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Los Angeles County seems prepared to avoid layoffs of county employees over the next 12 months, as the Board of Supervisors approved changes Tuesday to increase the county’s planned spending to a record $37.6 billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year, $2.7 billion higher than anticipated in June.

Acting CEO Fesia Davenport, who recently replaced longtime CEO Sachi Hamai, said revenue losses were now estimated to be lower than originally forecast.

“Despite significant economic pressure, the large and growing needs of the public during the COVID pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, this is a balanced budget that protects the public health of county residents, it embraces racial equity, it supports justice reform through accountability and alternatives to incarceration, and maintains service levels in vital programs through preservation of jobs which were targeted for cuts in our budget in June,” Davenport told the board.

Though county departments were asked to cut at least 8% from their budgets during earlier planning and Davenport mentioned “belt tightening,” proposed overall spending is higher than in any prior year. That is due in part to a host of demands related to COVID-19, but many other programs slated to be cut have been restored at the urging of board members and new initiatives are also included.

Davenport said the outlook for funding from various federal, state and tax sources had improved since June. Additional funding came from “funding previously set aside for the sheriff’s department, implementation of organizational efficiencies and departmental savings,” according to the letter.

However, more than $615 million of the money used to close an anticipated deficit came from dollars not spent in the prior year, according to Davenport’s letter to the board.

For the year that ended June 30, the county had nearly $2.2 billion left in its general fund account, an even higher total than expected when June forecasts were made.

The sheriff’s department had been expected to be hardest hit with layoffs, with 457 employees in the custody division highlighted at risk during the board’s last budget discussions.

> BELEN, THANK YOU. >>> YOU JUST MENTIONED MOMENTS AGO THAT WE ARE IN FOR ANOTHER HEAT WAVE THIS WEEK AND THATu2019S ON TOP OF THE SANTA ANA WINDS. >> YOU HEAR THE TERM FIRE WEATHER SOFTEN HERE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, AND TO BREAK DOWN WHAT THAT MEANS IS THE CHIEF FROM THE FIRE ACADEMY. GOOD MORNING. >> GOOD MORNING, ADRIAN, DANIELLA, AND BELEN, TOO. >> WHEN WE HAVE WEATHER LIKE THIS HOW DO YOU BALANCE MONITORING FIRES LIKE THE BOBCAT FIRE AND THE FIRE THAT POPPED UP YESTERDAY IN SANTA CLARITA VERSUS BEING PREPOSITIONED IN OTHER SPOTS PRONEO FIRES? >> THATu2019S A GOOD QUESTION. WE WILL TAKE PERSONNEL, WE HAVE A LOT OF STAFFING AND WE PRE–POSITION STRIKE TEAMS FOR THE COMMUNITIES, AND THATu2019S UP THE COMMUNITIES, AND THATu2019S UP TO THE BATTALION CHIEFS OF THE RESPECTIVE COMMUNITIES, AND WE WILL INCREASE PATROLS IN THAT AREA, AND WE WILL BE IN FRONT OF THIS AND BE PROACTIVE RATHER THAN REACTIVE. >> LETu2019S TALK ABOUT THE FIRES BURNING IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. RIGHT NOW ITu2019S BEEN DEVASTATING, AND IT SEEMS LIKE WE HAVE SEEN ONE AFTER THE OTHER. WHY DO YOU THINK THE FIRE SEASON HAS BEEN PARTICULARLY BAD FOR THE STATE? >> IT SEEMS LIKE SINCE FIVE YEARS AGO, SIX YEARS AGO, IT SEEMS EVERY YEAR WE SAY THIS HAS BEEN OUR WORST FIRE SEASON, AND HERE WE ARE IN 2020 AND THIS IS PROVING TO BE THE WORST FIRE SEASON. WE HAVE A LACK OF PRECIPITATION, AND NOT ONLY HEAT, HUMIDITY AND WIND PLAYING A FACTOR, BUT WE HAVE CRITICALLY LOW FUEL MOISTURE CONTENT. ITu2019S BONE DRIVE OUT THERE AND WE CALL THAT 100% PROBABILITY OF IGNITION WHERE THE SLIGHTEST SPARK CAN IGNITE A FIRE. >> BEFORE WE WERE GETTING READY R THE SHOW, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT OCTOBER SEEMS TON THE ABOUT OCTOBER SEEMS TON THE WORST OF THE FIRE SEASON HER SEA BUT IN FALL IT GETS REALLY BAD DUE TO THE HEAT, THE LOW HUMIDITY AND WINDS. RIGHT NOW WE START TO GET PREPARED NOW. I PREACH IT ALL THE TIME, PREPARE YOUR HOME NOW, CLEAR OUT PREPARE YOUR HOME NOW, CLEAR OUT THE TRASH CANS AND PATIO FURNITURE AND GET EVERYTHING CLEARED OUT. WHEN YOU GO TO WORK THIS WEEK, YOUR HOME SHOULD BE PREPARED IN THE EVENT OF A WILDFIRE BECAUSE YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO GET BACK HOME. >> CHIEF, WHEN YOU ARE SEEING WHAT YOU ARE SEEING NOW, YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW EVERYBODY CAN PREPARE. WHAT ABOUT FIREFIGHTERS, THEY ARE JUST ON STANDBY RIGHT NOW ESPECIALLY ON AAY LIKE TODAY, IS THAT RIGHT? >> YES, WE DO HAVE EXTRA STAFFING ON. THESE ARE THE MEN AND WOMEN THAT JUST GOT BACK FROM NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND THEY ROTATED CREWS AND WE SENT ADDITIONAL PERSONNEL TO NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, SO WE ARE JUST GETTING PREPARED AND WE KNOW THEREu2019S NOT A LOT OF TIME FOR VACATION RIGHT NOW AND THIS IS THE SEASON AND WE HAVE TO BE PREPARED. >> THANK YOU SO MUCH.”,”video_id”:”1797172291570_603″,”video_length”:”178879″,”video_provider”:”mpx”,”alleypack_schedule_unpublish”:””,”feed_remote_id”:”mpx_1797172291570″,”feed_thumbnail_url”:””}’ data-livestream=”false” data-title=”What Fall Heat and Fire Danger Mean for California” data-vidcid=”1:9:2435748″ data-vidurl=”https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/california-wildfires/check-with-chief-sam/what-fall-heat-and-fire-danger-mean-for-california/2435748/” data-islead=”false” data-catnames='{“817356″:”Wildfires”,”756756″:”News”,”820395″:”Check With Chief Sam”,”759974″:”On Air”}’ data-tagnames='{“3496″:”California Wildfires”,”19250″:”Wildfires”}’ data-customdata='{“ContentPartner”:”None”,”Source”:”WEBFM”,”SyndicationAllowed”:”true”,”mSNVideoCategories”:”MSN Video v4 Connector-most watched news”,”mSNVideoContentSupplierID”:”NBC_Local”,”mSNVideoCountry”:”us”,”subtitle”:”nosubtitle”,”uploadedByTeam”:”1″,”youtubeChannel”:”None”}’ data-autoplay=”false” data-cplay=”true”>

