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As COVID Decimates Budget, LA City Council Weighs Plan To ‘Stop The Bleeding’

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COVID-19 has dug a $675 million hole in the city of L.A’s revenue, and on Monday the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee convened to discuss a drastic budget-balancing plan that includes more than 1,800 layoffs.

Chairman Paul Krekorian said the committee is facing an impossible task during a “catastrophic” fiscal crisis.

“The only thing that might compare is the Great Depression, and I’m not sure that it does,” Krekorian said. “What we have before us is a tourniquet that we’re twisting to try to stop the bleeding.”

In his second Financial Status Report, City Administrative Officer (CAO) Rich Llewellyn proposed a 3% cut to nearly every department, and wiping out municipal reserve funds down to the minimum allowed in the city charter.

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On top of that, Llewellyn said for the first time L.A. will have to borrow money to pay for day-to-day operations. That will mean delaying big capital improvement projects, including a planned facelift for the L.A. Zoo and installing solar panels at municipal facilities.

Krekorian called the move “terrible policy” and likened it to “putting the mortgage payment on a credit card. We’ve never done that … but we have no choice this year. The impacts on services are too unimaginable to bear.”

Despite these unprecedented measures, the CAO said, layoffs will still be necessary, including nearly 1,000 LAPD officers and more than 700 civilian LAPD employees. Departments can try to mitigate some job losses by moving employees to vacant positions that are already funded, and hardening the hiring freeze.

As the meeting stretched into the evening, members of the Budget Committee heard from city departments about the impact of proposed cuts.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore pleaded with councilmembers to find savings of $51 million elsewhere in the budget to stave off LAPD layoffs, saying the reductions would cripple public safety.

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“Tourniquets are applied to preserve the most critical functions of the body, so the person does not bleed to death,” Moore said. “We have to protect our core functions, and that is police, fire and [the Department of Transportation].”

Councilmember Paul Koretz pointed out the proposed cuts to LAPD’s budget would have a greater personnel impact because of the raises and bonuses the union representing police officers negotiated in 2019, including a 3.25% pay bump due to kick in next month. (Civilian employees are also set to get a 2% raise in January, plus another 2% in June.)

Moore deflected a question from councilmember Curren Price about whether the chief believes the union should return to the bargaining table. City leaders have been in talks with civilian labor representatives about implementing partial furloughs and delaying raises, but the police union has so far refused to discuss the issue.

“That is not the role of the chief,” Moore said.

UPDATE 9:45 PM MONDAY: Late in the evening, Krekorian presented a set of proposed changes to the CAO’s report, including shrinking the number of possible LAPD layoffs to 355 sworn personnel and 273 civilian employees.

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The shift drew pushback from Price and council member Mike Bonin -- who responded with a motion to require the LAPD to find savings to offset the price tag of reducing layoffs within the department’s budget, instead of spreading the cost around. That motion failed, 3-2.

The CAO’s Financial Status Report will go for a vote before the full council on Tuesday.