The Los Angeles City Council has approved a $7.05 billion city budget that calls for up to 1,200 layoffs of city employees, as well as furloughs to help close a $530 million shortfall, but sustains the hiring of police at attrition levels.
Facing what city leaders say is the most serious financial situation in Los Angeles history, the City Council debated for 13 hours before voting to approve the spending plan Monday, May 18th. The budget will now go to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for approval by early June.
Villaraigosa has said at recent community meetings that the city was facing an unprecedented number of layoffs as a result of the more than half-a-billion-dollar budget deficit. The city could face a shortfall as high as $1 billion next year, the mayor has said.
While Villaraigosa had asked the personnel department to prepare for 400 layoffs, a plan approved by the City Council earlier this month, the mayor had asked city unions to take part in “shared responsibility and sacrifice” to help avoid thousands more layoffs. Under the budget plan, 800 city workers would be laid off in addition to the 400 layoffs already approved, and employees would be requested to take 26 furlough days.
In approving the budget proposal, the City Council managed to avoid implementing a police hiring freeze and supported a plan that allows for the hiring of 480 officers, which would fill the number of Los Angeles Police Department vacancies expected due to attrition.
“The City Council demonstrated its commitment to safe neighborhoods today with this budget,” Council President Eric Garcetti said.
“This was a very tough budget year and we had to make some very tough decisions about how to prioritize our spending. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that our budget stays on track throughout the year, but we are committed to working together to make fiscally responsible decisions for the city.”
Villaraigosa, who has strongly advocated boosting the LAPD force to 10,000 officers, thanked the council for finding an additional $26 million to avert a hiring freeze and instead keep police hiring at attrition levels.
“Public safety is the first responsibility of city government and the core service we provide,” Villaraigosa said. “It is fundamental to our success as a city. Over the past four years, we have made remarkable gains — marked by falling crime rates, gang violence on the retreat and safer neighborhoods — and we cannot afford to take a step back on public safety.”
The council Budget and Finance Committee had voted 3-2 May 13th to oppose the hiring of 560 LAPD officers due to resulting layoffs in other city departments. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who voted with the majority, was the focus of criticism by Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief William Bratton, because the councilman has vocally supported increasing the police force.
Bratton said he was “gravely concerned” by the committee’s vote and he singled out Rosendahl, saying that 25 officers would be taken from his 11th District’s stations, a statement for which Rosendahl demanded an apology. The police chief explained his argument, saying the freeze would mean a loss of up to 26 officers for each station.
“The reduction in police officers would not be directed at any one council member’s district; all the council districts would be impacted,” Bratton said. “It’s simple math; if we don’t hire the 560 officers, which includes replacing those lost to attrition, each of our 21 area stations could lose 26 officers.”
Rosendahl said his vote against the hiring plan was a tough decision but he could not support the proposal if there was not enough money to do so and if 1,200 workers could potentially be laid off in other city departments, leading to a drop in services.
“I said (to the mayor) we won’t be able to do it until you show me the money,” Rosendahl explained.
“I don’t want to fire 1,200 workers that we need for other services in the city. If you don’t have the money, you don’t get my vote.”
In a letter to his constituents, Rosendahl said eviscerating certain programs as a result of layoffs in order to expand the LAPD would be “irresponsible.”
“Public safety is my top priority, but it is not my only priority,” the councilman wrote.
Following the budget committee’s vote against the hiring plan, some local community members expressed concern that it could lead to a possible impact on public safety.
“I was torn because I don’t want to see fewer cops on the streets; no one wants to be less safe,” said Mar Vista Community Council member Bill Koontz, who chairs the Safety and Security Committee.
LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce president Christina Davis said that chamber members want to ensure that cuts are not made to public safety despite the city’s struggling economic situation.
“Because this is one of the safest areas of the city, we have already been losing some officers to other areas and we don’t want to lose more officers in this area,” Davis said.
Rosendahl said he supported the council’s plan to keep police hiring at attrition levels after the council came up with an additional $26 million in funding, including $22 million from an increase in property tax revenue.