Welcome to the first episode of Smogland Radio. This week — it’s budget time. We’re diving deep into the Los Angeles County Budget with LA Public Press reporter Ashley Orona. We’ve also got a story from a tenant who was harassed by his landlord until he organized with his fellow tenants, and our first submission from our correspondent, Ruth. Plus, headlines from this week’s news.


You’re listening to Smogland Radio. The podcast about the city we all hate to love and loooove to hate… I’m your host Nancy Meza.

It’s Thursday, June 29, and we’ve got a great show for you today.

But first some headlines. Cuz there’s A LOT that happens in LA any given week. Here are some important things we want to make sure you don’t miss out on!

First up, we’re in the central San Fernando Valley, where Imelda Padilla is leading in a runoff election to represent Council District 6.

CD 6 used to be represented by former Council President Nury Martinez. You may remember… she resigned in disgrace last year after the racist council tapes scandal.

Voting closed on Tuesday… and preliminary results show Imelda Padilla in the lead … over Marisa Alcaraz.

Imelda Padilla served on Sun Valley’s neighborhood council and has worked on environmental justice issues in the area. Alcaraz worked on programs to address poverty as a City Hall aide.

The election comes as City Hall continues to be plagued with scandals. And both candidates have connections with politicians involved in those scandals. Padilla spent a year and a half working in Martinez’s office. And Alcaraz is policy director for Councilmember Curren Price – who was just charged with ten different felonies.

And speaking of Curren Price. The councilmember has declared his innocence on felony charges filed by the District Attorney. He says the Council should NOT vote to suspend him.

The DA says Price committed perjury and broke conflict-of-interest laws. The charges are over Price voting on projects from developers who did business with his wife.

Price is also accused of embezzling public money.

If the Council decides to suspend Price, residents in yet another South LA district would lose their representation in city hall. It could also create yet another power struggle on city council. Which just dealt with a similar situation after Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted in 2021.

And Hollywood screenwriters have been on strike for almost two months.

They are striking for better pay, better working conditions… and protections against AI technology that could threaten their jobs.

We stopped by the writer’s guild picket line at Paramount Studios the other day…

It’s becoming harder and harder to find more and more gigs. They’re shorter, paying less. It’s unsustainable. So we have to be out here. As we’re standing here, it’s two months in and there’s still constant horns going? Oh yes, all the time. I feel like most people just get it. Even if they don’t understand, they probably don’t know exactly what the writers are striking for, but they see workers fighting for their rights.

You can find a picket outside pretty much every major Hollywood studio during the week.

And now, let’s get on with the show.

First up on the show today, we’re talking BUDGET.

Specifically, the LA County budget.

Okay stay with me. Cuz budgets are really important — reading a budget, you can get a sense of what politicians ACTUALLY care about. Like, they can say one thing on the campaign trail. But then when you look at the money, you can see what their real plans are.

The thing is, budgets can also be really confusing! Especially for a huuuuuge county like LA County.

Luckily, LA Public Press reporter Ashley Orona is here to talk us through what’s going on with the LA county budget. 

Nancy: Hey, Ashley, welcome to Smogland Radio, thank you so much for joining us on today.

Ashley: Hi, Nancy. It’s great being here. 

Nancy: Ooh, I’m so excited about this conversation. 

Ashley: Me too. 

Nancy: Oh, it’s gonna be juicy. So, Ashley, before we talk about the budget, let’s talk quickly about who the Board of Supervisors actually is. Yeah. So can you tell us who the supes are and what they’re responsible for?

Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So the Board of Supervisors is the governing body of LA County. So they basically oversee county departments, make laws that govern the entire county.

And they also approve the annual budget. 

Nancy: Okay. It’s budget time. So what is actually in the budget? Like what are the county’s priorities and what are they spending money on?

Ashley: Yeah, so there’s actually three departments that get a good chunk of money. Um, we have health services that get about 9.3 billion. Um, then we have public social services.

Like Social Security, CalFresh, Medi-Cal, stuff like that, that gets 5.4 billion. And then we have the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which gets about 3.8 billion

Nancy: Um, and Ashley, I see that you actually brought a little book along with you today. Um, that has the whole budget in it, right?

