San Diego increases police funding after thousands lobby for cuts
More than 4,400 San Diego residents flooded City Hall with phone calls and emails Monday demanding the city reduce police funding and redirect the money toward rent relief, mental health and boosting the local minority community.
After 12 hours of speakers and debate, the City Council declined to reduce police funding. The council agreed to create a new city Office on Race and Equity, and it increased rent relief funding by nearly $5 million to $15.1 million.
The demands from the community came during a public hearing on the new city budget, which the council adopted in an 8-1 vote with Councilman Chris Ward voting “no.”
The vast majority of the more than 400 callers into the council meeting — and the more than 4,000 people who sent emails — demanded the city reduce funding for police, echoing calls across the nation for cities to shift priorities in the wake of protests over police misconduct.
“De-fund this city-sanctioned militia that is terrorizing black people,” resident Breana Clark told the council. “We need resources in our communities, not these thugs wearing a badge. You have blood on your hands. Get busy.”
Some residents requested that the council reject Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposed plan to increase police funding by $27 million to $566 million. Faulconer has said the increase would cover already-approved pay raises and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pay raises for police have increased the city’s police budget from $480 million since 2018.
Other residents demanded a deep cut of $100 million to San Diego police funding.
Some said the $100-million cut should include redirecting $42 million of the $270 million the city received for COVID-19 relief away from police and toward a rent relief program proposed last week by Councilman Ward.
Ward, who had wanted $62 million for the program, said he voted against the budget because it won’t adequately fund that program and because it provides only about $19 million for small businesses, less than he wanted.
The rent relief program would prohibit landlords from imposing late fees on rent for one year and provide rent relief to thousands of households.
Before Monday, the city’s Independent Budget Analyst proposed the city devote $10 million to rent relief, an amount that was based partly on budget recommendations from council members.
“The police do not need more funding,” said resident Adam Woodnut. “These funds should instead be reallocated to addressing issues such as poverty, homelessness, mental health and the well-being of our communities of color.”
Resident Olivia Benice said redirecting police funds would reduce crime, not increase it.
“This budget would be better spent investing in social service infrastructure, to improve quality of life in this city,” Benice said. “Police should not be the jack-of-all-trades of societal aid — there need to be specialized, dedicated teams for different types of responses to emergency calls.”
Amanda Chisholm said giving low-income residents stable housing would be a better use of the money that the city plans to spend on police.
“The already over-militarized, over-policed city of San Diego does not need additional funding directed to the Police Department,” she said. “We need funding taken from the Police Department and given directly to people living in slum conditions — people living 10 to a one-bedroom house in City Heights.”
Others said police funding should be redirected to healthcare, mass transit, community organizations and free high-speed internet for low-income residents.
Some speakers used profanity and called the mayor’s budget proposal racist. Others were more soft-spoken and pleaded with the council to do the right thing at a unique time in city history.
A small number of residents expressed support for police and opposition to funding reductions.
“Please do not listen to the minority who feel the police do more harm to our citizens than good,” said Audrey Churchward. “Better screening, better training — but don’t de-fund them. I am thankful for our police. A majority of them have done more good than evil.”
Council President Georgette Gómez addressed the complaints about the city’s Police Department.
“I want to acknowledge that we do have a lot of work to do,” she said, adding that the Police Department needs changes. “We need to invest in our communities that need it the most.”
Councilwoman Barbara Bry said the Police Department has suffered in recent years.
“You want reform, I want reform,” Bry told the speakers. “Many years of constrained budgets have resulted in the demise of community-oriented policing in San Diego and a return to the military-style, search-and-destroy approach.”
Some residents also lobbied for a reversal of Faulconer’s proposed cut to library hours, which would have closed libraries on Sundays and Mondays. The council restored those library hours and reversed cuts to tree trimming, graffiti removal and brush management.
The mayor expressed strong support for Councilwoman Monica Montgomery’s proposed Office on Race and Equity, predicting the first-of-its-kind office would bring some of the “lasting change” that San Diego needs.
“To end racism, we need systemic change,” Faulconer said. “This office, I believe, will be a step in that direction. It has my full support.”
Faulconer said the office could boost minorities economically.
“This new office would help eliminate barriers as it relates to city contracting, city policies and developing stronger relationships with the community,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Montgomery, who proposed the office over the weekend, says the mission will be “healing race relations in our city.”
She also said San Diego needs a new approach to solving social problems that goes beyond law enforcement.
“I have championed a holistic approach to reform measures, including economic justice components,” said Montgomery. “This new Office on Race and Equity is another step in the right direction, along with other reform measures.”
The council approved nearly $1 million to staff the new office and created a $3 million “community equity fund” so that the office can provide funds to programs and policies that would help minorities.
Monday’s public hearing came after weeks of community debate about the city budget, which is leaner than previous years because the COVID-19 pandemic has sharply decreased revenue from hotel tax, sales tax and other sources.
Faulconer said Monday that the pandemic has created a $350-million hole in the city’s $1.5 billion annual budget, the largest deficit in city history.
In April, Faulconer proposed a long list of deep cuts including library hours, municipal pools, recreation centers and other popular neighborhood services.
The mayor restored many of those cuts in May when he decided to use $270 million in state and federal COVID-19 relief money to plug many of the city’s budget gaps.
Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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