L.A. City Council, weighing cuts in vacant city jobs, gives workers 5 years of raises

Los Angeles City Hall.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Times Staff Writer David Zahniser, with some help from my colleagues Rebecca Ellis and Dakota Smith, summing up L.A.’s local politics and government news from the past seven days.

When Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass struck a salary deal last year with the union that represents police officers, her strategy quickly drew dire warnings from the City Council’s left flank.

Bass, looking to beef up recruitment at the Los Angeles Police Department, negotiated a package of pay increases that’s expected to consume an extra $1 billion over four years. At a news conference outside City Hall, Councilmembers Nithya Raman, Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martínez described the deal as financially risky, warning that it would threaten other city services. All three voted no.

On Wednesday, the council voted on another set of raises, this time for civilian city employee unions. Those increases are expected to consume an extra $3.5 billion over five years. But this time around, the three council members, who make up the body’s superprogressive bloc, did not voice cost concerns.


Soto-Martínez, during a public hearing on the salary agreements, instead offered his congratulations to the civilian city unions that negotiated the new contracts. A day later, he told The Times he’s not worried that the increases will seriously hurt the city budget.

Once council members approved the LAPD raises, they had an obligation to strike similar deals with other employee unions, Soto-Martínez said.

“It would be unfair to say to these [civilian city] workers that you don’t deserve to have the same thing,” he said.

Hernandez, for her part, acknowledged that the city is facing “a tough budget season.” But she put the blame for any bumpiness on raises for police, not those for other city workers.

“Last year, the council moved forward with an agreement to spend a billion dollars over four years in raises for the LAPD, despite our concerns that it would place the city in exactly the precarious financial situation we are now facing,” she said in a statement. “It’s neither fair nor feasible to then turn around and deny living wages for the City’s civilian workforce in order to balance the budget.”

Raman did not respond to emailed questions from The Times. However, in January, she made the same case as Hernandez and Soto-Martínez, acknowledging that there would be a cost.


“I think we’re going to make some very, very hard decisions ... about how we actually fund basic services,” she said at the time.

The raises approved by the council — not just at the LAPD, but in nearly every city agency — are a huge reason leaders are looking at eliminating hundreds of unfilled city jobs. The police contract covers nearly 9,000 officers and is expected to add about $384 million to the city’s annual budget in its final year.

The agreements reached with civilian city workers cover about 33,000 employees, a third of them part-timers. They are expected to add $1 billion to the annual city budget by 2028. (This year’s budget is about $13 billion.)

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, the top budget official, has recommended the removal of at least 1,974 vacant positions, about half of them at agencies dealing with parks, transportation, sanitation and animal shelters. Bass will reveal how much she agrees with that strategy on Monday, when she releases her budget for 2024-25.

Bass has repeatedly argued that city leaders can give raises, balance the budget and deliver services at the same time. Meanwhile, the union that represents police officers argued that the complaints about the contract last year had nothing to do with financial concerns — and everything to do with a push by some at City Hall to cut the size of the LAPD.

“These political contortionists should just fess up and say they don’t like police and continue to vote to defund public safety instead of trying to justify their hypocrisy,” said Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, referring to the three council members.


This year, the police union put about $164,000 of its own money into an unsuccessful campaign to oust Raman from a district stretching from Silver Lake to the San Fernando Valley. Raman assailed the union’s spending, saying she was being targeted her over her vote against the police raises.

Raman, who was reelected last month, did find support from other unions with business before the council. Among them was Service Employees International Union Local 721, which just won seven raises over a five-year span — an increase of more than 24% once compounding is factored in.

SEIU Local 721, the largest civilian city union at City Hall, put $25,000 into a pro-Raman committee, according to Ethics Commission filings. In recent years, the union has made donations to campaigns or office holder committees of a dozen other council members.

In 2022, the union put $20,000 into a committee that sought to elect Councilmember Tim McOsker, who now sits on the five-member panel that negotiated the civilian city raises. That same year, the union donated more than $350,000 to committees set up to elect Bass for mayor.

Bass now chairs the committee that negotiates pay and benefits for SEIU Local 721 and many other city unions.

David Green, SEIU 721’s president and executive director, offered praise for the package of raises this month, saying it will help the city bring on new employees. He dismissed the idea that it could harm the city budget.


“We’re very confident that the city can afford it,” he said.