Ashley: Yeah. So it’s not so little. Um, and this is volume one out of volume — out of two volumes. Um, so yeah, this is the recommended budget summary.

Uh, and then it goes into each department budget summary.

So there’s a lot of numbers in here.

Nancy: It’s a lot of money, right? So like the city of LA recently adopted a 13 billion budget with the single largest amount going to the police. But the LA county budget is even bigger, right? 

Ashley: Much bigger.

Nancy: How big is the budget that they’re currently deliberating?

Ashley: So, This year’s budget for LA County is 43 billion with a B that is larger than many states budget in the country, and even larger than many countries’ budget. 

So if you live in an unincorporated city, Like Los Angeles, Southgate, Pasadena, then their city or your city has its own budget and they provide some services and programs, but the county is in charge of providing many essential services like hospitals. So this budget will essentially go into dictating how much money these departments get to create those programs and services that go back into the community.

Nancy: It’s where our money’s going to.

Ashley: Yes. So if you shop here, you’re more than likely paying sales taxes here, right. So the money that you’re spending in the county is being used by the board of supervisors to create, you know, this budget.

Nancy: Okay. So there’s this one specific department that’s basically in crisis, right? And is asking for more money to deal with it?

Ashley: Yes, the sheriff’s department. 

Nancy: Okay. Let’s talk about the sheriff’s department. So what’s going on with the sheriff’s department and how is that reflected in the budget?

Ashley: Yeah, so there are two big crises in the sheriff’s department right now. The first one is they have a problem with deputy gangs.

Uh, you may have heard about this, or folks listening may have heard about this. There are literally gangs operating throughout the sheriff’s department. They’ve got tattoos, they’ve got these initiation rituals. They’re gangs.

Nancy: Okay I wanna talk about deputy gangs for just a sec. Cuz if you grew up in the hood in LA, this might not be news to you. But for everyone else, there are actual gangs operating in this enormous department that’s responsible for policing huge parts of our county.

And they’ve done horrific things, like keeping a book of when deputies shoot civilians, and celebrating the shootings. They’ve harassed women in the sheriff’s department, and any deputies who aren’t members of the gang. They’ve threatened people’s families. You might’ve heard of some of these deputy gangs… like there’s the Banditos, who have taken over the East LA station. Or the Executioners… or the Grim Reapers. But there’s way more. There have been over a dozen in stations around the county.

Ashley: Right, and it’s a huge issue. Uh, the gangs have been called a cancer to the Sheriff’s Department.

There’s been a lot of good reporting on this in the past couple of years. If folks want to learn more about the gangs, a good place to start might be a series is by Cerise Castle on KNOCK LA called a Tradition of Violence. Kate Cagle from Spectrum has also done some good reporting on the deputy gangs. And Sheriff Robert Luna, the head of the department, actually got elected on a promise to clean up deputy gangs in the sheriff’s department.

That was one of his big campaign promises.

Uh, the other crisis in the sheriff’s department is the jails. So we have these county jails and the county is in charge of running them. So according to reports and lawsuits, the jails run by the sheriff’s department have conditions so bad that they’ve been called barbaric and a human rights disaster.

There’s been massive overcrowding. People haven’t had reliable access to toilets. There’s been times where people who are incarcerated didn’t have running water. So it’s, it’s pretty bad in there. Uh, so there are these two crises in the sheriff department, uh, the deputy gangs and the jails. And when you have a broken institution like this with such serious problems, you can either try to reform the department, which basically means giving it more money, or you can decide to pivot to another system and stop throwing resources at that department.

Nancy: Right. So it’s basically the decision between reform or abolition. Like — let’s try to fix this department, or shift those resources towards other things.

Ashley: Yes.

Nancy: Okay. So can you walk us through what’s happening with the budget for the sheriff’s department?

Ashley: Yeah, well, the budget does have some funding for some alternatives to our current carceral and policing system. It has something called the Care First Community Investment, and it exists because of this ballot measure that LA County voters passed a couple of years ago called Measure J. And so this program includes things like job training, funding alternatives to jail, basically finding ways to incarcerate less people.

