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L.A. budget vote boosts spending on parks, relief programs and the LAPD

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez presided over Thursday’s vote on the city budget, which offers more money for child care, park repairs and programs to address homelessness.
(City of Los Angeles)

The Los Angeles City Council signed off on a plan by Mayor Eric Garcetti to increase funding for the Police Department, despite calls from activists to have the agency defunded.

Council members voted 15 to 0 to give the LAPD a 3% boost in funding, allowing the department to begin rebuilding its workforce after a year in which it lost hundreds of officers and scores of civilian employees.

The budget plan pours money into an array of other city programs, allocating nearly $1 billion for homelessness initiatives, $75 million for overdue repairs at parks and recreation facilities, and increased funding for child care, senior meals and aid to businesses.

“We’re working against systemic inequalities that have been impacting our neighborhoods for generations before us,” Council President Nury Martinez said. “But with this budget, we take a closer step towards equity.”

Garcetti said he looks forward to signing the budget.

A review of recent police misconduct cases by the LAPD inspector general found all-civilian hearing panels were more lenient on accused officers.

Thursday’s vote represented a huge turnaround from five months ago, when city leaders were contemplating the layoff of nearly 1,000 police officers and looking to borrow $150 million just to get through the rest of the fiscal year.

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On Tuesday, the city received the first of two big payments — $639 million — from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which directs money to cities hard hit by COVID-19. Although the city initially expected to see $1.35 billion over a 12-month period, that amount has been scaled back by $75 million.

Garcetti had billed his spending plan as a “justice budget,” putting new funding into programs that keep renters in their homes and ensure that specialists — not LAPD officers — are sent out to nonviolent mental health calls. The budget also establishes a guaranteed income pilot program that provides monthly payments to families facing poverty.

Budget analysts have warned that the spending plan relies heavily on one-time money, raising questions about the long-term sustainability of the city’s new programs. Deficits are projected for the city in coming years.

Adding to the uncertainty, the council’s financial analysts are still waiting for final guidelines on how they can spend federal funds from the Biden rescue package.

Although Biden’s rescue bill is delivering less than initially expected, those losses have been more than offset by projected increases in key tax revenue, the city’s budget analysts said.

Council members did make some big changes to Garcetti’s budget plan, restoring more than 900 positions, according to Councilman Paul Krekorian, who heads the powerful Budget and Finance Committee.

In addition to the $75-million increase for park maintenance, council members restored 140 positions at the Department of Recreation and Parks that were left vacant due to buyouts and added another 40 on top of that.

The council voted to have the parks department reopen eight child-care centers in disadvantaged communities. Martinez said she had sought to make such programs a major focus of this year’s budget.

“This country has failed in providing adequate and affordable child care for families in this country,” she said. “And if we are given an opportunity and use this money in a way where we can bring people back to work, that’s what I think is a good use of our money.”

Members of the Making LA Whole Coalition, which includes community groups such as Inner City Struggle and Brotherhood Crusade, called the spending plan a “good first step” to address the needs of low-income families hit hard by COVID-19.

Council members also set aside additional funding for programs that help people pay utility bills; opted to spend more on solar energy and electric-vehicle charging stations at city facilities; and allocated money for a study on phasing out oil and gas drilling across the city.

The additional programs backed by the council would be paid for, in part, with some of the money Garcetti had planned to put in the city’s reserves. The council voted to keep 8.65% of the budget in reserve, lower than the 11.3% proposed by Garcetti.

Despite a public push from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other activists to defund the LAPD and redirect money to social services, Garcetti sought a slight increase for the LAPD, allocating $1.76 billion for the department — up from the $1.71 billion the council approved in July.

The council ultimately scaled back Garcetti’s spending plan for the LAPD by between $2 million and $3 million, according to chief legislative analyst Sharon Tso. One speaker called the council’s budget committee “lapdogs for law enforcement.” Another called the reduction a drop in the bucket.

The Biden administration could nab L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. If so, he will leave with a mixed legacy.

“We have an opportunity to shift our priorities, to be imaginative and say we’re going to spend on things like housing and mental health resources … and pull money back from an unjust brutal police department,” said Melina Abdullah, cofounder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.

Last year, when the council cut the LAPD budget by $150 million, budget officials expected the department would end up with 9,757 officers by the end of June. But police have been leaving the department at a much faster rate, leaving the city with an expected deployment of 9,457 next month.

During Thursday’s hearing, council members Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman offered a proposal to keep staffing at 9,457 officers, a level considerably lower than the 9,750 sought by Garcetti.

Bonin said afterward that he wanted to use the savings to have mediators and mental health professionals respond to some emergency calls, “instead of doubling down on using expensive armed police officers for everything.”

The proposal was sent to the council’s budget committee for further review.

Councilman Paul Koretz spoke against the reduction, saying Los Angeles needs more officers to address the city’s recent increase in homicides and violent crime.


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