Los Angeles City Council cuts 1,700 vacant positions from budget

The Los Angeles City Council on Thursday approved Mayor Karen Bass's $12.8 billion budget, cutting 1,700 vacant positions and engaging in a tug-of-war over police spending.

In a 12-3 vote, the council approved a spending plan that eliminates positions at agencies responsible for animal shelters, public works, transportation programs, cultural activities, city building maintenance and many other services. The cuts are not expected to result in layoffs.

The reductions were necessary, in large part, to cover a series of salary increases for much of the city's workforce, both police officers and civilian employees, including gardeners, office workers, mechanics, janitors, librarians and many others, according to the city's budget analysts. . Those raises were negotiated by Bass and the council over the past year with the unions representing those employees.

“The reality we will face next year cannot be sugarcoated,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who heads the council's five-member budget committee. “Services will remain stagnant at best, because we will be operating on a shoestring budget.”

Councilors Nithya Raman, Hugo Soto-Martínez and Eunisses Hernández, who sit on the far left of the council, voted no, expressing dismay at the spending reductions.

Hernandez, who represents part of the Eastside, expressed frustration that about a quarter of the budget goes to the Los Angeles Police Department, even as other city agencies are asked to make do with less. He blamed the new round of cost cutting on the council's approval of a four-year package of raises and bonuses for LAPD officers, which is expected to consume an additional $1 billion by 2027.

“I cannot vote for a budget that adds funding to a department that is already overfunded and at the same time cuts $2.5 million from after-school programming,” said Hernandez, an advocate for shifting money from law enforcement to community services.

Council members put an end to some of Bass's proposed reductions. They retained about 400 positions that had been targeted for elimination, more than half of them in two agencies: the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Office of Street Services, which is responsible for maintaining the city's streets, alleys and sidewalks. .

During a flurry of votes on proposed amendments to Bass's budget, the council also restored some funding for senior meals and took a step to save four vacant positions in the fire department.

A second vote on the budget is scheduled for next week. After that, Bass will have a week to sign or veto the document, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Zach Seidl, a spokesman for the mayor, said Bass is “grateful for the council's strong leadership” on the budget. In a statement, he said the mayor's office would “continue the urgent work of bringing thousands of homeless people inside, making Los Angeles safer and providing critical services for Angelenos.”

“We will also continue to hire in critical areas so that city services continue to improve,” he said.

The budget provides $185 million for the mayor's Inside Safe program, which has moved more than 2,700 people into hotels, motels and other forms of temporary or permanent housing. (Of that total, nearly 700 people, about 25%, have become homeless again, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.)

The council's debate over law enforcement spending comes at a time when the Los Angeles Police Department continues to shrink due to attrition. The department has lost about 1,200 officers (a 12% reduction) since 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bass' budget provides funding to hire 574 officers in the next fiscal year. If every dollar is spent, the LAPD would still have just 8,733 officers by the summer of 2025, according to the city's projections on retirements and resignations.

That would represent the lowest staffing at the department since 1996, when Mayor Richard Riordan was in his first term.

At one point during Thursday's meeting, Soto-Martínez attempted to transfer $34.7 million allocated for police hiring to the city's “unallocated balance.” Such a measure, if approved, would have required the council to cast an additional vote in the coming months to spend money allocated for police hiring.

Soto-Martínez, who represents Echo Park and Hollywood, argued in favor of withholding the funds, telling colleagues that recent recruiting numbers show the LAPD is unlikely to meet its hiring goals. “We know they're not going to fill those positions,” he said. “I think it's not the best use of our taxpayers' money to keep putting money into that account.”

Hernandez sided with Soto-Martinez and said the LAPD should not receive recruiting money until it meets its recruiting goal in each Police Academy class.

“We're not saying they can't have the money,” he said. “We just say, show us the class receipts and then we'll give you the money for that.”

The council sent that proposal to the budget committee for further deliberations, with Raman, Hernandez and Soto-Martínez on the losing side. Hernandez later returned with what he called a compromise measure, asking his colleagues to transfer a smaller amount of police contracting funds ($13 million) to the unallocated balance.

That council voted 11-4 to send that concept to the budget committee as well, despite objections from Hernandez, Raman, Soto-Martínez and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson.

After the meeting, Council President Paul Krekorian defended the focus on police hiring and said Los Angeles is now “the most underpoliced ​​big city in America.” The raises were needed at the LAPD, he said, to prevent the department from losing officers even more quickly.

“The bottom line is that people want more police to fight the crime they see on their streets, in front of their children, every day,” he said. “And if we hadn't changed the pay of our police officers, this [staffing] the number would have continued to decline even more.”

Blumenfield, the budget chairman, acknowledged that the various employee raises had greatly hampered the city's budget outlook. Council members knew they would be “painful” when they approved them, he said.

“We made that decision,” he said. “We realized that inflation had increased quite a bit in recent years. Our workers' salaries were not up to par with that. “We were going to make agreements with our workers that would stabilize our workforce for years to come.”

Councilman Tim McOsker, who voted in favor of the budget, also defended the pay increases.

“The most valuable thing we have is our people,” he said, “and we are investing in our people.”

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