But this budget also increases funding to the sheriff’s department. So, you know, this department that is plagued with all these issues, uh, like the deputy gangs and the jails that we just talked about, basically this budget is choosing reform. Uh, they’re allocating about 50 million to the jail problem and about 6.6 million to the deputy gang problem.

The 6.6 million is going to this office Luna created to try to get rid of the gangs.

Nancy: Right, and that’s what happens when you choose reform instead of abolition, right, when it comes to the sheriff’s department. Like, reform might make things better in the short term. It might improve the conditions in the jails, for example. But it means that you’re giving more money to a department that’s filled with literal gangs.

And you just have to trust that the department is going to use the money to remedy the situation. And let’s not forget that historically cops are not known for being good at reforming themselves.

Ashley: Right. And that’s also the question at the heart of this budget decision, like, can we trust Sheriff Luna to deliver on his campaign promises? And in this budget, uh, it reflects that the supes are essentially making a bet on Luna.

And then also there’s a point that I heard one person make in a public comment at the budget hearing that happened in May. It was something that really stuck with me. Uh, this person said, you can make the jails as pretty as you want. But you’re still incarcerating people. So that’s something that’s been in my head as you know, we’re going through this budget.

Um, and actually at that same public meeting in May, uh, something else happened that I’ve been thinking about. There was a lot of department representatives, um, that were there to listen in on the budget. I saw them all sitting down. There was someone that I can make out was from the Parks and Rec department.

They had like this big document with like the Parks and Rec logo on it, and then they had like annotations all over the document and I was also able to spot the fire. Chief, uh, with his like uniform, with his fire uniform and like all these fancy badges, and of course all the departments want more money for the departments.

Um, and so I thought that with all of them being there, that they were eventually going to go make. Public comment as well as like the rest of the public, but to my surprise, only one department had got to go up there and actually speak. And that person was Sheriff Luna and he kind of went on for a while.

Nancy: Yeah. I think we have some tape of that. Let’s bring it up.

Luna: We are requesting a multi-year rollout of tasers. The challenges with the Antelope Valley settlement Agreement. The challenges in our jails. I would like to highlight the issues of Deputy Gaines. I have requested six captains to comply you to support this request.

Nancy: So basically, Lunas already getting a funding increase in this budget, but he’s up there justifying why he needs that money and also asking for more money.

Ashley: Yeah, so while he was up there, he talked about the deputy gangs and the conditions inside the jails. Like he mentioned, the consent decrees, which are legal agreements the sheriff’s department has made to reform itself.

Often this is a result of lawsuits or an investigation, kind of like a settlement agreement.

So he is talking about getting more money for reform, but he’s also talking about other stuff like recruiting more sheriffs deputies, which he’s also getting money for in this budget.

Nancy: Okay. So let’s get back to the budget process.

When is all of this happening?

Ashley: Yeah, so the budget process has already began, but the actual deliberations are starting on June 26th. They are having a special meeting, which I will be at.

Nancy: All right. So can you tell us a bit about what you’re gonna be looking out for at the meeting on June 26th?

Ashley: Yeah, so there’s about 1.1 billion in unmet needs according to the CEO’s office.

So I’ll be looking out to see if the county can come up with the money for these unmet needs. So, for example, the health services department is asking for millions in interim and permanent supportive housing. That basically means shelters and then more permanent housing with supportive services. For people who have been unhoused, the department’s also asking for money to expand existing diversion programs, which is basically an alternative to incarceration.

It can be for people who have a history of being unhoused or of substance abuse, and it’s supposed to be a program where they can get back on their feet instead of being incarcerated, where, you know, we’ve gone over these conditions in the jails can actually make their situations worse. So those are some of the things I’ll be looking out for.

Nancy: Alright. So Ashley, you’re gonna be at the next meeting, and you’re gonna send us some little voice memos from the meeting so we know how it went, right?

Ashley: Yes, of course, I’ll be there.

