Change is coming to the L.A. city budget in the form of reallocating resources. While some people attribute the budgetary adjustment as a reaction to cries of “defund the police,” key drivers on the Los Angeles City Council insist that the modification is simply a matter of addressing the needs of the community.
Council President Nury Martinez (Council District 6), and Councilmembers Curren Price (CD 9), Marqueece Harris-Dawson (CD 8) and Mark Ridley-Thomas (CD 10), led the charge to redistribute the $150 million cut from the L.A. Police Department’s budget to initiatives and programs that benefit the well-being of communities of color in underserved neighborhoods. The L.A. City Council approved the cut in July 2020.
On March 8, Martinez, Price and Ridley-Thomas met with Sentinel Managing Editor Brandon Brooks to explain how the process occurred and why the reallocation is in the best interests of the citizens of Los Angeles. (Harris-Dawson had a scheduling conflict and was unable to join them.)
Distribution of the $150 million calls for $50 million to address the city’s budget deficit in an effort to save jobs primarily held by people of color, $10 million to establish a summer youth jobs program for children in disadvantaged communities, $1.1 million to establish the Office of Racial Equity within the Civil, Human Rights and Equity Department, and $88 million to reinvest in communities of color.
However, the areas of reinvestment are not solely based on Councilmembers’ decisions, but actually are the result of recommendations by community members, who shared their vision of an improved quality of life with elected officials.
“We listened to people in a series of discussions and public hearings that took place online, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we asked ‘what does public safety look like in communities of color?’ For some of our communities, policing looks very differently,” said Martinez.
“To feel safer in our neighborhoods doesn’t necessarily mean more policing. The safest communities in L.A. isn’t the result of more policing; it’s the result of investments and resources. It’s to be able to bring to our neighborhoods what the West Side and other neighborhoods are so accustomed to,” she stressed. “Families in my district want safer parks and clean neighborhoods just like families on the West Side. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
Price explained that the Council responded to their constituents, who were “calling for change and reassessment and reallocation of resources.” To address the areas of concern, funding has been allotted to youth programming, economic development, city services, community and nonprofit investment and reimaging public safety.
“With the allocation of $88 million going to communities-in-need and almost $20 million coming to CD 9, there’s a real opportunity to figure out how we can imagine our resources in a way that makes sense how we can provide services without the police showing up all of the time,” Price said.
“We also put money into community intervention, recognizing the unique role that our gang prevention workers are playing, and we’re putting money into safe passages, and money into, most notably, homeless initiatives.”
Also, Price announced that CD 9 will receive nearly $20 million, which will fund an initiative called the Guaranteed Basic Income Program. Citing it as “the largest of its kind in the country,” Price said that 500 of his district’s poorest families, for example, single parents, would be randomly selected to receive $1,000 per month for a year.
“We think that can be life-changing. We’ve seen the results in other communities, most recently in Stockton, California, where the recipients reported everything from being able to get a better job to feeling less stress,” he declared. “I’m proud we’re doing this in CD 9 and hopefully we can replicate this in other parts of the city.”
Indicating his agreement with Martinez and Price, Ridley-Thomas emphasized the importance of the devoting funds to homelessness. A longtime proponent of resolving the crisis, he said he was pleased that many of the new initiatives would assist with reducing homelessness in the city.
“When we talk about homelessness, we are talking about a range of issues that are very important to our quality of life and that is what’s at stake in terms of expanding what reimaging governance looks like. It is a multi-dimensional approach to governance,” he said. “Homelessness touches law enforcement, clearly touches land use, touches social services and finally, touches housing as well as health.
“Not only will there be unarmed response, which all of us have saluted, but there will be a new Homeless Services Hub in South L.A., on 18th and Western, that will be able to dispatch 15 teams of people throughout South L.A. for the purpose of doing the diagnostic work and closing the gap for those who find themselves on the street,” added Ridley-Thomas.
In addition, he pointed out that utilizing money cut from the LAPD budget does not indicate that he or his City Council colleagues are anti-police, but rather they are “anti-police misconduct and excessive use of force.” While expressing his advocacy of public safety, Ridley-Thomas said it is not the only aspect of an improved quality of life.
“There is more to life than the business of the LAPD. There are some things police officers cannot do that other departments do, like Building and Safety, for example, or the fire department. This budget is our way of saying that we have to have a balanced view of budgeting in the City of Los Angeles,” he said.
Martinez mentioned that the LAPD was not the only department to experience a reduction in its budget. She noted, “Every city department took a 10% cut last year, except for LAPD. All we – the City Council – were asking for was for LAPD to do its fair share.”
“It wasn’t a matter of taking from the police, but providing for the community in ways that we haven’t before,” declared Price. “The reallocation provided for communities in real need, not just for those who want the funds. We’re taking a bold step in a way that will change the field in the area of public safety, homelessness and guaranteed income.”
The Councilmembers also acknowledged Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles for their contribution to the reimagined city budget. In June 2020, BLMLA presented the Council with the “People’s Budget LA,” which outlined a reimagined public safety model that highlighted universal aid, crisis management, and improved infrastructure.
“We appreciate the leadership of BLM. They gave us some good ideas,” said Martinez. “We are all familiar with grass-roots organizations and there is an array of nonprofits that have been doing this for a long time. I’m very comfortable with them. We also never forget those people who are not a part of those community groups.”
Still, Price shared, “But this movement didn’t just happen this past summer. It’s goes back to generations and generations of protesting and asserting our rights. This is just the latest itineration. I’m excited to be a part of this. It underscores our commitment, as elected officials, to listen and to act on the needs that our citizens have.”
The topic of COVID-19 was discussed as well and the Councilmembers admitted their frustration with the tremendous impact of the pandemic on their respective districts, along with the lack of available vaccination sites in the areas that they represent.
“COVID really exposed the deep inequalities that existed all along for the essential workers in our own backyard to have been completely devastated by the toll it has had in their lives. We cannot go back to the way we were. We are trying to address some of these inequalities,” said Martinez.
Relating how the virus has affected CD 9, Price explained that his district has had more than 700 deaths and 60,000 infections, which influenced him and his staff to partner with Kedren Community Heath Center to provide vaccinations.
“We are all strong advocates for having local clinics in our neighborhoods. It’s fine to have something at Dodgers Stadium and even at the Forum, but we need something our people can get to, like Kedren and St. John’s Wellness Center and at our parks. It’s been devastating in CD 9. It impacts everybody at a very personal level,” Price said.
Ridley-Thomas underscored how ethnicity has played a part throughout the pandemic. “From the very beginning – from the distribution of PPEs to the testing sites and now who gets vaccinated – at every step of the way, it has made raw the issue of race and class in the context of this pandemic,” he stressed. “This has been a very hard year for a lot of people and a lot of those people that we represent. We have a lot of work to do.”
As the meeting concluded, the Councilmembers encouraged Angelenos to monitor city budgetary actions by visiting https://www.lacity.org/government/government-information/city-finance-budget.
Sentinel Managing Editor Brandon Brooks contributed to this article.