Garcetti pledged $250 million to communities of color. Did he deliver?
As protests erupted last year over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would slash $250 million from city departments and put the money toward Black communities and other communities of color.
Garcetti and the City Council quickly moved to cut $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department budget, directing a small portion of the money to jobs programs. The mayor said he achieved the remainder of his goal not by cutting the budget but by tapping hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds provided to the city to respond to COVID-19.
Those federal funds, allocated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, went to pay for programs to address homelessness, which disproportionately affects Black residents, Garcetti said.
Still, some activists are criticizing the mayor over his handling of the pledge, saying he shouldn’t have relied on federal funding to fulfill it. Others said Garcetti should have invested a significant amount of money in economic development and youth services.
“Addressing homelessness is not shorthand for addressing Black issues,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. While she acknowledged that Black Angelenos face higher rates of homelessness, Abdullah argued that the mayor was simply “regifting” the federal funds.
The debate is part of a larger back-and-forth between advocacy groups and city officials over demands to defund the LAPD and redirect those savings to social services, such as economic development, rent relief and mental health counseling.
The ongoing debate over policing levels in Los Angeles centered on the transportation sector Thursday as Metro officials considered paying for more officers on the city’s transit system and the Los Angeles Police Department announced it would no longer send officers to minor traffic collisions.
Activists are already planning to push hard for their spending priorities in April, when the mayor will unveil his budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Complicating matters, Garcetti and some on the City Council are still at odds over how to spend some of the $150 million cut last summer from the LAPD budget. City Council President Nury Martinez recently spearheaded an effort to spend about $88 million on economic, infrastructure and beautification projects in lower-income neighborhoods. Critics called it a slush fund for council members.
Garcetti ultimately vetoed the list of potential projects under consideration by the council, arguing in a letter to the group that the projects didn’t “meet the demands of the moment” and that the money should be focused on addressing issues of racial justice, income inequality, community safety and more.
The mayor’s office never publicly announced how Garcetti would use the $250 million he pledged June 3. Some leaders of advocacy groups said they didn’t know that much of the money was accounted for until they were contacted Thursday by The Times.
Alberto Retana, who heads the South L.A. nonprofit Community Coalition, said the city has failed to make a real investment to address anti-Black racism and questioned Garcetti’s statement that he had fulfilled his pledge.
“It looks like to me that they’re trying to rationalize an investment,” Retana said.
Garcetti made his pledge as city streets were filled with protesters demanding an end to police brutality and a more equitable distribution of government services.
Community Coalition and other groups urged Garcetti in a letter dated June 3 to cut the LAPD budget by at least $250 million and invest money in an array of social services. On the same day, Martinez announced plans to cut that budget by up to $150 million.
That evening, during a televised briefing, Garcetti announced that he was upping the city’s financial commitment.
“I have instructed and committed to it in public to [the City Council] that our city, through our city administrative officer, identify $250 million in cuts,” Garcetti said at a news briefing. “So we can invest in jobs, in health, education and in healing.”
The mayor said the money would be focused on L.A.’s Black community, “as well as communities of color and women and people who have been left behind.”
However, in an interview with The Times in December, Garcetti denied saying he would cut $250 million.
Alex Comisar, spokesman for Garcetti, said earlier this month that the mayor was always planning to use a mix of city and federal funds to reach his goal.
“When the mayor quantified the city funds to be invested in lifting up communities of color, he was referring to the $150 million we diverted from the police budget, in addition to the federal CARES funding we have allocated toward housing and serving our homeless neighbors, which now exceeds $200 million,” Comisar said.
Los Angeles has received more than $900 million in federal funds under the CARES Act, money that can be used to cover direct spending on pandemic response and the secondary economic effects from the shutdown.
The city has allocated those funds to provide various forms of relief, including $100 million for rent subsidies and as much as $50 million to help Angelenos with their utility bills.
In September, the City Council voted to commit $200 million in federal relief funds for homelessness initiatives, a move that helps satisfy an agreement the city recently reached with the county to provide shelter for unhoused Angelenos.
In L.A. County, Black and Latino residents continue to face barriers to getting the vaccine, despite efforts by county officials to expand access.
Facing a federal court order in an ongoing lawsuit, the city and county agreed in June to provide 6,700 “interventions” — considered to be beds or other ways to shelter homeless residents — over the next year and a half. The city’s cost of that program is expected to top $500 million.
Martinez, who heads the committee that allocates the federal relief money, credited her colleagues with directing the money in September to needy Angelenos.
Asked about Garcetti’s remarks, Martinez said, “It was the work of the council to initiate and commit the $200 million of CARES relief toward homelessness.”
Pete White, who heads the antipoverty group Los Angeles Community Action Network, said he’s glad to see an infusion of federal funds for tackling homelessness. But he questioned whether Garcetti is addressing the structural racism that pushes Black people into homelessness.
“If you’re just giving dollars into the homeless infrastructure as it exists, you’re missing Black people,” White said.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.
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