State of play

— WOOING THE WEALTHY: L.A.’s mayor used her State of the City address to ask the city’s businesses, philanthropic groups and richest residents to help with an initiative to address the homelessness and affordable housing crisis. That initiative, known as LA4LA, is seeking both grants and low-interest loans to spur the creation of interim and permanent housing. LA4LA has already amassed more than $10 million in financial support, according to organizers.

— WAITING FOR HUIZAR: A federal judge granted a request from former Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar to delay the start date of his 13-year prison term by several months. Huizar filed his request under seal, saying it contained “private medical information.” Huizar’s new surrender date is Aug. 30.

— OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY: A judge found that the city of Los Angeles altered evidence to support its defense in a lawsuit alleging that sanitation workers illegally seized and destroyed homeless people’s property. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer said the city would likely face sanctions in the case.

RECORDS RELEASE: A judge ordered search warrants unsealed from a federal criminal investigation into City Hall corruption. The warrants, used to probe the Los Angeles city attorney’s office and the Department of Water and Power, were sought by The Times and Consumer Watchdog.

— DEAL OR NO DEAL: The City Council signed off on a deal to spend nearly $15 million in renter relief at Hillside Villa, an apartment complex in Chinatown where dozens of tenants had been facing huge rent hikes. Tenant rights activists, along with residents in the 124-unit building, sharply criticized the agreement, saying the city also should have forgiven $1.4 million in outstanding rent debt owed to the landlord by an estimated 48 Hillside Villa households. Hernandez said she is working to find those funds.

— BATTLE OVER BARRINGTON: On the Westside, tenants from the Barrington Plaza apartment complex were in court this week, pressing a judge to find that a mass eviction being carried out by the property’s owner violates state law.

— LES GETS MORE: The Ethics Commission increased the financial penalty imposed on former CBS President Leslie Moonves over his role in an alleged cover-up of sexual assault accusations against him. The commission imposed a fine of $15,000, up from the $11,250 proposed in February, after receiving complaints that the penalty was too lenient. Moonves admitted he violated city law by interfering with a police investigation into the sexual assault allegations.


— COMMISSION CRACKDOWN: The commission also issued a combined $55,000 in penalties to Rick Jacobs, a former adviser to Mayor Eric Garcetti; AIDS Healthcare Foundation; Susie Shannon, policy director for AHF’s Housing is a Human Right; Western States Regional Council of Carpenters; and Derek Mazzeo, former political director for the regional carpenters. All five failed to accurately disclose their lobbying activities, as required under city law, the commission said.

— BOOSTING FINES: To continue our theme just a bit more, the council’s reform committee voted Thursday to endorse a legislative package aimed at beefing up the powers of the Ethics Commission. Among the changes? A hike in the penalty for a single ethics violation, from $5,000 to $15,000.

— MORE FROM MEJIA: City Controller Kenneth Mejia announced the scope of his upcoming audit of Bass’ Inside Safe program, which has been moving unhoused Angelenos indoors over the past 16 months. Mejia said the audit will look at about a dozen topics, including the process for selecting encampment sites, the cost of the program’s hotel and motel rooms and the monitoring of expenses.

— INSPECTION TIME: The county Board of Supervisors moved forward with a plan to withhold rent payments from landlords in unincorporated areas whose properties are in serious disrepair. The ordinance, which still requires a second vote, would allow the county to withhold rent from landlords who fail to make necessary fixes.

— NO CHARGES: The state Department of Justice will not charge an LAPD officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old girl through the wall of a changing room at a Burlington Coat Factory store in North Hollywood three years ago. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office said it found that Officer William Jones used reasonable force in the 2021 incident because he was responding to a report of a possible active shooter.

— DWP PICK: Bass on Friday picked Janisse Quiñones to lead the Department of Water and Power. The nomination of Quiñones, who most recently served as senior vice president of electric operations at Pacific Gas & Electric Co., now goes to the City Council. DWP General Manager Martin Adams is retiring after 40 years at the utility.

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Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to combat homelessness went to the Vermont Vista neighborhood in South L.A., focusing on Vermont Avenue between 92nd and Colden. The operation relocated more than 40 people, some of them living in RVs, according to the mayor’s team.
  • On the docket for next week: As we said earlier, Bass is set to release her proposed budget for 2024-25 on Monday. The document will outline her spending priorities on homelessness, the LAPD and dozens of other city agencies.

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