Public comments on the recommended budget will be accepted till May 19, 5 p.m. Email: [email protected].
DOWNTOWN LA — The annual Los Angeles County budget process continued last Wednesday, with a day-long hearing that featured activists from organizations such as Youth Justice Coalition, Alliance Leadership Initiative, and Young Women’s Freedom Center making petitions to the LA County Board of Supervisors. Members of advocacy groups, and the heads of various county bureaucracies alike, crowded the usually empty hall. Among notable demands heard from the public were students asking that the supervisors disinvest from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and invest into youth sports and recreation. The supes will continue to hold hearings till May 19, and will then shift to deliberations with the expectation of finalizing a budget by late June.
The public hearing is the second step in the county’s multi-step budget process. Last month, the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office (CEO) released the budget recommendations, which the Board is expected to vote and adopt by June 30, before the fiscal year ends. The Board can make changes to the recommendations until the final budget is adopted in October.
County executive staff have already drafted a recommended 2023-24 budget which comes to $43 billion in expenditures, $1.6 billion down from this fiscal year. By way of explanation, the executive office’s draft cites the state of California’s own $31.5 billion deficit and a decline in local real estate transactions. They further pointed to the possibility of recession driving down revenues, though technically no recession has yet been declared.
As to the breakdown of county revenues, according to a chart in the CEO’s website: 24% come directly from the state of California; 21% from property taxes; 15% from the federal government; 20% from fees for services; and 20% other. In a letter to the Board, Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport warns that, even with the cuts already made, the county is facing a $1.1 billion shortfall — and if the county can’t scrounge up that substantial sum from somewhere, the people of LA County can expect even more cuts.
On the spending side of things, 33% of the prospective budget is allocated to health and public works sanitation; 26% to public assistance programs such as CalFresh and CalWORKs; about 12% to law enforcement related departments such as the LASD, district attorney, and probation, medical-examiner, and animal control; about 12% to public protection such as the fire department; 11% to general government such as the Board of Supervisors and assessor’s office; 4% to public works and the county libraries; and 2% to recreation and cultural programs. Davenport provided all these numbers in a presentation before the board which can be accessed online.
In their official budget proposal the CEO’s office said their priorities include addressing homelessness, the “Care First Community Investment,” improving the conditions at the jail, and supporting the Sheriff’s Department. However, whether the actual allocations are there to meet these priorities, especially given cuts, is unclear.
Also present at the meeting, and the only department head who came to the podium and spoke directly to the supervisors, was Sheriff Robert Luna. Luna spoke, asking the Board grant him the full amount of money requested by his department.
“We have employees leaving for other agencies, citing long commutes, mandatory overtime, and a desire for an improved quality of life,” said Luna. “To attempt to address this, I have requested funding in the budget for recruiting.”
Luna was the only department head to address the Board, despite the presence of other department heads and representatives in the audience, including the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Parks and Recreation.
Luna mentioned several problems in his department, including the struggle to meet the terms of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree and the Rutherford settlement. In 2022 and 2023 a federal judge made a series of rulings and injunctions ordering LA County to address the inhumane conditions in the jail’s inmate reception center (IRC). Conditions had become truly abysmal with the mentally ill chained to chairs or gurneys for days, and lack of access to drinking water, or suitable toilets among many other problems. Luna pointed out that addressing these problems would require substantial funds.
“The lack of attention to the settlement agreement, that was originally estimated to be completed years ago, is staggering,” said Luna.
In the budget proposal the CEO recommends $3.99 billion be allocated to LASD, $136.2 million more than in the previous year. LASD has 17,481 budgeted positions (in other words paid staff), making it the second largest employed department, behind the Department of Health Services with 26,864. The county employs a total of 114,106 people, a 514 increase from the previous year.
The budget recommendations also include a modest $6.6 million for the LASD to establish an Office of Constitutional Policing and hire an additional 24 non-sworn positions. The office would oversee issues such as consent decrees, deputy gangs, and investigations, according to the letter. An additional $49.6 million to improve conditions in county jails under the terms of the DOJ settlement and $1.8 million to hold four academy classes.
Many activists rose to criticize the additional funds to the Sheriff’s Department saying it clearly went against the county’s “Care First, Jails Last” initiative, which aims at diverting people from going to jail and to invest in community-based care such as providing housing, social services, medical and mental health care.
“The CEO’s office continues to prioritize investment in jailing versus investment in alternatives to incarcerations, as you committed to do,” said Mya Hendrix, a member of the Reimagine LA County Coalition, which is composed of advocates pushing for disinvestment from incarceration.
The proposed budget would allocate $288.3 million to the “Care First, Jails Last” initiative. The proposal also allocates $692 million to mobilize emergency response to homelessness by investing in mental health outreach, supportive services, and a wide range of housing programs.
Several high school students from the Alliance Leadership Initiative gave public comment, asking the Board to continue investing in sports and recreational activities.
“Through sports I discovered more of my abilities,” said student leader Emerald Gilliam. “I’ve gained a better mindset and established networks.”