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City Council Approves $9.2 Billion L.A. City Budget

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City Hall, as reflected in the windows of the Police Administration Building. (Photo by Mayor Eric Garcetti via Flickr)
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On Thursday, the L.A. City Council approved a $9.2 billion city budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2017. That city spending plan for the coming year includes record funding for housing and services for the homeless, a last-minute agreement to directly fund the Vision Zero street safety program (it had previously been at risk), and a $1 million legal fund for immigrants facing deportation proceedings.

The budget approved by City Council "closely aligns overall" with Mayor Eric Garcetti's initial proposed budget, "but does include some adjustments," according to City News Service.

The vote, which was unanimous, took place after nearly three weeks of budget meetings and input from city departments and the public. “This budget invests in traffic safety, will fix more streets than we have in decades, puts more money into housing and serving the homeless than ever before, and increases the number of police patrolling our streets and firefighters stationed in our communities," Councilmember Paul Krekorian, Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, said in a statement.

The $9.2 billion plan marks a 5.2% increase over the previous fiscal year's budget. That total includes $176 million earmarked for housing and services for the homeless, almost 70% of which will goes towards permanent housing. About half of that $176 million will be funded from the Proposition HHH bond, which voters passed in November. There will also be a marked increase in spending on emergency services. According to Krekorian's office, the new budget includes a $91 million increase in the Los Angeles Police Department spending (bringing the total LAPD budget to $1.57 billion) and a $24 million increase to the Fire Department budget (a total of $657 million), which includes funding to hire 195 new firefighters.

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Funding for Vision Zero, Garcetti's initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025, proved to be one of the most contentious elements of the plan. The $16.7 million initially earmarked for Vision Zero in the mayor's proposed budget was taken out in committee "amid discussion over whether those dollars could be better used for street reconstruction," according to the Daily News. That decision, which would have left the budget with zero dollars specifically allocated for Vision Zero, would have put the future of the program hanging in the balance. Councilman Mike Bonin and Councilwoman Nury Martinez fought back, and managed to strike a deal that directly allocates about $17 million to the program.

Part of what makes Vision Zero funding so crucial is that it's not just a safe streets issue, it's also an equity issue. As Curbed's always excellent Alissa Walker explained in a story yesterday, wealthier neighborhoods tend to need fewer safety improvements. According to Walker, "LA’s traffic deaths are distributed across the city disproportionately, concentrated in neighborhoods with lower rates of car ownership, where residents must walk, bike, or use transit, which means these high-injury streets would be addressed first."

"Resurfacing streets is important, but if people are dying or being seriously injured on our streets, what good is a resurfaced street? In District 6 alone, we have had more than 10 traffic related deaths in 2017 already," Councilwoman Martinez said in a statement. "The fact is, these deaths are more likely to happen in low income communities. Too many children and elderly residents are killed and injured on our streets, so funding Vision Zero is an absolute priority for me—we must stop talking about reducing traffic accidents and actually put resources behind this goal." The approved budget will still include $90 million to resurface streets and fill 350,000 potholes.

According to Krekorian, the budget reflects the impacts of L.A.’s continued economic growth, but the City Council also has an eye on the risks the city may encounter, including potential uncertainties with federal government funding and the costs of ongoing litigation and liability claims.