Nancy: So we’re gonna hear those right after this. Thank you so much for joining us, Ashley.

Ashley: Of course, thank you for having me.

Ashley: Hey, it’s Ashley. So I’m going to the budget deliberation meeting later today, but first, I’m here outside the building where the supes meet. The Reimagine LA Coalition and other activists are organized here today to highlight some issues that we talked about in our interview. So the coalition is asking the board to do things like reallocate about a billion dollars from the county budget and use it to fund alternatives to the Carceral system.

A big thing that they’re asking for is to close Men’s Central Jail by 2025 and actually stick to that timeline. So they also want to get the overall jail population down under 8,500 people. So I’ll be here today. I’ll be recording some sounds and speaking to some folks, and then heading inside to see what these supervisors decide to do.


Megan Castillo: My name is Megan Castillo, I am the Reimagined LA Coalition Coordinator, as well as the policy and advocacy manager with La Defensa.

Ashley: Um, yeah, my first question is what is abolition and how are supes doing it or not doing it?

Megan Castillo: So abolition is the idea of building a new world, a world where we don’t have to rely on the over surveillance of our communities. We don’t have to rely on the policing of our communities, but that we’re actually building a world where we have mental health services, youth services, um, alternatives to restoration, where our community actually keeps us safe.

And we know — research has shown that the way to keep our community safe. It’s through resources, right? That are allocated properly to support the needs of the community.

Khadijah Shabazz.  Um, I’m here today representing SE Justice Group.

Um, I had the privilege of going to court with a person, one person, and the judge he asked her, well, what makes it different this time? And she said, I never had support like this before. She said, my parole officer never helped me. Probation never helped me.

The courts never helped me, she said, but the sisterhood came in. They asked me what I needed, and whatever we did to help her, uh, seemed to be working. She’s thriving. She has a job. She has her children. She has a place to stay. She’s become productive. And that was care. That’s what care looked like opposed to a cage.

I don’t have to imagine what can happen, I get to see what can happen when you support somebody through this system.

Ashley: Hey Nancy. So I am just leaving the Board of Supervisors budget hearing. Public comment lasted about three and a half hours… people were pretty against certain budget recommendations that the supes were gonna be voting on… like giving more money to the sheriff’s department. 

And in terms of the unmet needs that I said I was looking out for, some of those are funded in these recommendations — like affordable housing and mental health services in the county jails.

There also was another discussion about the sheriff’s department. One of the budget recommendations was to add three additional positions to the sheriff’s department. They’re supposed to be three captains for stations that have a really bad history with deputy gangs. And it’d cost about $1.5 million.

So supervisor Holly Mitchell seemed like she was not down with this proposal. There were some reps from the sheriff’s department who were there to answer questions. And Mitchell was asking them about these three additional captains and how they were gonna help deal with the deputy gangs problem.

So the sheriff’s department representative basically said — we have ideas, we have a draft plan, but we don’t have a concrete policy or timeline in place. And so Mitchell said, I don’t feel comfortable voting on this motion until you have a concrete plan.

But the other supervisors decided to move ahead with voting on the three sheriff’s department positions along with all the other changes to the budget.

And ultimately, the budget passed with all the changes that were recommended.

So that’s what happened with the budget this week. And we’ll be revisiting in the fall, and I’ll be bringing you updates when that happens!

We’ll be right back.

Next up, we’ve got a story from reporter Jack Ross.

It’s about a relationship that a lot of us are familiar with here in LA. Where the majority of us are renters. It’s the relationship between a landlord and a tenant.

It’s a weird relationship right? It’s all about money, so it’s kind of transactional and impersonal. But it’s also so intimate – it’s about your home.

Landlords have so much power over tenants. And that power can go to their heads. Making them think they can do fucked up shit without having to face any consequence for their actions. Like — harass their tenants.

That basically means when your landlord messes with you. Like by turning off your hot water, or coming by your house unannounced. Or saying they’re gonna hurt you, like physically. Or threatening to report your immigration status to the feds.

It’s often something landlords will do when they want their tenants to get fed up and move out. And as of two years ago, it’s also against the law in LA.

