Long Beach has a new $2.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2021.
The City Council adopted the budget, which includes compromises on several issues such as police funding, lifeguard staffing and library services, at its Tuesday, Sept. 8, meeting.
Most of the $2.6 billion is in the Harbor Department budget and other funds that cannot be easily changed. The council concerned itself with the General Fund budget, where most public services are found.
While much of the proposed budget the city presented early last month — which largely consisted of cuts to fill a projected $30 million deficit — remained intact, there were some significant changes.
The draft budget, for example, included cutting $10.3 million from the Police Department in part by eliminating 20 positions and “civilianizing” 34 more, meaning tasks currently assigned to sworn officers — such as managing public safety equipment or responding to nonviolent 911 calls, which include property crimes in which the caller simply needs a written report — would instead be handled by non-sworn employees.
But, at the request of the City Council’s Budget Oversight Committee, the panel instead voted to move $600,000 from the Police South Division Pine Overtime Program to mitigate some of those cuts. One police officer position in the K-9 Unit and two detectives in the Violent Sexual Predator Unit were saved through that reallocation. The duties of park rangers in the department will also expand to include Bixby Park and McArthur Park.
Community members were split in their views on how much funding the city was choosing to dedicate to the Police Department.
“I believe these proposed cuts are too severe, and that they will have a serious impact on the safety of our communities,” said resident Marty Cox. “The city must assess and fully understand the potential impacts these cuts will have on all aspects of public safety. I strongly urge the city to reconsider and find alternative ways to balance the budget, as preserving public safety must remain our highest priority.”
Jordan Doering was among the residents who spoke who disagreed.
Doering said it was “frankly insulting” that the City Council received a presentation from the People’s Budget Coalition — an organization that has called for significant investments in social services along with defunding the Long Beach Police Department — at its Tuesday meeting but did not make bigger concessions to reflect the coalition’s demands.
“You’re not making any significant changes to the budget or delaying or really taking it into consideration at all,” he said. “Defund the police and take a bold stand against police violence. Divest from LBPD and invest differently in our community health and safety.”
Some of the group’s wishes, though, were represented in the final vote. Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson pushed for the budget to include the possibility of creating a new city staff position to help coordinate access to housing, which would make it easier for residents to find all the available housing resources in one place. He also asked city staff to find ways to guarantee that language translation services are available at all city meetings.
Other changes to the draft budget included:
Delaying the transfer of the Homelessness Education and Response Teams from the Fire Department to the Health Department for six months while city staff fleshes out the details and ensures there would be no gaps in service;
Not increasing the cannabis business license tax but allowing those businesses to extend their operating times by two hours;
Adding $350,000 for a Fireworks Enforcement Team; and
Restoring the Marine Safety Officer position and seasonal career lifeguard staffing, which was originally slated to be reduced by 10%.
Some of Mayor Robert Garcia’s recommendations, also accepted, included:
Using reserve funds to prevent youth registration fee increases;
Restoring proposed cuts to libraries that would have reduced hours at some branches to three days a week;
Adding $300,000 in structural funds for the Justice Fund;
Adding $200,000 in structural funds for language access; and
Adding a one-time $250,000 allocation for a new Right to Counsel program for renters.
One significant aspect of the original proposed budget that remained intact was $3.2 million in funding — $2.5 million of which would be structural, meaning it would be built into the city’s infrastructure to last longer than one year — for racial equity programming that will come as a result of Long Beach’s “framework for reconciliation” process.
About $1.5 million of that would go to the Health Department for programs addressing youth, violence prevention and trauma‐informed responses to community needs. Another $150,000 would support “reforms and innovations” of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission, and $100,000 would fund training and education on equity.
And, to help balance the budget, employee groups — including the City Council itself — have agreed to furloughs.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has caused a hit to Long Beach’s finances — which includes a 9% loss in sales tax, 38% loss in hotel tax and 40% loss in oil revenue — council members said Tuesday they were pleased with the compromises they reached in their budget discussions.
“We, as a City Council, I believe have listened and had many thoughtful conversations during these past months with our constituents,” Eighth District Councilman Al Austin, who chairs the council's budget oversight committee, said. “I know we’ve all taken this responsibility very seriously and are trying to find the right balance.
“This budget probably won’t make anyone completely happy,” he added, “but we did try to listen to the many stakeholders and voices to find a balance to move our city forward during this challenging fiscal year.”