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L.A. City Council approves surge in homeless spending in $8.76-billion budget

L.A. City Council approves surge in homeless spending in $8.76-billion budget
A homeless encampment near the 101 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to adopt Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposed $8.76-billion budget for the coming fiscal year, signing off on a plan that includes dramatic increases to spending on housing and services for the city's growing homeless population.

Council members left virtually unchanged the budget presented by Garcetti last month, making minor adjustments to funding for community programs, the budgetary reserve and non-sworn office staff for the police department.

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Councilman Paul Krekorian, chairman of the city's Budget and Finance Committee, said in a statement that the budget was "healthy and fiscally responsible" and marked "a significant step toward reducing homelessness."

Up 2% from last year, the budget featured few significant changes to government staffing or programs. The exception was Garcetti's proposal to spend $138 million on homelessness programs in the coming year — a more than fourfold increase from the $34 million the city appropriated last year for homelessness.

Only $71 million of that amount is money the city has on hand. Garcetti says an additional $67 million will be realized during the next year through a fee on developers he has proposed and the sale or development of unused city property.

The new cash infusion comes as both the city and county struggle with growing numbers of the homeless, many inhabiting the makeshift encampments that have become a familiar sight from Venice to the Verdugo Wash. This month the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority announced that the problem had grown worse over the last year, with an estimated 28,000 now homeless in the city.

"The budget that was approved today shows that the City Council is putting money where our mouths are," Councilman Mike Bonin, whose Westside district has is home to many street encampments, said in a statement. "There have been far too many press conferences calling for the eradication of homelessness and far too few votes to provide the money we need to actually accomplish our goals."

The $138 million is a sizable increase from homelessness funding in previous years, but it remains a modest down payment on the $2-billion plan to house the homeless approved by the mayor and council this year. City officials are considering a ballot measure that would ask voters to help fund the remaining costs through a tax or bond.

A formal budget resolution will go before the council again next week for a procedural vote, then to Garcetti for his signature. The mayor said in a statement Thursday that he would sign the budget, calling it a "critical step to solving this [homelessness] crisis."

Twitter: @petejamison

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