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Here What You Missed Last Week at LA City Council

A breakdown of what City Council plans to do with your money in the new fiscal year. 

Every week, Knock LA provides live coverage of Los Angeles City Council meetings from our Twitter account. While you can follow along live, we’ve also put together this breakdown of what’s happening at the highest levels of power in our city for those who don’t have 12 hours a week to spend on City Council meetings (including regularly absent city councilmembers).

city council recap featured image collage
A collage of LA city councilmembers, art by Sandra Markarian for Knock LA

More Money For Police

This week, City Council mostly paid attention to their proposed budget, which they passed on Wednesday, May 18 with a few modifications and some items not yet resolved. If you don’t already know, the budget is important because it shows where the city’s priorities lie. 

Much of the talk on social media was about an increase in the police budget. There is about a $90 million increase in the police budget between estimated expenditures for the 21-22 fiscal year in comparison to the 22-23 fiscal year. A big part of the increase is a contractually obligated pay raise that was negotiated back in 2019 and deferred until this year. Had the city not included it in the budget, they would have gotten sued. There is also about $50 million to fund new hires, but so far the city has had trouble filling those positions, so there is a pretty good chance that money will go back into the general budget.

Spending On Housing

More money for cops is concerning and important to challenge, but it is also worth looking to see what else is happening in the budget. 

If you look at housing, there is about a $5 million increase in the budget even though, last year, the department was under budget by about $1.7 million. That’s a good sign, but how is this money going to be used? The highest portion of the budget is going into multi-family residential code enforcement. The term “enforcement” raises some red flags. What codes will they be focusing on, and how will they be handling enforcement? These are questions that can’t be answered just by looking at the budget, but the sort of thing that those on the ground need to be aware of.

Another point that feels worth mentioning is how homelessness is handled in the budget. If you look at the CAO’s overview of the budget, homelessness is listed as both a “significant expenditure” and a “potential spending pressure.” However, if you search for “homeless” in the proposed budget, it comes back with results for 31 pages. On 12 of those pages, it is listed as a source of funds in the form of grants and funding from government entities. Compare that to the six pages where homelessness is listed as an expenditure appropriation, where the only items that are seeing an increase in their budget are: the CIRCLE program (run by Urban Alchemy), the Unified Homeless Response Center Data Program, and the LAHSA Homeless Engagement teams. Most of the other items have the same budget or are unspecified.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone, but LA’s governmental priorities are all screwed up. Whatever the actual spending winds up being, people need to prepare to fight for the necessary changes in next year’s budget. Electing the right people is a big part of that, but so is advocating for your city councilmember to prioritize the people of LA rather than developers and those who protect them.

Miscellaneous Spending 

Many of the other items on May 17 and May 20 had to do with money as well. On May 17 alone, we had discussion of funding for: improving the wifi at the Los Angeles Zoo, lighting improvements in CD 13, traffic safety measures in CD 5, housing vouchers in CD 5, police patrol to stop fireworks, salaries to staff separate gender swimming times, and safety vests for community clean ups. 

On May 20, there were items about the city selling surplus supplies, two donations made to the police, and the city accepted money for an urban search and rescue program. 

None of the budget is set in stone. As nice as it would be to only have to deal with money once a year, there are opportunities throughout the year to adjust the budget. Keeping up with what the city is doing with your money is an ongoing process, and one that requires careful attention. Throughout the next fiscal year, there will be chances to put money towards helping those who need it most, and only by paying attention and staying engaged.

Sustainable Energy

Another item that received a bit of attention was item 15 on the May 17 agenda. This item was a report from the Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee about the creation of a green hydrogen hub and using water from the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant to create hydrogen fuel. 

Some public commenters said that this item did not have proper community engagement. CD 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell pushed back on this, but knowing his record of community engagement, it is probably better to take the word of the community organizers. 

One issue that was brought up by councilmembers is where the water will come from, especially if the water reclamation plant isn’t able to keep up with demand. There were also concerns about whether this source of energy is as green as it is made out to be. There were two main responses to these points from various councilmembers. First, members claimed that it isn’t “blue” or “gray” hydrogen, which is apparently less environmentally friendly. Second, some members argued that we need to hurry to bring more sustainable energy sources to the city, and waiting around to figure out every detail of this plan would slow things down. This last point was mostly pushed by CD 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian. 

Ultimately, what this item did was give LADWP and the Port of Los Angeles permission to apply for some money from the federal government – a somewhat convoluted process. Instead of submitting a proposal and receiving all or none of the money, a temporary proposal needs to be submitted. The federal government then gives a portion of the money that the city would use to create a fully fleshed out plan, which the city then submits to receive the rest of the money from the government. 

Moving towards a more environmentally friendly energy sector is imperative, but it is also important that frontline communities are consulted to make sure that more damage isn’t being done.

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