'Horrific': LA City Council Gets An Earful About Mayor Garcetti's Pared-Down Proposed Budget

A nearly empty chamber for a remote L.A. City Council meeting. (Screenshot shows streamed meeting)

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The L.A. City Council heard from dozens of people opposed to Mayor Garcetti's proposed 2020-21 budget Wednesday as members weighed the plan, which is filled with cuts for city departments and furloughs for roughly 16,000 civilian city workers.

The plan "does not reflect the values of Los Angelenos," said Izzy Rojas, a caller during the council's public comment period, which these days are done by phone.

"Right now...you have a moral imperative to provide services that keep people housed and healthy...not to allocate more money to policing those people," Rojas said.

In response to COVID-19 decimating tax revenues, last month Garcetti released a budget with $230 million in spending reductions slated to take effect when the new fiscal year begins July 1. (A large chunk of L.A.'s rainy day fund was already swallowed up to cover the shortfall from the coronavirus crisis for the current year.)

The cuts include:

  • Department of Public Works - Street Services: programs like graffiti abatement, sidewalk repairs and urban forestry tree planting will be scaled back, while 311 wait times will increase (that's the number you dial to report a pothole that needs to be filled, for example).
  • Transportation: the budget for Vision Zero, the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths in L.A., will be cut by about 5%, or $3.4 million
  • Department of Cultural Affairs and the L.A. Zoo will see cuts
  • Gang intervention programs will be cut by 10% or about $3 million

Sanitation workers, firefighters and uniformed police officers were spared from furloughs. But most civilian city workers will face a 10% pay cut. There's also a hard freeze on hiring that will carry over into the new budget year.

Callers objecting to the austerity measures in the mayor's budget filled phone lines and prompted Council President Nury Martinez to extend the comment period.

Many callers echoed Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah who said she was "outraged" that Garcetti's plan boosts spending on the city's police and fire departments, while imposing belt-tightening on social programs.

"It increases the LAPD budget at a time when crime is down," Abdullah said. "When funds are most needed for things like housing, for things like good jobs for our people, for things like mental health resources."

A big point of contention: the city had already put itself in a tight financial spot because it negotiated pay raises for police, fire, and other city employees after the council adopted last year's budget. Those increases in spending wiped out projected surpluses — something critics say set L.A. up for fiscal trouble before coronavirus appeared and stalled the economy.

An October report by City Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn projected $200-400 million in deficits in the coming years, and city department managers were asked to be on the hunt for savings.

Nithya Raman, a candidate for L.A. City Council District 4 running against incumbent David Ryu, pointed out the cost of the pay bumps on Twitter.

During Wednesday's meeting, caller Kim Isaac called the proposed budget "horrific."

"We are in the middle of a pandemic. People need services," she said. "We don't need more money for the police."

WHAT'S NEXT?

With the mayor's budget on the table, the ball's now in the city council's court. The Budget and Finance Committee met last week — but so far, as the pandemic continues, this process is moving along without the usual number of hearings. City departments submitted comments in writing instead of presenting to the committee.

L.A.'s revenue problems could get much worse before they get better. Garcetti's proposal is probably overly optimistic about when tax dollars will be flowing again, according to estimates from the Office of Finance, which projects revenues could be lower by an additional $45 to $400 million in fiscal year 2020-21.

A CAO report, published Tuesday, recommends the council adopt the mayor's budget as is, without any spending cuts restored.

Last month, Garcetti told Larry Mantle, who hosts our newsroom's public affairs show AirTalk on 89.3 KPCC, the council will likely have to meet regularly to update the spending plan.

"This will be the most dynamic budget I think we've ever had," Garcetti said then. "We'll probably be reassessing it every two or three weeks."

Federal reimbursements, new stimulus spending, state money, and changes in the timeline for reopening major parts of the economy would all affect the city's financial situation, the mayor noted.

On Thursday, the CAO and Chief Legislative Analyst will present their findings on Garcetti's budget and its impact on the city.