and the looming city election have stymied more progress by the council.
"You have a lot of people running for mayor or another office and that means they are a little more cautious in what they want to do," Regalado said. "And you add to it that they don't have the money to do a lot and you end up with some retrenchment."