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LA City Council approves $9.2B budget after resolving transportation priorities

Paul Krekorian at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on August 6th, 2013.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
FILE PHOTO: Paul Krekorian at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Aug. 6, 2013.

The Los Angeles City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $9.2 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that calls for millions to cover services such as street and sidewalk repair, homelessness aid and police and fire protection.

Council members had few public disagreements on the budget, which incorporates changes to Mayor Eric Garcetti's spending plan as recommended by the council's budget and finance committee.

One point of contention centered on funding for the city's Vision Zero program, the effort to reverse the trend of rising traffic deaths in the city and completely eliminate them by 2025. 

The budget includes about $47 million in new transportation revenues next year, thanks to a voter-approved sales tax increase, Measure M, and a state gas tax hike. Some council members wanted to see the majority of those funds go to fixing roads, while others favored bolstering the Vision Zero safety program.

About a third of streets in L.A. are in such bad shape, they've been too expensive to fix and have languished unrepaired for years. As several council members pointed out, the campaign for Measure M advertised street repairs as a major benefit.

But after concerns raised by council members Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Nury Martinez, the council increased funding for Vision Zero to reduce traffic deaths. Martinez urged her colleagues to back the effort.

"So I think, colleagues, it’s time to stop the talking, end the debate about what’s more important than the other. Let's get to work, find the resources that we said we were gonna commit to ensure that we reduce accidents by 2025 — put our money where our mouth is," she said.

Last year, traffic deaths rose by more than 40 percent in L.A., and they have jumped by a similar margin during the first half of this year.

The final budget allocations include about $27 million for Vision Zero projects. That is still less than the $80 million that Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds said would be necessary to achieve the program's stated goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 20 percent in 2017 and eliminating them by 2025.

An additional $30 million will be spent to fix the most badly damaged streets, and $31 million on repairing sidewalks.

The city is also upping spending to address homelessness, investing $176 million on homeless housing and services, most of it generated by voter-approved initiatives: the Measure H tax for homeless services and Measure HHH bond funding for homeless housing.

For public safety, the new city budget includes $1.57 billion from the general fund for the LAPD. That’s a $91 million dollar increase from what was budgeted for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The extra money will go in part to negotiated salary increases for officers, but also to hire 45 civilians to do administrative work now being done by sworn police officers. The idea is get the cops back into jobs focused more on crime-fighting.

The LAPD budget also includes $121 million for overtime. More than $40 million of that is dedicated to patroling bus and rail lines under a new contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – leaving the regular overtime budget at $80 million.

But Chief Charlie Beck and the police union say that might not be enough.

The department is expected to spend $90 million on regular overtime in the current fiscal year, including pay for detectives who work long hours in the days after a murder and officers booking a suspect they arrested late during their regular shift.

But a late addition to the budget placed $10 million in a reserve account that Beck may use for overtime with approval of the council.

Elsewhere, the new budget earmarks $2 million for graffiti removal.

The budget anticipates a deficit of $84.6 million that would be balanced out by higher tax revenue projections, cuts in planned spending for employee retirement and other items, and additional adjustments across city departments.

Council Budget Chair Paul Krekorian said before the council debate that the budget is a sensible one that "improves neighborhood services, increases funding for public safety and transportation measures, invests in street and sidewalk repair, works to reduce homelessness and puts money back into our community parks.”

Krekorian said the budget also makes provisions for future, unforeseen liability expenses. 

Sharon Tso, the city's chief legislative analyst, said while most funding sources are fairly certain, the timing and level of the revenues for things like sales taxes, or still undefined program to tax Airbnb, remain unclear. The legislative analyst also raised concerns about signals from federal officials that so-called sanctuary cities like Los Angeles could potentially lose federal grants because of their immigration enforcement policies.

Other developments that could impact the budget include revenue sources not yet approved by the council, a change in investment assumptions by the city pension systems and future labor agreements.

This story has been updated.