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Council Adopts Budget With Added Public Safety Spending


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By Jorge Casuso

July 1, 2024 -- In an unexpected move, the City Council last Tuesday voted to explore spending more on public safety minutes before adopting a $765.3 million fiscal year budget that was months in the making.

The move was prompted by Mayor Phil Brock's urgent proposal to "sequester" as much as $3.8 million to address a public safety "crisis" highlighted when a homeless sex offender attacked three women on the beach the day before the vote ("Homeless Sex Offender Goes on Violent Rampage on Santa Monica Beach," June 25, 2024).

"We can't be seen as a City that's out of control," Brock said. "Too many residents have been hurt, too many residents have been attacked, too many residents are worried."

"It has to happen quickly," he added. "We have a crisis in the city."

Brock's motion, which came less than one month after the Council voted at add four police officers to the budget, called for hiring additional officers by cutting "4 percent from non-personnel costs of the General Fund" ("Council Adds 4 Officers to Proposed Budget," May 31, 2024).

Lana Negrete, a member of the Council's Change majority, agreed with Brock's sense of urgency but said the money could be used for other public safety measures, including more mental health workers and funding the City's new Real Time Crime Center.

"There's other funding that needs to go to supporting the (Police) Department," Negrete said. "If we have to make some extreme cuts to our budget in order to prioritize those measures, I'm in full support of that."

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre agreed. "Public safety is not just arresting people," he said. "We have a crisis on our hands, and we have to take action"

But members of the Council minority backed by the city's political establishment expressed concerns they were being asked to blindly approve cuts without being informed of the implications.

"I don't even know what 4 percent of our non-personnel budget is," said Councilmember Jesse Zwick. "I need to actually know what we're giving up for what."

"Respectfully," he told the mayor, "if you wanted this to happen tonight, you should have been prepared to tell us what you wanted to cut. . . to give us the trade-offs you're asking us to make."

Councilmember Glean Davis agreed, saying that staff needed to bring back proposals for both finding and spending the money.

"We're being asked to make some pretty difficult decisions," Davis said. "We don't have enough information to make thoughtful decisions. I think we can postpone this, not forever."

Councilmember Caroline Torosis, who initially moved to approve the budget as proposed, made a substitute motion to direct staff to return to the Council in September "with a more detailed analysis in a holistic manner."

The motion passed 6 to 1 with Brock casting the dissenting vote.

If the Council needs a study session to add more mental health professionals and police, he said, "you're not on the streets."

After voting on Torosis' motion, the Council approved the proposed $765.3 million operating and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year that starts July 1.

The budget, which has a strong focus on tackling crime and homelessness, allocates $119 million for police and crime prevention, including increased deployments of the mobile command post and build-out of the Real Time Crime Center.

In addition to adding four police officer positions, the budget enhances the city’s security camera program and expands operating hours for the Police Department's Homeless Liaison Program (HLP).

It also includes, a contract with The Salvation Army for drug abuse treatment services and funding for the completion and implementation of the citywide Homelessness Strategic Plan.

Another focus is helping businesses recover from the cornavirus shutdown, including a one-year waiver along with a second-year reduction on outdoor dining fees for businesses on the Third Street Promenade.

The budget also creates a small business assistance and tenant improvement fund and streamlines the City’s permitting processes.

In addition, it makes "investments in mobility, road safety and transit, including enhancements to unsignalized intersections," City oficials said.

The Council also approved a $194.7 million FY 2024-26 Biennial Capital Improvement Program plan that "paves the way for safety cameras and other public safety improvements, transit upgrades, parks and community services, tree planting and other key infrastructure projects."

The program includes:

  • $29 million to begin the Pier Bridge replacement project,

  • $11.95 million in street and sidewalk maintenance,

  • $6.45 million to construct two groundwater recharge wells to recycle water collected through the newly operational Sustainable Water
    Infrastructure Project (SWIP),

  • $4.77 million for the completion of the Wilshire Transportation Safety Project,

  • $1 million for streetlight modernization, and
  • $2.1 million for a new playground at Virginia Avenue Park

City officials cautioned that "while the long-term economic outlook is positive, resources remain constrained."

"The city continues to face liabilities such as a difficult economic climate, slow revenue recovery, a challenging labor market, deferred equipment and infrastructure maintenance, and unknown impacts of legal liabilities.

"As a result, full recovery is taking longer than anticipated," officials said.

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