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L.A. County CEO Recommends $100 Million For Measure J Priorities In 2021-22 Budget

Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail is located in downtown Los Angeles
L.A. County's 2021-22 budget calls for additional investment in alternatives to incarceration.
(Andrew Cullen for LAist)
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Los Angeles County should invest at least $100 million for community development and alternatives to incarceration next fiscal year. That's the recommendation of the county CEO, Fesia Davenport, who will present the 2021-22 budget to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.

But activists say that amount falls far short of what voters intended when they approved Measure J in November, the charter amendment that requires the county to dedicate at least 10% of its locally generated, unrestricted general fund to reimagined public safety models such as youth programs and mental health services

It was passed with the support of nonprofits and civil rights groups that urged county leaders to divest resources from law enforcement and prisons. Members of that coalition rejected the CEO's plan in a statement Monday evening.

"Our communities deserve better," said Ivette Alé, co-founder of La Defensa, a decarceration advocacy group. "After tireless racial justice uprising and commitment to budget advocacy from the streets to the public comment podium, the County CEO is remiss to ignore the grassroots people power that led to the passage of Measure J in the first place."

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During a press briefing Monday, Davenport called the spending "a year one down payment." Supervisors, working with an advisory committee, will decide on specific programs that will be funded under the Measure J umbrella in the coming months.

The Backstory

In recent years, activists led a successful push to convince supervisors to begin the process of closing Men's Central Jail and cancel plans for a new jail-like mental health facility in L.A. Last November, Supervisors passed a "Care First" plan to move juveniles in the criminal justice system out of locked facilities into "community-based therapeutic housing" overseen by a Department of Youth Development, instead of the Probation Department. The 2021-22 budget does not yet fund the proposed Youth Development department.

"It's a little bit premature," Davenport said. "The consultant's report sort of laid out a timeline and a list of tasks that need to be completed before we can move forward with that endeavor.

The Measure J charter amendment is phased in over the course of three years — it will not be in full effect until June 2024. It's not yet clear how much of the budget will ultimately be subject to Measure J requirements.

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The charter amendment targets revenue that is locally generated and unrestricted — money with no strings attached — but what that means is actively being debated by some Measure J advocates. In projections based on past years' revenue, the County CEO's office has predicted Measure J spending will grow to $300 million in the FY 2023-24 budget.

The Re-Imagine L.A. Coalition, which spearheaded Measure J's passage, said that projection is "flawed" and "not legally or financially sound." The coalition supports analysis that Measure J spending should be in the neighborhood of $900 million when it is fully implemented.

"The County has the power to make meaningful change that aligns with our communities' demands," Mark-Anthony Clayton Johnson, founder of Frontline Wellness Network said in a statement. "Carceral budgets directly lead to punishing people by locking them away in deadly cages. Policy makers who drag their feet when given a mandate by voters are directly complicit in continuing this harm."

A $36.2 Billion Budget

Total county funding for the Sheriff's Department is roughly $3.4 billion in the new 2021-22 recommendation. That's relatively flat compared with the current fiscal year.

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Overall, the $36.2 billion county budget recommendation is starting at a "leaner baseline" than last fiscal year's proposal — it's more than $2 billion smaller — because of the challenges still posed by COVID-19, according to Davenport. The pandemic has walloped local tax revenue, "probably to the tune of about $735 million," Davenport said. "It might be a little bit more than that."

Last year, in the scramble to bridge the gap, the county made $369 million in cuts to department budgets, laid off more than 2,500 workers and issued a hard hiring freeze for non-essential workers. Federal CARES Act relief of $1.22 billion was used for emergency COVID-19 response efforts such as coronavirus testing, rent relief and small business assistance.

During the briefing, the CEO highlighted several more changes in next year's budget, which has to be approved by the supervisors and takes effect on July 1:

  • $16.6 million in additional funding for Measure H programs, focused on increasing the supply of interim housing beds and the funding for permanent supportive housing services
  • Nearly $30 million to expand the Department of Mental Health's crisis and intervention services, responding to a 30% surge in helpline calls during the pandemic
  • A $57.1 million boost to foster care, in-home supportive services and general relief
  • $35 million for elections administration and infrastructure

The proposed plan for FY 2021-22 does not reflect the $1.9 billion in federal help expected to flow to the county from the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last month. That money will be factored into ongoing budget updates throughout the year.Davenport said $530 million in unmet department budget requests will be moved forward for consideration in those future budget phases.

Up for some light reading? The L.A. County CEO's full recommended FY 2021-22 budget is available online, broken into Volume One and Volume Two.

Updated April 20, 2021 at 10:21 AM PDT
This story has been updated with statements from the Re-imagine L.A. Coalition.