“We continue, however, to advocate for crucial federal relief to enable us to sustain our work providing vital services to our 10 million residents as the COVID-19 crisis continues,” Davenport said.

A total of 137 child support services employee and small numbers of workers in various other departments have also been saved from layoffs under the adjusted budget.

Other significant proposed changes to the budget include:
— $374.6 million for COVID-19 testing, tracing and medical sheltering;
— an additional $120 million for housing through Project Roomkey and Housing for Health;
— $73 million for the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative; and
— another $53.5 million for the county’s Rainy Day Fund, which now totals $695.9 million.

Board members highlighted their own spending priorities and favorite programs, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas threatened to pull funding from the sheriff’s department.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she is committed to finding more money for the fire department and looks forward to working with Villanueva in managing his department’s deficit.

“Public safety remains one of the highest priorities,” Barger said. “This also includes our fire department.

“During the last election, voters rejected a ballot initiative to provide additional funding. At the same time, costs continue to exceed the rate of property tax growth. This will have to be addressed.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis noted that the county redirected dollars in the sheriff’s department budget to support the Homeless Outreach Services and Mental Evaluation teams that rely on specially trained deputies and clinicians who partner with deputies to deescalate situations and connect homeless and mentally ill people with resources.

“This is definitely a better approach, to pair a deputy with a trained clinician,” Solis said.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she was pleased by the $72 million allocated to alternatives to incarceration.

“I am very pleased to see the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative launch with such strong leadership and significant funding,” Kuehl said.

“Innovative programs are needed to address longstanding racial inequities that disproportionately incarcerate people who need treatment and housing. LA County can make communities healthier and safer with a different, research-based approach.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn had abstained from voting on adopting the budget in June, saying it didn’t “meet the demands of the moment.”

Tuesday, she said she was proud to support the revised budget.

“We talked a lot about justice reform and, to me, this is putting our money where our mouths are,” Hahn said. ”I’m confident that this is only the beginning and we’ll continue to make these important investments in budgets to come.”

After the budget vote, Ridley-Thomas previewed a motion, co-authored with Hahn, that could pull $23.9 million out of the sheriff’s department budget and use it to fund other security services, including possibly employing unarmed crisis responders.

“The sheriff’s department recently decided to curtail the parks service bureau entirely. While this leaves a gap in park security services, this board has an opportunity to rethink its public safety models and consider incorporation of alternative crisis response and community input,” Ridley-Thomas said.

That motion, certain to generate push back from Villanueva, who could not immediately be reached for comment, is scheduled to be considered in two weeks.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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