$9.2 billion LA budget funds housing for homeless, immigrant legal expenses, fire department expansion

This staff file photo shows Los Angeles City Hall.
This staff file photo shows Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG/File

The Los Angeles City Council approved a $9.2 billion budget Thursday that includes funding projects to reduce traffic fatalities, hiring firefighters and creating a $1 million legal fund for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

The spending plan, which is for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, calls for increasing firefighter ranks by 75 and funding two new engine companies. It also includes money for a girls camp to recruit more women into the firefighting profession.

Public safety

The budget also calls for hiring 45 civilians to perform tasks that are now being done by sworn Los Angeles police officers, to allow those officers to spend more time in the field.

Councilman Mitch Englander, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the civilian hiring would bring back “necessary crime-solving support services, including technicians to staff our DNA, latent fingerprint and firearm units, helping to increase the solve rate for property crimes in addition to homicides while returning officers to the streets.”

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In the area of public safety, the budget includes money for the replacement of nonemergency phone systems at four San Fernando Valley police stations, and the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Operations Valley Bureau office, Englander said.

Homelessness and transportation

The budget also sets aside $176 million for homeless housing, shelters, outreach and sanitation programs. About $89 million of the money is covered by bond measure dollars from voter-approved initiatives such as Proposition HHH, which pays for the construction of housing for the homeless.

The council agreed to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to set aside $17 million for Vision Zero projects. Another $9 million from the transportation and police departments was also used toward the initiative, bringing the total amount to roughly $26 million.

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Vision Zero projects, which might include traffic signals, marked crosswalks and bike lanes are expected to be concentrated in so-called “high-injury” areas that have more fatalities than in other areas.

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The budget also tries to address the condition of city roads with the inclusion of $30 million for reconstructing some of the city’s most dilapidated streets.

Reaction to budget

Police overtime was a contentious issue during budget discussions, with the police union saying the mayor did not include enough funding in his proposal to ensure officers could work past their regular hours, which is often necessary to keep patrol levels up. The council responded by setting aside an additional $10 million to be used in case the amount the mayor put into the budget was not enough.

A police union spokesman welcomed the council’s move.

“The City Council vote reaffirms the critical importance police overtime plays in striving to put a minimum number of police officers on the street patrolling our neighborhoods every day,” said Dustin DeRollo, who represents the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

Financial challenges

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the budget committee, said this year’s spending plan is a “good budget” but not as “robust” as in previous years.

City leaders have had to work within a “constrained budget,” and there will still be a structural deficit that needs to be resolved in future years, he noted.

To balance the latest budget, city leaders had to find ways to eliminate a $263 million shortfall projected in the upcoming year.

“We need to continue to be disciplined to make sure we don’t fall into the same pitfalls we had a decade ago,” Krekorian said, referring to a fiscal crisis during the Great Recession that led to layoffs of city employees and the reduction of services.

He also said the city faces additional challenges in the future, including a potentially slowing economy, liability costs and uncertainty over state and federal grants, which are in question due to threats by the federal government to pull funding for cities seen as “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.

He also noted an adjustment to the rate of return on pension funds that is being contemplated by pension trustees. If the assumed rates are adjusted downward, it would have a direct impact on the city’s budget, Krekorian said.

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Another uncertainty stems from projected revenue from yet-to-be reached agreements with short-term rental company Airbnb, which is projected to bring in $37 million in taxes and fees next year, and billboard companies, which are anticipated to bring $12 million. The City Council is still working out regulations for these industries.

Neighborhood allocations

For the northeast San Fernando Valley, there is $1.5 million allotted to the Pacoima Wash “vision plan,” which is an effort to improve safety and bring in park amenities along the tributary.

There’s also $1 million to continue the city’s human trafficking task force, a program championed by Councilwoman Nury Martinez, that tackles prostitution-related crimes in the San Fernando Valley.

Speed surveys are also funded in the budget, which will allow the city to determine if posted speed limits in neighborhoods are up to date and can be enforced.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield’s office said this will be important in the West Valley after a string of traffic fatalities related to speeding, including one earlier this week in Canoga Park.

South Bay area Councilman Joe Buscaino said the budget includes crucial funding for beautification efforts to his district, including an additional $2 million to expand graffiti removal and $900,000 for removing litter.

Other items in the budget include money for sidewalk repairs, body cameras for police officers and day-laborer centers.

Also in the budget is $1 million for the city’s share of a larger, $10 million legal justice fund to pay for attorneys to represent immigrants in deportation proceedings. The county and private foundations are also contributing money to the fund.

The spending plan must next be formally approved by the City Council and signed by the mayor before it can be adopted.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Chou

Reach the author at echou@scng.com or follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @reporterliz.