L.A. looks at eliminating up to 2,000 vacant positions as the city’s budget outlook worsens

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, pictured with her team last year.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, pictured with her team last year, received gloomy budget news on Monday. She is scheduled to release her newest spending plan next month.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Faced with a steadily worsening financial picture, Los Angeles officials are moving forward with a plan to eliminate up to 2,000 vacant positions, or about 5% of the total.

To balance the city budget, Mayor Karen Bass and the City Council will need to consider removing those unfilled positions from the books, while also hiking city fees, delaying public works projects and cutting back on consulting work, City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo said in a 136-page report released Monday.

Although a list of targeted jobs is still being prepared, it could include unfilled positions at the police and fire departments, the Bureau of Sanitation and agencies responsible for parks, recreation programs and transportation, among others.


To close the short-term financial gap, the council also will likely need to dip into city reserve funds, leaving fewer dollars if a crisis occurs, Szabo said.

The report on the city’s gloomy financial outlook comes about a month before Bass is scheduled to release her budget for 2024-25. As she finalizes that spending plan, she and her team will need to decide whether to seek another $250 million for Inside Safe, her program to move Angelenos indoors from street encampments.

Faced with a budget gap that could reach $400 million, a city budget analyst says the council should limit hiring and remove vacant posts from the budget.

Jan. 24, 2024

The mayor also must determine whether to continue her focus on expanding the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department, and if so, by how much. Although she pushed last year for the LAPD to grow to 9,500 officers, the department has continued to shrink and now has 8,866 officers, according to an update provided to her appointees on the Police Commission.

Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents part of the Eastside, voiced alarm at the notion of cutting so many unfilled posts . The council, she said, needs to take a fresh look at areas where the city has been “overinvesting,” such as police overtime, police staffing and liability costs incurred by the LAPD.

If police spending were scaled back, city leaders could cut down on the time it takes to repair sidewalks, trim trees and fix broken lights, Hernandez said.

“When my community’s thinking about public safety, it’s like — are the lights working so we can walk on the sidewalk? Is the sidewalk not broken so our elders aren’t tripping and falling? Is there no light because the trees haven’t been trimmed in 17 years?” she said.


Bass did not rule out the idea of cutting the 2,000 jobs, saying through a spokesperson that “some of these positions have been sitting vacant for multiple years.” Zach Seidl, a spokesperson for the mayor, said any reductions will not impact positions like police officers, firefighters, refuse collection truck operators and sanitation workers.

“This process will involve difficult decisions, but the city will continue to provide needed services for Angelenos,” he said.

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield sounded open to the idea of cutting at least some vacant positions, saying it would not immediately impact public services.

“When you’re in a hole, the first step to getting out is always to stop digging,” he said in a statement.

Blumenfield said state and federal governments are no longer providing as much financial help to cities as during the pandemic. He also pinned some of the city’s budget woes on inflation, saying it had increased city costs and “required salary increases.”

Szabo, in his report, offered additional details, saying the city has overspent by $288 million so far this budget year, with about half the overruns incurred by the police and fire departments. Part of that overspending stems from a package of police raises and retention bonuses approved by the mayor and council last year.


The projected costs are sure to reignite the debate over police spending in L.A., months after Mayor Karen Bass unveiled plans to hire hundreds of new officers.

Aug. 22, 2023

Complicating matters further, the city is seeing lower-than-expected revenue in a number of categories, including hotel and business taxes. Documentary transfer taxes, which are derived from property sales, have been coming in 25% below the original budget projections, Szabo said.

“We’re seeing the effects of inflation on consumer behavior and high interest rates on the housing market,” he said.

If those numbers do not improve, the city could be left with a $475 million shortfall for this budget year, which ends June 30. That gap does not include added costs expected from a package of raises negotiated with members of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 24,000 workers, a third of them part-time.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, the largest of the coalition unions, said in a statement Tuesday that it’s “heartened” that Szabo is looking at increasing fees and limiting contracts for outside services. However, the group voiced concern about cutting city jobs.

“[Eliminating] up to 2,000 vacant positions within the city isn’t a feasible long-term solution when we’re just years away from the Olympics — a once-in-a-generation event poised to put enormous strain on front-line services across Los Angeles and beyond,” said David Green, SEIU Local 721’s president and executive director.

The cuts to vacant positions would not affect the city’s three “proprietary” departments — the Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX. They operate separately from the general city budget.


Hernandez, the Eastside councilmember, said the city still has not recovered from job cuts approved 15 years ago, during a budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession. During that era, the city eliminated thousands of civilian jobs— 2,400 of them through early retirement — while increasing the number of police officers.

The city should take a different approach this time around, Hernandez said.

“I think right now we’re in a place in the budget where it’s like red alert time,” she said. “Drastic decisions have to be made.”

Times staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.