People's budget

Long Beach resident Dora Alicia speaks during the People's Budget press conference Tuesday morning. Members of Black Lives Matter LBC and allied organizations gathered to release the Fiscal Year 2021 proposal.

A coalition of community organizers on Tuesday, June 16, called on the Long Beach City Council to take taxpayer dollars from the Police Department and spend that money on initiatives to improve the lives of black people and other communities of color.

The city should use the millions of dollars normally spent on the Police Department to prioritize free job training and job opportunities for black people; increase senior and youth programs in areas that have historically lacked such things; and create community health councils, the coalition said during a press conference announcing the annual People’s Budget Proposal.

Each year, the People’s Budget coalition — comprising various groups, including Black Lives Matter LBC, Invest in Youth Long Beach Campaign, Sanctuary Long Beach Coalition, Language Access Coalition, Housing Justice Coalition and Long Beach Gray Panthers — presents its demands for the city’s annual spending plan. The City Council must adopt Long Beach’s fiscal year budget by Oct. 1.

The coalition has succeeded recently in getting the City Council to adopt some of its proposals, including the Long Beach Justice Fund, which provides free universal legal representation to immigrant residents facing deportation.

“For the past two years, the People’s Budget campaign has forced conversation and action for equity and justice in Long Beach’s city budget,” master of ceremonies Mac Harris, of the Invest in Youth Campaign, said, quoting the budget proposal’s introduction. “Because black, Latinx, Cambodian, Filipino, white and other members of the community came together, Long Beach started reversing historic patterns of disinvesting in communities of color.”

As Harris and others spoke, more than 20 people stood behind a lectern outside City Hall, carrying signs advocating different causes.

The focus this year, however, was on defunding the Police Department amid nationwide conversations over systemic racism, law enforcement policies that many people say discriminate against black and brown communities, and how to create a more equitable society. The catalyst for these discussions was the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, a black Minnesotan who died when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes; since Floyd’s death, protests have occurred daily across the country.

“We are tired of losing our siblings, our children, parents, friends,” said Ghada Morad, whose brother was killed by Long Beach police in 2015. “The system is flawed and we need to change it. Invest in people who can actually serve and protect.”

The People’s Budget for fiscal year 2021 reflected the national conversation about spending police dollars elsewhere.

In the current fiscal year, 44% of Long Beach’s $556 million General Fund budget went to the Police Department, or $243.8 million. The city’s Health Department, public libraries, Public Works Department, and Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine received 17%, or $93.5 million.

The coalition’s budget proposal asked the city to instead spend more money on:

Supportive housing with “wrap-around” services for those who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless;

Creating a “Right to Counsel” to provide legal resources and representation to renters;

Establishing a rental housing division within the Development Services Department, which would act as a liaison to both tenants and landlords, enforce renter protection laws and administer the “Right to Counsel” program, among other duties;

Establishing “neighborhood-based Community Health Councils” that would provide crisis response for mental health, safety and well-being emergencies;

Free job training and opportunities for black residents, no matter their background or education level;

Enough staff to implement Long Beach’s Language Access Policy;

Increased senior and youth development programs, and supportive services in neighborhoods that have historically lacked those services; and

Renewing and bolstering the Long Beach Justice Fund “to provide free universal legal representation to immigrant residents facing deportation, regardless of their background.”

During the presentation, numerous residents voiced their frustrations over various city policies and shared stories of discrimination.

“I was frustrated by not being able to communicate in my mother language, which limited (my ability) to express my opinions, concerns and needs,” said Dora Alicia, a north Long Beach resident.

Alicia called on the city to provide translation services in Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog for every council meeting.

Black Lives Matter LBC, meanwhile, called on residents to submit public comments against item No. 9 on the Tuesday council agenda: A request from the Police Department for more than $2.4 million for software to provide, implement and maintain a Police Records Management Software system.

Later that day, as the council meeting got underway, about 70 people, unrelated to the People’s Budget press conference, gathered outside City Hall to protest that item.

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