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LA mayor sets ambitious goals but federal funding remains uncertain

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 23:  Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks onstage during the EMA IMPACT Summit hosted by the Environmental Media Association presented by Toyota Mirai and Calvert Research and Management at Montage Beverly Hills on March 23, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association)
Rich Polk/Getty Images
FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti today delivers his annual State of the City address and releases his budget plan for the next fiscal year.

Watch the State of the City address replay

Update, 2:46 p.m.: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti today delivered an ambitious, sweeping speech on the state of the city and released a budget proposal that he said addressed homelessness as its number one priority. 

The speech, in which he painted himself as a visionary leader poised to tackle major city challenges like crime and transportation, came shortly before the mayor released his budget plan for the next fiscal year.

"In the last four years, we’ve made unprecedented progress," the mayor said. "The budget I am presenting to City Council today is not only balanced, it preserves our critical investments — and pushes us further."

Both the speech and budget plan roll out at a moment of seemingly good times: the city and county voters have approved additional funding for transportation projects and helping the homeless. In addition, a new revenue stream from the approved state gas tax should help bolster city revenues for such needs as road repairs.

But while the city has improved economically since the recession, uncertainties at the federal level complicate the financial picture. And recently, the city's chief administrative officer warned agencies to watch their spending given a trajectory that could land them in a deficit.

Garcetti nonetheless laid out ambitious goals for affordable housing, transportation, employment and aid for the homeless.

"This morning, I'm proud to announce that the budget I am presenting to City Council dedicates more than $176 million to house the unsheltered, connect them with services, and keep our communities safe and clean," he said. "We are here to end homelessness once and for all."

Later, during a conference call with reporters, Garcetti explained that much of that funding is coming from Measure HHH, which voters approved in November. He said the investment went far beyond what the city had spent on helping house the homeless in previous years.

"It's much, much bigger," Garcetti said, saying the budget will double the number of units for the homeless in the upcoming fiscal year.  

He also told reporters the budget includes about $100 million in cuts, which includes about $50 million in salary and expense account reductions. Garcetti said city services are not being reduced as a result of the cuts. 

On the broader issue of housing, the mayor said the city is halfway to a goal of building 100,000 new units. He called on the City Council to pass an affordable housing linkage fee to raise $100 million a year for affordable housing. 

Garcetti reiterated the city's staunch position on climate change, saying even if the Trump White House pulls out of the Paris Climate Agreement, L.A. would adopt it here.

"Washington may not care about polluting rivers and streams, but we're going to continue cleaning our waterways and restoring our beautiful Los Angeles River to its natural habitat," he said.

The mayor proposed development of more jobs with an initiative he called Workforce Investment Now that he said would not only create employment but nurture lifetime careers. He also announced a program to cut costs for small filmmakers aimed at keeping jobs in the city.

On public safety, Garcetti said violent crime is dropping but he set a new goal to rid communities of 20,000 guns over five years. He proposed ramped up gun buy back programs and moving police officers from desk jobs to the patrol the streets.

He then reiterated that LAPD will not act as a federal immigration force and neither will other city employees, lapsing into Spanish to underscore his point. He said Angelenos agree with him that the city must stand behind immigrants, citing the protests at LAX after Trump issued a travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries.

Whether the mayor can make good on all of his goals will depend heavily on the city's financial health.

City Council Member Paul Krekorian, who chairs the council's budget and finance committee, said in a statement that while he was encouraged by the mayor's budget plan in funding sidewalk and road repairs and help for the homeless among other efforts, one issue is urgent to address: the city's growing cost of liability claims.

Krekorian said it is "absolutely incumbent on the city as a whole to tackle this problem head on and find ways to reduce our liabilities on an ongoing basis. If we don't, these costs threaten our ability to provide the level of services Angelenos deserve."

While it's unclear how federal cuts, if any, will impact the city, "we have to be ready for challenges that may come so we can protect services that our communities rely on, like neighborhood public safety programs, meals for seniors and assistance for victims of domestic violence," he said.

In an interview before the mayor's speech, Krekorian said if the Trump administration carries out its threats to pull all funding for such programs, the city would not be able to find sufficient funds to backfill those cuts.

"So there would inevitably be dramatic cuts to the sorts of things that people think a government should provide just to keep people alive,” the councilman said. 

Krekorian said city leaders are ready to legally challenge any cuts to services on which residents depend.

Trump has threatened to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities like Los Angeles that have limited its cooperation with immigration enforcement agents. L.A. leaders have said enforcing immigration laws is the responsibility of the federal government.

The City Council's budget committee will hold hearings beginning Wednesday on the mayor's spending plan over the span of a few weeks.

Around the end of May, the council will send their changes to the budget back to the mayor for his final approval or veto of specific items. The city normally adopts a final budget around the first week of June, according to Ben Ceja, assistant city administrative officer.