Board, sheriff continue to face off over budget

Los Angeles County Seal.

A Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors motion aimed at shifting budget priorities to “revitalize” under-resourced and low-income communities in the county left the board and Sheriff Alex Villanueva at odds once again during Tuesday’s meeting.

At the end of the debate, the supervisors approved a motion to place a county charter amendment on the November ballot. If approved, the initiative would amend the county charter to establish budgetary requirements for programs serving low-income communities. Villanueva contended the measure, if approved, would amount to “defunding” the Sheriff’s Department.

The motion, which passed on a 4-to-1 vote, comes as worldwide protests are calling for a change in the systemic discrimination, exclusion and inequity faced by these communities. The proposed charter amendment calls for at least 10% of the revenues in the county general fund to be annually allocated to community-based programs, such as rent assistance and affordable housing, youth development and job training, along with programs aimed at finding alternatives to incarceration.

While Villanueva agreed that he supports providing mental health and substance abuse programs, along with working to divert misdemeanor crimes from the jail system, he expressed concerns with the changes in the budget, saying that “reimagining L.A. County” is really defunding law enforcement in disguise.

“No one is against that — those are no brainers,” Villanueva said, referring to those programs. 

“However, when you try to dismantle law enforcement and the primary source of public safety services to the community, you’re endangering the public,” he said. “This is going to impact the people that can least afford a lack of law enforcement protection.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger of the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, was the only one to vote “no” on the motion, noting that the majority of county funds are already currently designated toward health and social service programs for vulnerable and at-risk county residents.

“The voters voted us into office, and by doing so, they put confidence in our ability to make decisions based on what we believe is right, not only for our residents within our district, but also the county as a whole,” Barger said. “To put a charter amendment on, to me, is irresponsible, and quite frankly, I believe that it is taken away from our duty and responsibility as board members.”

Even so, the motion passed and a county charter amendment is expected to be placed on the November 2020 general election ballot and can be approved with a simple majority of the county’s voters.

“The Board of Supervisors is tasked with great responsibility in carefully budgeting and allocating resources to meet the needs of the residents and local communities in Los Angeles County,” Barger said in a prepared statement following the meeting. “This motion proposes a charter amendment which would permanently tie the county’s hands on any budget decisions in the future, regardless of the fiscal and policy issues that may be present at that time — this is especially concerning now as we have had to act quickly and nimbly to serve our 10 million residents facing the COVID-19 pandemic. This motion threatens the county’s ability to provide ample protections and continue to fund crucial programs and services should the county face another catastrophic event in the short or long term.”

Other motions

In other matters, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion that declares that racism is a matter of public health and prioritizes its elimination from the county’s policies, practices, operations and programs.

“I have to say that this motion is so well written, but so on point, and I’m happy to support it,” Barger said in speaking to the motion’s author, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “I really appreciate the way you view and how you want to be constructive when there’s so much destruction out there, and I believe this board has an opportunity with this motion to be constructive moving forward.” 

The motion also calls for changes to prioritize physical and mental health, housing, employment, public safety and justice in an equitable way for Black residents. 

The Board of Supervisors also approved a motion that extends the COVID-19 eviction moratorium through Sept. 30, while also directing county officials to compare the county’s moratorium to each city’s before the board reconvenes on Aug. 4 so they can decide whether to make the county’s moratorium a baseline for all cities.

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