L.A. Council approves Bass' $13-billion budget, greenlighting plan to hire 1,000 cops
The Los Angeles City Council signed off on Mayor Karen Bass' plan for expanding the Police Department on Thursday, approving a budget that calls for the hiring of about 1,000 officers over the next fiscal year and record spending to fight homelessness.
The council voted 13 to 1 for Bass' $13.1-billion budget, despite warnings from critics that her plan for the LAPD — increasing the size of the force by 400 officers — is unrealistic and unnecessary. The department expects nearly 600 to resign or retire in the coming budget year, which starts July 1.
Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez cast the lone opposing vote, saying she could not support a spending plan that provides $3.2 billion to the LAPD at a time when city agencies that repair sidewalks, provide programs for the city's youth and give aid to its elderly populations are having to "fight over scraps."
“We are celebrating moving pennies around, while we put a quarter of our entire budget into just one department,” Hernandez said in an impassioned seven-minute speech.
Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, a close political ally of Hernandez, said the spending plan is "not perfect." Still, he praised it as "the most progressive budget in the history of Los Angeles," one that will provide expanded mental health teams, drug treatment facilities and a record $1.3 billion to combat homelessness.
Soto-Martínez said the mayor's budget would focus on issues that are root causes of homelessness, such as poverty and a lack of mental health services.
"The budget represents the beginning of a new path on dealing with homelessness," he said. "And while it might be just a few steps forward, it stops us from going backward."
Soto-Martínez and Hernandez — both backed by the Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles — won office last year after campaigning on the idea that the LAPD should have fewer officers, not more. Both represented a growing effort to push policies leftward at City Hall.
During Thursday's budget deliberations, the pair tried without success to cut $7.4 million set aside for the purchase of an LAPD replacement helicopter. They called for that money to be used instead for the acquisition of new electric buses.
Their effort to force a floor vote on the electric bus funding failed on an 8-6 vote, with Hernandez, Soto-Martínez and Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Heather Hutt, Nithya Raman and Katy Yaroslavsky falling short of the majority needed. The proposal now heads to several council committees for more review.
Bass welcomed the council's actions, saying her spending plan would help the city to confront homelessness with urgency and use "bold new methods" to make neighborhoods safer.
“This budget process has been a prime example of how working together, we can move L.A. forward," she said in a statement.
A second, technical vote on the budget is scheduled for next week.
Thursday's action will provide $250 million for Inside Safe, the mayor's program to move homeless Angelenos into hotels, motels and other facilities — and eventually permanent housing. Bass' team plans to use nearly a fifth of that money to acquire three or four larger motels. Slightly more than two-fifths would go toward the leasing of hotel and motel rooms.
In recent weeks, some on the council have grown frustrated with the mayor's team over the lack of publicly available information on the program, which moved about 1,200 people out of encampments in Hollywood, Venice, South Los Angeles and several other neighborhoods.
Two reports have been issued on the program since December, when the program was launched. Neither has been uploaded to the council's online file focusing on Inside Safe.
Under a compromise reached last week, Bass' homelessness team will provide council members biweekly reports on Inside Safe. So far, the mayor's team has committed about $44 million of the $50 million provided previously to the program, according to a report issued Tuesday.
Bass' homeless team booked rooms in 25 motels and hotels during the first four and a half months of Inside Safe. For example, the city has been paying $4,684 per room per month at the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The cost of the Inside Safe program could easily exceed $300 million in the coming budget year if Bass' team completes its planned acquisition of the 294-room Mayfair Hotel in L.A.'s Westlake neighborhood. That 15-story building is being eyed for interim housing.
Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who heads the council's budget committee, said the mayor's spending plan shows that city leaders have "redefined what public safety is," putting more money into unarmed response teams. At the same time, he also spoke in favor of Bass' push to hire more police.
The LAPD has lost about 9% of its officers since the outbreak of COVID-19, falling to a deployment of 9,100. Blumenfield said he fears the number of officers could soon fall below 9,000, putting the city and the department in "a perilous spot."
"I have actually concerns that we are dipping dangerously low with the number of officers that we have on the streets," he said.
The mayor called last month for an increase in the size of the LAPD to 9,500 officers. As part of her plan, the department would bring on 780 new recruits, while persuading another 200 retirees to return to the force.
Some on the council have voiced doubts about her chances of reaching her target, given the sluggish pace of hiring. Meanwhile, several of those who attended Thursday's council meeting argued against a bigger LAPD, saying Angelenos desperately need other types of services.
“This overreliance on police to solve all our problems undermines our ability to have a society where people, neighborhoods and communities are invested in,” said Greg Akili, a longtime activist and organizer with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. Every dollar going toward police, he said, is money that can't be spent elsewhere. “We simply can’t have it both ways.”
Yasser Nokoudy, 29, called on the council to take money from the LAPD and use it to purchase Hillside Villa, an apartment building in Chinatown where dozens of residents have been facing huge rent increases.
"Instead of hiring more cops, use the money to hire unarmed crisis responders and preserve affordable housing like Hillside Villa," said Nokoudy, a six-year resident of the building.
The council took an initial step toward buying the building last year. Blumenfield, after Thursday's vote, said the budget does not set aside any specific funding for such a transaction.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.