Advocates and politicians expressed joy and support of a Los Angeles county charter amendment proposed by the Board of Supervisors that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot, an amendment that would re-shape the allocation of budgeted funds for a variety of social services
“This is an incredible opportunity to transform the landscape of LA county,” said Isaac Bryan, founding director of the UCLA Black Policy Project, during a Zoom conference held by the Re-imagine L.A. County coalition on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
“We made history. It doesn’t feel like it because of everything else happening around us. But we did make history yesterday, and we’re gonna make history in November,” added Eunisses Hernandez, co-founder and co-executive director of La Defensa.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to put a charter amendment on the ballot that would require a minimum of 10% of Los Angeles County’s unrestricted general funds — roughly $360 million this year — to be set aside annually for housing, jail diversion, mental health and other social services, as well as alternatives to incarceration.
If passed by voters, the charter amendment would allocate funds to be spent in a number of broad categories, including youth development programs, job training for low-income communities, access to capital for minority-owned businesses, rent assistance and affordable housing, community-based health services and jail diversion programs.
It would prohibit such funds being used for or redistributed through law enforcement or correctional agencies, including the District Attorney’s Office, but would not prohibit its use to cover costs related to trial courts.
The amendment is not without its critics. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the lone board member to cast a dissenting vote, said the charter amendment would unnecessarily restrict future boards and make it harder for the county to manage through economic downturns. Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, had warned during an earlier session that the 10% requirement could limit the ability to avoid layoffs during economic downturns and even negatively impact the county’s strong credit rating.
But on Wednesday, those at the press conference expressed confidence that the public is ready for a change. Dr. Melena Abdullah, educator and a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, declared “we will win in November.”
“What Black Lives Matter has been saying the last seven years is what creates safe, healthy and strong communities is an investment in resources. Our people need quality housing, rec-and-parks programs, mental health resources — this is what creates safe communities and this is what we mean when we say, ‘reimagine public safety but also reimagine Los Angeles,’” Abdullah said.
“We know that by investing in the resources people need we can begin to scale back and pull back from those things that actually oppress our communities — systems of mass incarceration and over-policing,” she said.
Alberto Retana, president and CEO of Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in South Los Angeles, called the vote a “huge moment” for the county.
“It’s monumental, a watershed moment, a forward-movement moment,” Retana said. “For hundreds of thousands to be taking to the streets to create the conditions we have now…we will not only change the trajectory of our region and our country, but save lives and create thriving communities.
“We were formed 30 years ago in response to the criminalization of Black and Brown people at the height of the crack epidemic. We have fought for 30 years to reimagine safety and investment away from punitive imprisonment and criminalization and towards prevention and support … hopefully this movement will continue to reinvest so the folks in the nooks and crannies of our region, whether it’s South LA or Pacoima, know that ‘we will now put you first. We will no longer criminalize you and kill you. We’ll invest in you because we believe in you.’”
State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-30th District), chairwoman of the senate’s state budget committee, pledged her support.
“It’s not that we don’t know what to do. The issue is having the political will and courage to do the right thing consistently over time,” Mitchell said.
“Here we are at another moment in history. Budgets are value statements. None of us can afford to be comfortable because this 10% allocation cannot be the ceiling. From my perspective, it must be the floor.”
Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, expressed his desire that “the status quo must go,” and that it is time to acknowledge the role structural and institutional racism has played in “keeping Black people locked out and so many others held down.”
“We can begin to undo the ways of thinking and doing things that sees prison and punishment as solutions for all kinds of social, economic, political, behavioral and interpersonal problems,” White said. “But the real work still lays in front of us. It is imperative that we move the masses to begin to reverse the years of neglect and disparities in our communities.”
City News Service contributed to this report.