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Housing and Homelessness

LA’s Mayor Says State Of The City Is Not Strong, Releases Her First Budget Proposal

Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles speaks at a podium with a group of people behind her.
Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles speaks as she unveils her first city budget proposal, flanked by her top advisors, at a news conference on April 18, 2023.
(Nick Gerda / LAist)
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L.A. Mayor Karen Bass unleashed her proposed city budget on Tuesday — including plans to grow LAPD by 400 officers, supercharge spending on motels for unhoused people and hold off on spending the majority of the money from a new voter-backed tax to fund affordable housing.

Bass and her advisors said their plan addresses key crises facing the city while growing city reserves.

“With 40,000 people unhoused in our city, and with the size of our police department possibly dropping to 2002 levels, there are no quick fixes and I will not engage in Band-Aid budgeting,” Bass told reporters as she unveiled her spending plans.

Among the spending Bass is proposing:

  • A fivefold increase in her Inside Safe motel program for unhoused people — adding $250 million in the upcoming fiscal year to the existing $50 million the city council previously authorized.
  • Setting aside $47 million of the $250 million for purchasing a couple hundred motel and hotel rooms across the city. Bass’ top homelessness advisor Mercedes Marquez said this will “dramatically” drop the nightly cost the city is paying to run the motel program, which Bass has called unsustainable.
  • Increasing the LAPD police force by 400 officers — by bringing back recently retired officers and adding $15,000 hiring bonuses for new LAPD officers and those who join from other departments.
  • Spending only 22% of the new voter-approved Measure ULA tax money for affordable housing, until a judge decides if it’s legal. Lawsuits against the tax continue to play out.
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The details were released Tuesday after she outlined some of the key points in her State of the City speech the night before.

During that speech, Bass broke from tradition by saying she “cannot declare that the State of our City is where it needs to be.”

She expanded on that at Tuesday’s news conference.

“I think it would be a complete contradiction to say the state of the city is strong, when we’re in the midst of an emergency declaration,” Bass said in response to a reporter’s question.

“How do I say the state of the city is strong when 40,000 people are in tents?” she added. “So I think it’s just really important to be honest, even when it might be a message that people don’t want to hear.”

Holding back on Measure ULA spending

Bass revealed Tuesday how she plans to navigate a legal challenge the city is facing.

How do I say the state of the city is strong when 40,000 people are in tents?
— Karen Bass, mayor of Los Angeles
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Courts still haven’t decided whether Measure ULA — the city’s new voter-approved tax on high-end properties to fund affordable housing — is legal.

So Bass plans to spend only a fraction of it — $150 million of the expected $672 million in the coming fiscal year –— in case a judge forces the city to refund the money to property sellers.

If that happens, Bass said she’d cover the loss with FEMA reimbursement money the city hasn’t yet received.

“Boy would we love to spend the $672 million. But we want to be conservative about that because of the lawsuits,” Bass told reporters on Tuesday.

Bass Promise Tracker 
  • Bass has been in office 128 days. Here’s how she’s doing on campaign promises.

    • She called for returning LAPD to 9,700 sworn officers. She has reduced that target number to 9,500 in her first budget proposal – up from the current LAPD force size of 9,100.
    • She said she’d house 17,000 people experiencing homelessness during her first year in office. So far, she says more than 1,000 people have secured shelter under Inside Safe, a program she launched. Another 3,000 or so have found shelter under efforts that started before Bass was mayor, according to the latest figures from her office.

Unarmed mental health crisis response

The mayor also said she wants to expand the city’s mental health crisis teams — something widely supported by council members, the public and the LAPD officers’ union.

“We want our officers responding to crime. We should not rely on them for being the first responders to homelessness, mental health or other crises,” she said Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Bass is proposing for spending on unarmed crisis response, with the mayor’s staff saying they would be getting back to reporters with answers.

Street medicine for unhoused people

Her budget proposal includes $4 million for street medicine teams that deliver health care to unhoused people outside of medical buildings.

Bass said she wants to see that scale up in a big way.

“We need to look for ways to massively expand what we’re doing currently. It’s just not enough. The community-based organizations that provide those services now cannot get to scale,” she said of street medicine.

What’s next

City spending decisions will ultimately be up to the city council, whose budget and finance committee will review the mayor’s proposed budget at hearings in the coming weeks.

The council then has to vote by June 1 on whether it wants to modify what the mayor put forward.

How to get involved
    • Click here to see a list of upcoming budget hearings where public comment will be taken.

During her budget presentation, Bass acknowledged disagreement among councilmembers about whether to expand LAPD, but said she’s confident a budget will be passed.

“Given the way we’ve all been working together so well … I feel confident that we will come together and there will be a budget signed without a lot of controversy,” Bass said.

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