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Over 200 City Employees Call on Mayor Garcetti to Adopt the People’s Budget

After weeks of massive protests on the streets, Garcetti’s administration now faces pressure from within.

LA City Hall (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE 7/8/20: Over 340 LA City employees have now signed this letter to the Mayor Garcetti.

During an LA City Council meeting on June 2, 2020, Councilmember and chair of the Budget Committee Paul Krekorian said in his opening remarks that the city wouldn’t “be budgeting by hashtag” in regards to increased public pressure to revise police funding for 2020–2021.

While Krekorian didn’t make it clear which hashtag he was referring to, specifically, there was only one trending, budget-related hashtag in Los Angeles during that period: #PeoplesBudgetLA.

The People’s Budget LA is a coalition group led by Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles (BLMLA). While the Mayor’s budget allocates 54% of the unrestricted General Fund (basically, the money the City gets to spend every year) to the LAPD, the People’s Budget LA collected survey results from over 24,000 Angelenos to assess their needs (interestingly, Krekorian received 21,678 more votes than his closest opponent in his most recent election).

The resulting budget, which you can read more about here, instead focuses on areas like Universal Aid and Crisis Management, with only 1.64% of spending going towards law enforcement and policing.

To clarify: this is not a new movement. For the past five years, BLMLA has protested the City’s funding of the LAPD (historically, it hovers around 50% of General Fund spending). In an unprecedented move, members of the City Council actually heard a presentation from BLMLA leadership on the People’s Budget during a special session on June 15, 2020.

However, one can see Krekorian’s perspective. The People’s Budget LA was assembled from the input of citizens who may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of city government spending. While assessing the needs of constituents is surely important, you need the backing of people with real, on-the-job experience to implement a budget. They know how this stuff works. We can’t simply budget by hashtag.

On June 28, 2020, over 200 current and former employees of the City of LA signed and submitted a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti calling for a reimagining of the city budget. They specifically state that they “unequivocally align with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and People’s Budget LA,and call on the Mayor to shift priorities from over-policing to secure housing, education, food security, and more.

These are civil servants from a variety of departments — they know how the City spends its money currently, and they argue that it could be spent better.

With no sign of direct actions from protesters letting up in the immediate future and institutional buy-in from over 200 city employees, Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are seemingly running out of reasons not to seriously consider adopting the People’s Budget (or at least re-examine police spending in a meaningful way).

Here is the letter in its entirety:

Dear Mayor Garcetti and Members of the Los Angeles City Council:

We, the undersigned members of the Los Angeles City Family, are informed by a wide variety of life experiences and serve in City government in a multitude of ways. We work and live on Indigenous land not given freely. For many of us, our personal histories and identities as Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQIA+ people are inseparable from our sense of professional duty. We choose to honor these histories as we fight to reverse institutionalized racism and work towards an equitable city.

There is one dominant issue that demands our immediate attention and action — the ongoing brutalization of Black people at the hands of law enforcement, and the nationwide uprising to demand justice, accountability, and the reallocation of funds to provide community-driven solutions to safety. This story did not begin with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in other U.S. cities, but we are moved by how the injustices inflicted upon these three individuals have entered the national consciousness and sparked a movement for change.

In Los Angeles, despite record levels of public engagement in Council and committee meetings, and following unprecedented protests across the City, elected officials have failed to make significant changes to the Fiscal Year 2020–21 City budget, or meaningfully address community demands. The City of Los Angeles must not only acknowledge, but directly work to uproot anti-Black racism and its long-standing history of disinvestment in Black and Brown communities.

In these times, as we grieve and reflect, the Movement for Black Lives and People’s Budget LA present a unique and inspiring opportunity to bravely reimagine our priorities as a City. We recognize this is a longstanding movement. We draw inspiration and strength from the activists and community members that have led this movement here in our own city, many of whom played a key role in launching it to national prominence.

We unequivocally align with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and People’s Budget LA. We recognize that as civil servants we are uniquely positioned to uplift calls for change. While decision makers lay out priorities, we are charged with delivering them on a daily basis. Our work can and should reflect the priorities spelled out in the People’s Budget LA, where more than 24,000 Angelenos have articulated their needs. We uplift their calls to prioritize human-centered services by investing in the Built Environment, Universal Aid and Crisis Management, and Reimagined Community Safety. We envision a future where community safety and security is provided through secure housing, education, food security, and healthcare, and not over-policing. The call to defund police and fund communities is urgent and timely for our City’s Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities facing the dual crises of COVID-19 and structural racism.

We are moved by the actions of other agencies and fellow Angelenos, including the protests by unionized dockworkers against police brutality, demands for Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles Public Library, and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to sever ties with the police, and calls for a care-first budget for Los Angeles County.

We too are making the political and moral argument that public safety can be reimagined to truly protect those who are most affected by various forms of oppression. Within our departments, we commit to build tools to center racial equity and dismantle racism; foster meaningful collaboration with historically oppressed and systems-impacted populations; and seed, nurture, and advance a new path forward toward full inclusion, holistic well-being, and self-determination for all communities — especially Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

The Mayor and the City Council must act immediately to:

1. REINVEST: Reallocate funds to essential social services for communities of color as spelled out in the People’s Budget LA with a commitment to decrease LAPD’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2020–2021 and in the years that follow. Top priorities include low-income housing assistance and rent cancellation, alternatives to public safety, mental health support, food assistance, and free public transportation. Ensure a just transition for City Employees as we embrace this mission.

2. RELEASE: Investigate any LAPD officer who has been accused of using unreasonable, excessive, and/or deadly force, and provide justice for the 886 Black and Brown deaths at the hands of law enforcement in Los Angeles County since 2000. Start with an investigation of LAPD tactics used at the May 30, 2020 protests in the Fairfax district as called for by an alliance of community, labor, policy and academic organizations in LA.

3. RESPOND: Acknowledge the demands for justice that more than 50 Black Los Angeles leaders authored in April 2020 to address the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on the region’s Black communities. Key demands include adequate testing, small business protections, and safe housing during the pandemic, as well as reparations, universal healthcare, food security, and education access in the long term.

4. REBUILD: Restore public trust in the public sector. Commit to authentic partnership with Black, Brown, and Indigenous community members on re-prioritizing the Fiscal Year 2020–2021 budget. Partner with community members to implement these budget priorities across City departments. Commit to implementing a participatory budgeting process for all future budgets.

We, as City employees, chose to do this work in the public sector because we believe in the power of our labor for social good. We are asking you, as our elected leadership, to join this urgent moral call to action and reimagine with us.

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