Bass budget would reduce homelessness spending, cut vacant jobs

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass proposed a $12.8 billion budget on Monday that would reduce spending on homelessness initiatives, scale back an effort to hire more police officers and eliminate more than 2,100 vacant positions.

The mayor’s team said her proposed budget for 2024-25 would provide about $950 million to address homelessness, down from the nearly $1.3 billion approved for the current fiscal year. Her spending plan includes $185 million for Inside Safe, Bass’ signature program to move unhoused Angelenos into hotels, motels and permanent housing, down from the $250 million approved for this year.

Bass has made reducing homelessness her top issue, declaring a state of emergency upon taking office in December 2022.

Budget analysts attributed much of the decrease in homelessness spending to the coming end of Proposition HHH, a 10-year program to finance construction of thousands of apartments for homeless residents in L.A. Even though that money will soon run out, a number of affordable housing projects that received HHH funding will open during the upcoming budget year, they said.

The mayor’s team said it is now “right sizing” Inside Safe, negotiating more cost-effective room rental agreements at city-leased hotels and motels and “doing more with less.” Even with the reduction in funding, the public should expect to see declining numbers of people living on the streets in the coming year, she said.

“We will continue to move forward in reducing street homelessness,” the mayor said, addressing reporters at City Hall.

Bass released her budget at a time of serious financial pressure for the city. Tax revenues have been coming in below projections — and are expected to remain flat in the coming year. At the same time, the city is absorbing substantial increases in pay and benefits for more than 40,000 workers.

Those newly approved labor contracts are expected to add billions of dollars in salary costs over the next five years.

To help cover the rising costs, the mayor’s spending plan calls for the elimination of 2,139 vacant positions, many of them in departments responsible for park maintenance, trash pickup, street repairs, recreation programs and transportation. A number of city agencies are facing reductions in their budgets compared to the current year.

The proposed budget also scales back the mayor’s hiring ambitions for the Los Angeles Police Department this year, providing authorization — but not all of the funding — for a force of up to 9,084 officers. Last year, Bass called for an expansion of the LAPD to about 9,500 officers, despite warnings that such a target would be difficult to reach.

Over the past year, the LAPD has struggled to fill classes at the Police Academy. In addition, a plan to bring back 200 retirees produced only a fraction of that number. The proposed budget allows for up to 30 retired officers to return, on top of the 9,084 other positions.

Bass described this year’s hiring goal as more realistic, saying it’s “based on what we believe we can accomplish.” Yet even that revised number may prove to be financially unattainable.

Although the budget would authorize 9,084 officers, it only provides the money for a sworn workforce of 8,908 — effectively keeping the department at its lowest staffing in more than two decades. That means the City Council would need to approve additional funding to go beyond that number, said City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, who advises the city’s elected leaders on the budget.

An aide to Bass stressed that the mayor has not abandoned her goal of 9,500 officers — though she did not provide a timetable for reaching that target. Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Bass has made clear to the union that she remains committed to her long-term goal for the LAPD.

“We have full confidence in the mayor’s commitment to grow the department to 9,500, and this budget continues in that direction,” he said.

Bass laid out her plan a day after police arrested a man for breaking into Getty House, the official mayor’s residence, while she and her family members were inside. While fielding questions from reporters, the mayor repeatedly refused to provide details on the break-in, saying instead that she is focused on the entire city.

“I am very clear that my number one job is to keep Angelenos safe,” she said. “And I will continue to do everything to fulfill that goal moving forward.”

Even with a smaller force, police spending overall will continue to grow this year, thanks in part to a new four-year contract with the city’s rank-and-file officers. Once pensions and healthcare costs are included, the total is expected to reach $3.37 billion, up from $3.22 billion in the current year’s budget — a hike of nearly 5%.

The mayor’s spending plan, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, now heads to the City Council’s budget committee, which will spend several weeks reviewing it and making changes.

Some on the council have voiced concern about the plan to cut vacant positions, saying unfilled police officer positions should not be spared from the reductions. City Controller Kenneth Mejia has also spoken out against the planned cuts, warning that they will lead to an erosion in city services.

“Eliminating needed positions just because they are currently vacant will create an ongoing hole in the ability of virtually every department to maintain today’s level of services,” said Jane Nguyen, Mejia’s chief of staff, in a email on Monday.

Nguyen also expressed disappointment in the budget for the controller’s office, saying it calls for the elimination of up to 27 positions.

Bass has argued in favor of the reductions, saying many of the vacant positions being targeted for elimination have gone unfilled for years. She said her spending plan will also allow her office to make improvements to the Inside Safe initiative.

The mayor said her office will focus in the coming year on strengthening the quality of services provided to Inside Safe participants, such as meals, healthcare and job counseling.

Still, the city’s plan for fighting homelessness looks less certain for the fiscal year after next, which starts in July 2025. It’s not yet clear whether state officials will reduce funding that year for interim homeless housing, such as shelters and tiny home villages, Szabo said.

Also unknown is whether voters will be willing to provide more money to address the homelessness crisis. Civic leaders have been working on a replacement for Measure H, a countywide sales tax that helped pay for some of the services delivered to L.A.’s unhoused residents.

Bass has begun raising money from businesses, philanthropic groups and wealthy individuals to help finance the purchase or lease of residential buildings to house low-income and homeless residents. That effort was announced last week during the mayor’s State of the City address.

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