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Your Guide To The Massive Cuts Proposed For The LA City Budget

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Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has released his proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. The city is facing a massive loss of tax revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, causing the mayor to declare "a state of fiscal emergency as part of the 2020-2021 budget."

Garcetti had already signaled that there will be furloughs for the city's civilian workforce. The mayor estimated city workers are expected to forego about 10% of their salaries. The city's hiring freeze is also continuing.

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In a briefing this morning, city staff said the mayor has broad powers to order furloughs in an emergency like this, but they'd rather work with unions. Corral Itzcalli with SEIU Local 721, which represents the largest chunk of civilian public workers in town, said the city should find other solutions instead of furloughs.

"We want to work with city officials," Itzcalli said. "We want to figure out where to make adjustments. But we... cannot call these men and women heroes one day, and then turn around and attempt to balance the budget on their backs. That's just simply unfair."

The furloughs exclude sworn members of the LAPD and the LAFD. The budget for those departments is funded to "maintain the same levels of service."

We are reading the full 511-page proposal now and will be reporting out those proposed cuts all day and bringing you the details here.

WE ARE LOOKING INTO WHAT’S HAPPENING TO THESE KEY CITY SERVICES

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WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW

City Controller Ron Galperin released a staggering revised estimate for city revenues that forecast:

  • a $231 million revenue shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends in June
  • up to $598 million next year, which begins July 1

On Sunday, Garcetti said in his State of the City speech he had already moved to:

  • borrow $70 million from city special funds and reserve fund
  • furlough all civilian employees for 26 days, the equivalent of a 10% pay cut
  • make significant cuts to many city departments, which "will have to operate at sharply reduced strength"

In the current fiscal year, the city has so far spent almost $58 million in emergency funds to address COVID-19, including expanding homeless shelters, getting some people into hotels and setting up testing sites across the city.
City officials hope this spending will be reimbursed by the federal government via the CARES Act, but for now it also adds to the city’s budget challenge along with lost revenues.

All told for this fiscal year, which closes at the end of June, the city found $194 million in savings.

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The proposed budget the Mayor just released includes $230 million in hard cuts to department budgets for the next fiscal year. Some examples:

  • Street services will be reduced 20% — most of that will come from not filling open positions and not replacing employees who leave (that’s attrition)
  • Infrastructure spending has a 10% reduction overall
  • 311 wait times may go up because those operators are subject to furlough

PUBLIC WORKS

Sanitation workers are so vital to Los Angeles healthy they won’t be forced to take days off like most other civilian city employees. They pick up garbage in neighborhoods, clean up around homeless encampments and run the wastewater treatment system,

They are essential workers who keep residents from contracting the coronavirus through an excess of trash piling up on the street, and who clean-up sewage overflowing from pipes and treatment plants, all while wearing protective gear so they don’t get exposed to the virus themselves.

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Some public works budget cuts will slow construction projects, graffiti abatement, replacing broken concrete streets, repaving failed asphalt streets, tree trimming, and some sidewalk repairs.

People who call 311 for services such as pothole repairs and large item disposal will see longer wait times, because some of the call center employees will also be reduced due to furloughs.

Of those services that are being reduced, one-time construction projects will be the last to be restored, after paying back what was taken from reserves and lifting furloughs.

Sharon McNary


URBAN FORESTRY

The expansion of L.A.’s urban tree canopy is so important for our climate future that last year in L.A.’s Green New Deal, a promise was made to plant as many as 90,000 trees across the city in just two years.

But on Sunday, during his State of the City address, Mayor Garcetti said:

“We’ll have less to spend on ... caring for our urban forest.”

According to the Mayor’s office, they scaled back the urban forestry budget as part of a broader 20% reduction to Street Services, which is within the Department of Public Works.

That reduction comes in the form of seven positions — including Tree Surgeon and Equipment Operator — that’ll go unfilled. They’ll save more money as they hold back from filling any jobs within that department that open up in the foreseeable future.

You may have to wait longer for trees in your neighborhood to be tended to.

As for the 90,000 trees supposed to be planted by some time in 2021? It’s unclear.

When asked to provide more detailed information about that program, as well as the broader services, the Department of Public Works referred LAist to the Mayor’s Office, stating that they wouldn’t have anything to add until the City Council had a chance to look at the proposed budget.

Jacob Margolis


TRANSPORTATION

Another program facing reduced funding is Vision Zero, the street safety initiative launched by Mayor Garcetti in 2015 to eliminate traffic deaths, which many city leaders and community advocates have described as an epidemic in recent years.

The program identifies streets and intersections where pedestrians are seriously injured and killed at higher rates — known as the High-Injury Network — and makes improvements such as high-visibility crosswalks, speed bumps and protected bike lanes. The program also includes ramped-up traffic enforcement and community outreach campaigns.

For the current fiscal year budget, Vision Zero received about $51.4 million, the most since its inception in 2015. But officials from the mayor's office say the program will be cut 5% in the next fiscal year to $48 million amid the impending financial crisis brought about by the pandemic.

More from Ryan Fonseca on cuts to transportation:


HOMELESS SERVICES

The budget line for homeless services is projected to reach just shy of $430 million in the next fiscal year, up a little from $429 million in the current year.

That means spending on homelessness by the City of Los Angeles will remain steady, despite the city’s financial distress, underscoring a commitment to addressing the issue.

But keep in mind: most spending on homelessness in Los Angeles comes through the budget of L.A. County, not the city.

