In my July 2020 Star & Shield article, I opined, somewhat in jest, that a read-in motion at the conclusion of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 23, which was meant to begin examining the feasibility of closing the Men’s Central Jail, was really about defunding the Sheriff’s Department by “reimagining” public safety. Imagine my chagrin. On late Friday, July 17, a Supplemental Agenda Item (51-C), bearing the title of “Reimagining Los Angeles County: Shifting Budget Priorities to Revitalize Under-Resourced and Low-Income Communities,” was added to the agenda for the July 21 Board meeting. This last-minute motion (link available at PPOA.com) by Supervisors Kuehl and Solis reads in part, “To address racial injustice, over-reliance on law enforcement interventions, limited economic opportunity, health disparities and housing instability, it’s time to structurally shift our budget priorities and reimagine Los Angeles County.”
There’s that word “reimagine,” and like the proposal to close the MCJ in a year, this ill-conceived and rushed motion to reimagine Los Angeles County is unfortunately and irresponsibly a new attempt to not only defund the Sheriff’s Department, but the District Attorney’s Office and the Probation Department. Each year, one of the fundamental jobs a supervisor has is to approve an annual budget that has been carefully analyzed, thoroughly vetted and skillfully crafted to ensure fiscal soundness for a variety of stakeholder interests. This annual budget process allows flexibility for our supervisors to address a multitude of governance issues facing Los Angeles County in good and bad economic times as well as policy issues that need immediate or longer action.
The supervisors recently approved a COVID-19-era budget that reflects a projected financial crisis for FY 2020–21. The Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office are reeling from approximate 8% budget cuts that will impact public safety deliverables for the County of Los Angeles. Supplemental Agenda Item 51-C should have been analyzed, vetted and crafted for fiscal soundness during the budget process for FY 2020–21. However, it can safely be assumed that there was no way the eventual shifting of nearly a billion dollars from County services to unknown, untested community programs could have been fiscally justified considering the current financial crisis the County is facing.
So, instead of continuing their annual good governance budgetary processes of thoughtful planning, the motion from Supervisors Kuehl and Solis proposes to put a charter amendment on the November 2020 ballot. This amendment would allow Los Angeles County voters to permanently set a baseline minimum threshold of at least 10% of locally generated unrestricted revenues to be used exclusively to fund on an annual basis, “direct community investment” and “alternatives to incarceration” programs. This ballot-box budgeting proposal eliminates present and future supervisors the flexibility to use the minimum baseline threshold funding, no matter how valid redistribution of these resources may be to address economic and policy issues such as a global pandemic.
More importantly, this ballot-box budgeting proposal that permanently allocates 10% of unrestricted revenues to fund these community programs will be the result of a redistribution of 10% of public safety funding that comes from locally generated unrestricted revenues. This defunding mechanism that will be potentially decided by voters instead of our elected supervisors is your classic example of bad government. It also begs the question, “Why are our elected board members with years of combined experience on budget issues, as well as having 100% control over the County budget, fast-tracking this proposal to the voters in a mere 104 days?”
At the July 21 meeting, PPOA President Tab Rhodes addressed the Board of Supervisors telephonically regarding the proposed ballot measure and its potentially catastrophic consequences to the safety of Los Angeles County communities and County employees. Tab’s concerns were echoed by other labor unions, County employees, contract city officials, crime victim advocates and residents of the County who strongly support the men and women who provide public safety services for the County of Los Angeles. Despite our best efforts, the Board voted 4–1 (Supervisor Barger) to move forward and place a County Charter Amendment (that was to be drafted by July 28) on the November 2020 general election ballot.
PPOA is committed to collaboratively working with our public safety colleagues and supporters, which far outnumber those opposed to the critical mission of keeping Los Angeles County safe, and we will be communicating with you our coordinated plan of action. Stay safe, thank you for your service and may God bless you and your loved ones.