Parks Bureau targeted in budget battle between board, sheriff

Los Angeles County Seal.

The latest salvo in the ongoing budget debate between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was their unanimous approval of a motion Tuesday to fund the Sheriff’s Department’s Parks Services Bureau.

Villanueva previously announced the bureau was slated to be a line-item budget cut for 2020-21, after the board’s spending plan called for $935 million less than the sheriff anticipated. 

Since 2009, the Sheriff’s Department has provided community policing through the Parks Bureau’s service area, which includes 177 county parks, golf courses and special-event venues.

“There is no fat left to trim,” Villanueva said during Tuesday’s meeting regarding the LASD’s budget. “Everything we do, we’re going to be consolidating, we’re going to be shifting funds where we can to make sure we’re affording essential services and we’re providing those to the community.” 

In response to Villanueva’s announcement, the Board of Supervisors provided the LASD with $23.975 million of the 2020-21 fiscal year’s supplemental budget to restore funding to the Parks Bureau; however, LASD officials recently indicated that the additional funding would not be used for county parks as intended. 

For that reason, the motion authorizes the county’s acting chief executive officer and director of Department of Parks and Recreation to report back with options to immediately address the policing gap, including the potential transfer of the $23.975 million from the Sheriff’s Department to the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget, in order to ensure the funding is spent on park, venue and event security.

“When the sheriff announced as part of his budget that he was eliminating the Parks Bureau, this was done without discussion with (the) Parks and Recreation Department or the Board of Supervisors, which allocates the funds for the Parks Bureau,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley. “The sheriff failed to recognize that eliminating the Parks Bureau means that over $23 million will be reallocated out of his budget to the Parks and Recreation Department to contract for public safety services.” 

The report is also expected to include recommendations for alternative solutions in providing public safety in county parks, such as creating a public safety division within Parks and Recreation, including the use of unarmed staff trained in crisis response and violence prevention strategies and, if necessary, identifying a third party to provide this service on a short-term basis until such policies are amended. 

Other motions: traffic rules, more internet sought

In addition, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion aimed at improving traffic regulations in some unincorporated communities, including Agua Dulce and Castaic.

These regulations include prohibiting commercial vehicles from driving on certain streets, as well as prohibiting stopping and parking on other streets in these communities, as recommended by the county’s Department of Public Works to support traffic safety and enhance traffic flow.

The Board of Supervisors also unanimously approved a motion to provide more equitable access to high-speed internet for students and workers in need during COVID-19.

One in four families with school-age children in L.A. County do not have the resources necessary for distance learning and are likely to fall behind in their education during the pandemic, according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications.

“As many have transitioned to working from home and distance learning, the need for affordable, reliable telecommunications services and resources is now more important than ever,” Barger said in a prepared statement. “We hope this effort will lead to a more just and equitable future in order to equip our residents with the access they need to learn, work and thrive.”

The motion aims to create a plan to develop best practices for streamlining the permitting of high-speed broadband internet, while exploring new strategies to provide free, low-cost or permit-based internet to disadvantaged communities, using both public and private options for providing access to internet, including leveraging grants.

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