More from Matt Tinoco on the budget to tackle homelessness:


CULTURAL PROGRAMS

Furloughs and a city hiring freeze are spread across departments that make up the city's public life, including many activities that people may be looking forward to as stay-at-home restrictions are eased. Among the proposed cuts:

  • The city's Department of Cultural Affairs faces a $1.4 million proposed budget cut, an 8.1% drop. That includes a reduction of about $168,000 to its grants program (about a 3.5% cut), which provides support to local non-profit arts organizations, and about a million dollar cut to the public art program.
  • The L.A. Zoo budget gets a $3.1 million cut, a 12.1% reduction. The animal care budgets will remain steady.
  • The L.A. city library system is protected by Measure L, so its funding is required to be kept at a certain level. Their budget actually rises from $194 million to $205 million next fiscal year. But the libraries are closed until further notice.

More from Mike Roe on these cuts:


PARKS AND RECREATION

The mayor’s proposed budget would cut approximately $14 million from salaries for the workers who maintain the city’s 450 parks, and programs such as sports and summer camps at rec centers.

Since the 2008 recession, the department has worked to generate revenue, according to Carolyn Ramsay, executive director of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. Concerts at the Greek Theater, golf course fees, swimming lessons and other fee-based activities bring in substantial revenue.

Since social distancing orders went into effect, the department has been forced to postpone the concert season, shut down golf courses and stop after-school programs. Revenue for the upcoming fiscal year is expected to be about $14 million lower than this year — and that figure assumes that park programs and venues will be back up and running at some point in the not-to-distant future.

Alyssa Jeong Perry


POLICE AND FIRE

L.A. cops may have to pick up the slack for furloughed civilian workers at the LAPD.

Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposed budget would spare LAPD officers and city firefighters but force furloughs on their civilian support staff, who would be required to take 26 unpaid days off over the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Around 3,000 civilians work at the LAPD. Some, like 911 operators and detention officers, would be exempt from the furloughs. But many others would not, including clerical and other staff. Uniformed LAPD officers may be forced to pick up the slack, which could mean slower response times on non-emergency calls.

“He really didn’t affect police officers on the streets too much,” said Craig Lally, president of the union that represents the rank-and-file. “We appreciate that.”

At the fire department, most of the agency’s 300 support personnel will face furloughs. Sworn firefighters answer 911 calls at the LAFD.

Under the mayor’s plan, funding for gang intervention programs would drop by 10% or $3 million, but the former gang members and other community members who run those programs heavily rely on the money to survive.

— Frank Stoltze

A LETTER FROM THE MAYOR

WHY IT MATTERS

Los Angeles, with about 3.8 million residents, is the nation's second most populous city. The City of L.A. is a major employer in the region, second only to L.A. County. About 50,000 people work for the city across 44 departments.

THE CONTEXT

The coronavirus outbreak is devastating local government budgets. Revenue has plummeted because of the shelter-at-home order. Economic activity funds a big part of the city's budget through taxes, and most of that is on ice right now. In Los Angeles, city officials now face stark choices about which programs to keep whole and which to cut.

Garcetti, in his State of The City speech on Sunday, appealed again to the White House and Congress to appropriate more funding for local governments, echoing organizations representing city and county leaders that have requested the same:

"Don't bail out banks but leave cities with cuts and collapse. If you want to reopen American, America's cities are where this nation begins."

But for now, Garcetti has to work with what he's got. That means a belt-tightening budget to reduce spending on community programs, parks and the environment.

WHAT’S NEXT

The mayor's proposal is just that — a suggestion based on requests from city departments and the chief executive's policy priorities. The city council takes that document and works its way through, making amendments based on the Budget Committee's public hearings, city administrative officer (CAO) analysis and councilmembers' priorities.

The city charter says the council must pass its budget no later than June 1. The mayor then has five working days to send it back to them with a veto, or tweak the council's budget using a line-item veto. But the council also has five days to override any veto with a two-thirds vote.

And voila: an adopted budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

THE CITY'S BUDGET SUMMARY

THE FULL BUDGET

IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS?

The mayor tried to soften the news of austerity measures on Sunday by presenting a vision of what recovery could look like. "The real question is how we will come back," Garcetti said, arguing this process should be more broad-based than what transpired after the Great Recession. He said attention should be given to inequities in our economy that leave many people vulnerable and without housing or healthcare.

Garcetti talked about a proposed coalition of doctors, local governments, businesses, and health agencies dubbed the "CARES Corps," which would theoretically help coordinate the steps needed to get the economy moving again: testing; monitoring; tracking and isolating new coronavirus cases; and researching therapeutics and a vaccine.

Garcetti also called on the federal government to make sweeping, structural changes as part of the recovery effort, like backing an eviction moratorium, making college tuition-free and passing an infrastructure package.

These are big, bold plans popular with the left wing of the Democratic Party that helped win California for Bernie Sanders. But they aren't likely to be on the agenda for the Trump administration or a Republican Senate anytime soon.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

Our politics reporter Libby Denkmann is taking the lead on the overall budget picture. Public Safety reporter Frank Stoltze is looking into how police and fire will be impacted. Infrastructure reporter Sharon McNary is covering public works. Matt Tinoco, who covers homelessness, will report on the budget implications for efforts to get people off the streets. Mike Roe, who covers the arts, is exploring the impact to cultural institutions. Ryan Fonseca, who regularly reports on transportation issues, is looking into what happens now to Vision Zero and other transit safety measures. Alyssa Jeong Perry is reporting on parks and recreation. Jacob Margolis is looking into what happens to urban forestry.