Literal thousands of tenant harassment complaints have been filed since then, but our local authorities haven’t prosecuted any of them yet. Like, not even one.

So we’re gonna be bringing you some of those stories.

This is the first in a series Jack is producing for us, about tenants who’ve been harassed by their landlords.

He spoke to a tenant named Tai, who lives in South LA.

By the way, you’ll hear Tai mention “ACE” — that’s the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a tenants rights organization.

Also, we wanna warn you that there is an animal who’s harmed in this story. If you’d like to skip that part, it comes about five minutes in. 

Tai: My uncle bought this house in 1973 for $13,000.

He was a single kid who ran away from the South because he was locked into picking cotton. 

So he moves to California, we have one relative that came before him. And it was all to get away from the hangings. And there’s opportunity here. 

Sharecropping means you don’t have you don’t own anything. You don’t have anything. You just paid from the land. You know, you subside. 

But when he came here, he knew he just needed to buckle down and work hard. So then they were hauling dirt, and they my uncle helped LA build the freeways. 

Jack: Really.

Tai: So he, yeah, he his trucks took dirt to the freeway. 

I remember when I was a kid, when we got on the 105, he was like, my dirt is right here. My dirt is right here, you know? So yeah, that’s, that’s what he did. So he retired at 48. He had two trucks, and six houses. 

Jack: Wow.

Jack: How did you come to live in your uncle’s house?

Tai: So in the end when he got sick, I came over, I talked to him, I told him I said, hey unc, um, obviously you need a little more help. So why don’t I move over hereI’ll help whatever you need help with. 

Tai: I moved into this house in 2014… My uncle passed away in the summer of 2018. 

Jack: And so how did your cousin become your landlord?

Tai: Ah ok. My cousin walked in the court in November of 2020, the first year of Covid. They were selling the house to a company. 

They said, Hey, brother, we’ll probably buy this house. And we got to pay you relocation money. And we’re gonna ask you to leave maybe 60 days after they hit the gavel? You know, once we buy it, we’ll give you like, 60 days. Is that enough time? I said, Yeah yeah yeah.

My cousin went into court when they were dropping the gavel to ratify all of that. And she raised her hand and begged the judge to buy this house. And that’s how she became the owner of this house. 

It was her first purchase. She didn’t know she couldn’t just write me a hand-written letter and boot me. She thought I knew nothing about relocation. She thought I was ignorant to what was happening. 

So she actually penned a letter to me and the lady in the back house on this property, and gave us 40 days to move out and leave the keys. 

I received that letter the first week of December, 2020. And that’s when she informed me that I needed to move out in January. And I found out if I just said, okay, she wants me to leave, I’ll leave. When I gave her the keys, I would’ve rescinded my rights to receive any relocation fee or anything. 

I called her. She came over. We had a conversation that went in circles. I figured out, okay, she doesn’t wanna pay me.

And immediately I called my mother and said mom, she just wrote me a letter. She’s trying to steal from me. She’s trying to kick me out without giving me the relocation money that she owes me.

I’m a peaceful person. And I want everybody to be happy. I want everybody to be in love, you know.

That’s why I have five animals in my house. I gotta love on somebody.

Jack: And the harassment started when you decided to resist the eviction? 

Tai: Yeah. Um, I got up, my gas was off on the stove. And I thought, man, my pilot’s out. 

I go to wash dishes. And I turn the water on and it was ice cold. So I’m like, Oh, wait, that’s my gas.

Then my cable started getting cut. So she would just come over and cut it and it’s on the side of the house. I’m like, man, what am I gonna do? 

The guy said I’ll put it in the backyard. This time. One guy comes. He says, let’s just put it in the backyard. You got this pit bull back here. She’s not coming back here to do it at all. 

Jack: So can you tell me about what happened while you were out of town?

Tai: I asked a friend to come here and house it for me and be with my animals the time I’m away.

Jack: That was your ex-girlfriend?

Tai: That was my ex-girlfriend, yeah.

Jack: So you get a phone call. 

Tai: Yes. Right.

