A coalition of advocacy groups has come up with a budget for Los Angeles that has plenty of money for parks, social services and libraries — and would pare the LAPD’s budget to a tenth of what has been proposed by the mayor.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — No matter how it’s cut, the next budget for the city of Los Angeles will be bad.
The $10.5 billion budget proposal includes deep cuts to city services and furloughs for thousands of city employees due to the emergency response to the novel coronavirus.
The anxiety over the city’s budget is punctured with an uncertainty over how long the pandemic will last and why some LAPD officers will receive pay raises while other city departments see red ink.
During the pandemic citizens have called in to the virtual City Council meetings to criticize Mayor Eric Garcetti’s budget and the city’s priorities amidst a global pandemic, a surge in unemployment and a homeless crisis.
Melina Abdullah, California State University, Los Angeles, professor and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter LA chapter, said she was outraged by the proposed budget with $3.15 billion going to the LAPD.
“When you’re talking about giving away 54% of the general tax fund to the police over the voices of Angelenos, well that’s a big problem,” Abdullah said in an interview.
A coalition of advocacy groups including the LA chapter of BLM have drafted their own budget that prioritizes social services, parks, libraries and reduces the LAPD budget to one-tenth of what has been proposed by the mayor. They used over 1,400 survey results from LA residents to put together their budget idea.
The People’s Budget campaign has garnered momentum in the last several weeks thanks to protests, calls to action on social media and an engaged citizenry that flood the phonelines during the virtual city council meetings which have been closed off to the public.
The comment period has taken on the personality of a call-in radio show, with residents expressing their frustration over the proposed budget and city staffers passing paperwork.
Adam Smith called to sing a rendition of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” with the lyrics changed to chastise the council for giving so much to the LAPD.
Lionel Mares called in to say law enforcement has a strong lobbying influence over the City Council and should “step back, rethink, reconsider and divide the budget so that all of the city services are provided with equal funding and the less affluent Angelenos will not continue to be affected.”
A caller named Joseph said the council was “hearing 100% opposition to this budget from your constituents” and asked city leaders to block the budget and advocate for one that represents the actual needs of the people.
Norma Garcia, a vendor on the city’s iconic Olvera Street, called to say the city should help the tenants in the historic open-air market as the tourism industry has dried up.
Peggy Lee Kennedy from Venice said police harass homeless people camping on sidewalks.
“It’s so ridiculous the amount of enforcement going on,” said Kennedy. “So much is being spent on the LAPD that could be going to housing.”
The People’s Budget grassroots campaign set out to delay the City Council’s vote on Garcetti’s proposed budget which was set to receive a final vote on May 21.
That vote didn’t happen for a number of reasons, including the economic fallout from the pandemic. LA’s main revenue streams from tourism and sales taxes have dried up in the last 90 days.
“It is not a good budget situation. We’re going to end this year worse than we thought and we’re going to start the upcoming year worse than we thought,” said Chief Legislative Analyst Sharron Tso. “In a blink of the eye, we lost over $200 million in our reserve funds.”
“There is no good news,” said City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn. LA put in place a hiring freeze, and the whiplash from the pandemic is unlike anything the city has ever seen, even outpacing the last economic recession over a decade ago.
The extraordinary city budget forged in the Covid-19 atmosphere will bring furloughs for 16,000 city employees that will total 26 workdays.
The hit to city services will be spread across tree trimming, street and sidewalk repairs, and capital improvement projects and other departments.
Tso said the even spread of these losses could soften the hit to the rest of the city departments, but that does not appear to impact the LAPD budget.
Last year, Garcetti approved an incentive program for LAPD officers with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. On schedule, those pay increases went into effect this past April. The rank-and-file officers will also receive a pay increase of 4.8% starting in July.
City analysts say the mayor’s proposed budget with furloughs for thousands of employees and deep cuts to city services is too optimistic.
Even under the best-case scenario, the city would have to reduce revenue estimates by an additional $50 million, which could turn into $300 million or more in budget shortfalls.
The vote was delayed, but with a major caveat: Garcetti’s proposed budget technically will be considered approved on June 1 with or without a council vote. And it will go into effect July 1 with expected changes by the City Council throughout the year.
Abdullah said in previous years the local BLM chapter would bring attention to the police budget and how it continues to be a top priority for city officials, while seeming to ignore the deaths of people of color at the hands of officers.
Despite the barrage of calls to City Council members, Abdullah said police funding continues to be a priority.
City Council President Nury Martinez approved a motion to amend the budget to send an additional $100,000 to the LAPD for a youth outreach program earlier in the week.
“There should be political consequences,” said Abdullah. “There wasn’t one dissenting voice at that council meeting.”
Chris Roth, volunteer organizer with the nonprofit Ground Game LA — one of the many local advocacy groups pushing for the People’s Budget — said anyone who has become engaged with the movement sees that the budget situation is too costly to ignore.
The LAPD budget could go to mental health services, public health and other social services that could feed into a reimagined form of public safety.
“People are hurting. People are really hurting right now,” Roth said in an interview. “They’re having to make the decision if they’re going to pay for their rent or pay to feed their family.”
The biggest slice of the mayor’s proposed budget goes to public safety — police and the fire department — while The People’s Budget focuses on rental support, health care and other areas that resident see as the top priorities in their lives. The difference between the two budgets is in essence two different cities.