New L.A. councilman wants to roll back LaBonge funding plans

Newly seated Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu is seeking to roll back plans made by Tom LaBonge, the longtime councilman he replaced, to distribute more than $600,000 in discretionary money.

Such discretionary money is allocated to council members, who can choose how to use it for community needs. During the campaign, Ryu argued such dollars had become "secret slush funds" and promised to reform the way that money was spent.

At the time, LaBonge had been sharply criticized by some residents over spending some of the funds on a zoo event and bolstering his office budget. The longtime councilman had strenuously defended such choices, saying he had used the money to help the community.

Now Ryu wants to cancel plans made by LaBonge in the last weeks of his tenure to spend the dollars on an array of community and city projects, including providing money to high schools, funding the Ford Theatre and removing dead trees in Griffith Park.

In a motion seeking to cancel the funding plans, Ryu wrote that any money that has not been encumbered should be returned because his district “needs to review its funding priorities.”

"We're not saying, 'We're not going to do this,' " Ryu said of the projects that LaBonge sought to fund. "We want an opportunity to take a look at it and share it with the community, so we can decide how our taxpayer dollars are going to be spent.

"Why is this issue more important than that issue? Why is this agency more important than that agency? It's about working with the community to set the priorities," he said.

Ryu is also seeking to create a task force to weigh how the money should be spent, one of the promises he made on the campaign trail.

LaBonge said he was surprised to learn that Ryu was trying to cancel his plans for the money, saying he thought the spending was good for the community.

“A lot of those people would be disappointed, who expected help from the city,” he said.

Ryu began his term Wednesday, representing a vast council district that now stretches from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile. LaBonge represented the district for 14 years.

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