Jack: On your trip. From your ex-girlfriend. 

Tai: Yeah, my ex-girlfriend calls me, and she tells me, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But your cousin was here. The landlord. While you were away.

She said, I didn’t want to call you yesterday but I heard her cutting the cable wires again outside. I said that she couldn’t be doing that, my dog’s in the backyard. She goes well. That’s the thing. I said, What’s the thing? 

Well, you know, I bang on the window like, Hey, what are you doing? I didn’t know what was your cousin until they left she had a hoodie on and when she left looked up, I looked right into her face. And I was like that’s the owner of the house!

She throws something in the backyard and she scoots and runs away.  

So Sunday morning. When she gets up, she says she goes outside and the dog is walking on his front legs. his back legs aren’t working. And I said he’s pulling himself because yeah, and it’s fraught, frothing at the mouth and I’m trying to give him water he won’t take it and I don’t think he’s eating She poisoned my dog. The dog is poison. 

That’s why his back legs are like that. So when I looked at him I knew. He was dying.

He wasn’t responding and I’m calling his name and uh.

Jack: What happened at the hospital?

Tai: At the hospital, the vet walked in and let me know right away, they felt the dog had been poisoned. And so they had to eliminate. Hey, what is it. So they checked with me first. They’re talking to me as if I was a drug addict maybe, they’re asking me about fentanyl, they’re asking me about plants in the backyard that maybe could be poisonous. I said no, I don’t have anything, only grass. I don’t even have flowers or anything. It’s just grass.

Jack: Did they diagnose the dog? 

Tai: Um, they told me that he had brain damage. And they could keep working on him, but it was just going to cost more and more money. And he’ll never be the same again, you know? 

So I told her, I said no, you can put him down. He’s in pain. I could hear him in the other room. 

I contacted ACCE and I said, okay, I need your help. So ACCE put me on a Zoom call within a couple of days. And I listened to people who my goodness, we’re in a much worse situations than I was.

But then I was hearing how they were helping other people who told horrible stories, but they were telling it to say how great it is now, right?

Tai: I’m still here. And it’s really because she knows I have protection. And I have people behind me.

Jack: Did the harassment stop?

Tai: The harassment stopped after we went to her job. 


Tai: I went to her job with ACCE and Telemundo and Channel Four. The manager for the building came down, pull me in, she looked over my shoulder and she said it’s that old man and the walker and that old lady in the wheelchair and that other lady in a wheelchair, are they with you? I say yeah, because I advocate for them. And so those people yes, they’re here to advocate for me.

That was Tai speaking to reporter Jack Ross. 

Jack’s also written a print story about tenant harassment in Los Angeles, which you can find at our website, at lapublicpress.org. 

Last up on the show today, we’ve got something really special for you.

There are a lot of unique elements that make LA the dystopian paradise it makes itself out to be… and for those of us who grew up here; what makes LA, LA can be many things. But one thing that LA has ALWAYS been to me, is wiiiiiiild! 


Our correspondent Ruth sends us this recording from her tiny home.


You’ll be hearing more recordings from Ruth and other LA residents as part of our correspondents program. We commission recordings from people in communities who often don’t see their experience reflected in the media.

If you’d like to be part of our correspondents’ program, email us at [email protected].

Smog Land Radio is produced by Phoenix Tso and Carla Green. I’m your host, Nancy Meza. We’re a production of LA Public Press, a non-profit newsroom for Los Angeles.

On this episode, you heard reporters Ashley Orona and Jack Ross, and our correspondent Ruth. 

Eduardo Arenas made our music, and Jaime Zacarias made our show art. Special thanks to Hayley Fager, Paulina Velasco, my little brother Andres Gomez, Phillip Kim, Nolan Downs and the entire LA Public Press newsroom.

Additional music by Epidemic Sound.

Also – we’re a newsroom funded entirely by donations! 

If you like the work that we do, you can support us by becoming a member at lapublicpress.org slash donate. 

You can also support us by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, or following us on social media. We’re on all platforms at LA Public Press.

Thanks so much for listening.

We’ll see you back here in one month for our next episode.