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L.A. on the Record: How the city budget gets made

Good morning and welcome to LA on the Record – our City Hall newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, with help from David Zahniser and Dakota Smith.

There is a public season for the Los Angeles City Budget and a private season.

The annual State of the City Address often doubles as a rousing launch pad for the public season, with the mayor previewing priorities and new programs a few days before the proposed budget is released. Under the City Charter, LA mayors have until April 20 to submit their budgets to City Council.

You’re probably familiar with the roughly six-week sprint that follows: a series of public hearings in the council’s budget and finance committee; presentations of all players and working out committee recommendations; then a vote in the full council.

That’s the sexy part, or at least as sexy as something with hundreds of pages of tax policy can be. But it’s not true actually action happens.

Deputy controller Rick Koola political veteran who oversaw the budget process for two years under a former mayor Eric Garcetticompared the phenomenon to an iceberg: the public procedure is “the visible part of the iceberg, but the decisions were made below the waterline.”

The real cajoling, debate, and decisions about how the nation’s second-largest city spends its money are made during budget development, or what we’ll call private budget season. And that’s been going on for months,

A quick refresher: LA’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The mayor is responsible for drafting the budget – one of her more formidable powers – and does so with the help of the city manager.

The task rests entirely with the mayor until April 20, when she hands the budget over to the city council, which has until June 1 to approve, reject or amend it. There may be some back and forth between the two entities depending on whether the changes made by the municipality are accepted. (For a more detailed description, see page 138 of Rafael Sonensheinis excellent “Structure of a City Government.”)

Los Angeles mayors have historically begun their term in July, making them nearly a year in office before being responsible for submitting a budget. But thanks to a change in the election cycle, Bass was plunged below the waterline as soon as she took office in a budget season.

That’s a steep learning curve for a new mayor. It was widely speculated that the budget deadline helped Bass’ decision last November to extend vacancies to all Garcetti employees through April 22.

City services submitted proposals for next year’s budget in mid-November, nearly a month before Bass assumed her role. Her office is now knee-deep in meetings with those departments, with outreach led by the Director of Policy and Budget Initiatives Joe Freeman, together with Bernyce Hollinswhich started this week.

A memo Bass sent to the general directors of most city departments on Feb. 15 laid out some of her administration’s thinking.

The mayor seemed intent on tempering expectations, saying that “collective requests from departments, combined with our city’s commitments, far exceed the resources expected to be available.” Bass also said her administration is likely to reject funding requests for new positions unless they are critical, prioritizing filling the high number of vacancies.

Her memo also reiterated her focus on homelessness — one of the bigger question marks for next year’s budget, as it’s not clear how much her efforts will cost.

In a revenue forecast report released this week, City Controller says Kenneth Mejia noted that Bass’s “attempt to fund transitional housing and encourage the construction of additional permanent housing is unknown, but will undoubtedly require major funding.”

The report suggested potential difficulties ahead, including expected general fund revenues to grow below the rate of inflation and city cost increases.

Councillor Bob Blumenfield, who chairs the city’s budget and finance committee, said Los Angeles is not experiencing as much growth as officials would hope, nor has it had a flow of federal funds as it has in recent years. But neither is it a crisis in which the city is about to be fired, he said.

“This is not a year of radical changes in terms of our budget,” Blumenfield said. “Unlike 2020 when the economy went through the floor, and unlike some years where you see a windfall, neither is the case here.”

The budget won’t be formally handed over to Blumenfield until late April, but he and his team have begun informal talks with the administration about it.

The budget will be largely baked over the next month and a half as departments lobby the mayor and her office on numerous fronts and hit back the city manager with the hard questions.

Cole compared the council hearings that will eventually follow to an elaborate show, saying that “when the dust settles, they traditionally move less than half of 1% of the budget.”


SENATE SUPPORT: Bass endorsed Rep. Barbara Lee in the battle for Sen. Diana Feinsteins Senate seat, saying her experience as a “progressive fighter” in Washington is what the state needs.

— COPS ON TRANSIT: City Council on Wednesday voted to extend the LAPD’s contract to patrol Metro’s buses and trains, renewing debate about rising crime in the regional transportation system and the push to find alternatives to the police.

– MORE POLICE DEBATE: The Los Angeles Police Department’s largest union wants officers to stop responding to more than two dozen types of non-emergency calls, which devolve duties to other city agencies or nonprofits while they focus on more serious crimes. The proposal is an unlikely policy deal between the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the borough’s left wing, who have advocated a similar shift.

— CD 6 UPDATE: Candidates Marisa Alcaraz, Imelda Padilla And Mark Santana collect the most money in the City Council District 6 race. Through February 18, Alcaraz raised $100,606, Padilla $55,362 and Santana $53,900. Mailed ballots will be sent to voters in the April 4 special election starting next week to fill the vacancy left by former Council President Nury Martinez.

– FALLOUT PET SERVICES: It has been more than a year since the beleaguered Animal Protection department had a permanent general manager. Bass spokesman Zach Seidl told The Times a nationwide search, which began under Garcetti, is still underway for the post. Animal advocates will gather at the West Los Angeles shelter on Saturday to protest the conditions for the animals and demand that Bass appoint a general manager.

— MORE TAX TIME: Following the IRS’ lead, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that most Californians won’t have to pay their state taxes until October 16. The delay is available to residents of Los Angeles and 50 other counties under a federal emergency.

— BASS BACKS BUYBACK: Bass goes to one gun buyback event in Wilmington today (Saturday), an interesting move given the recent vote in parts of the council on the program. Earlier this week, councillors Hugo Soto-Martínez And Eunises Hernandez voted against a plan to use county funds to pay for the event, allowing residents to turn in guns they no longer want in their homes. Soto-Martinez expressed concern that the LAPD would be involved — and receive overtime.

Former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan left, and attorney Harland Braun at a hearing in January.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Chan process (temporarily) halted

Federal government corruption trial against former deputy mayor Raymond Chan was abruptly halted on Friday after its lead attorney fell ill and went to hospital.

Chan, a former aide to Garcetti, is accused of playing a major role in former councilor’s massive drug rehabilitation plan Jose Huzarwho pleaded guilty last month.

Brendan Pratt, part of Chan’s defense team told the court Harland Braun, 80, had “some sort of infection” affecting his organs and would likely be out of action for several days. Chan, facing bribery and other charges, did not want to move on without Braun.

The disruption comes with the process in full swing. Jurors questioned several witnesses, including the former planning commissioner David Ambrozmayor’s assistant Kevin Keller And Richelle RiosHuizar’s estranged wife.

While Braun is a veteran of the courtroom, Pratt received his law degree in 2021. At one point, the U.S. District Judge said John F Walter asked Pratt if he was aware of an upcoming filing of evidence in the case.

Pratt said he primarily serves Chan’s team in an “administrative support role”, making it clear that Braun is doing the legal heavy lifting. The judge told Pratt that he would have to act as attorney in the case and familiarize himself with the exhibits.

With so much uncertainty surrounding Braun, assistant US Atty. Mack Jenkins asked the judge to give the worst-case scenario for the case’s progress.

“I will do everything I can to keep this process on track,” the judge said. “I’m certainly not going to a mistrial.”

Walter didn’t sound entirely confident about what comes next.

“We’ll be in recess until.. until who knows?” he said before leaving the room.

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  • Where is Inside Safe? Mayor Karen Bass’ signature homelessness initiative took to Hoover and 115th Street in South LA this week. Fifty-four people in the neighborhood, west of Watts, have been moved indoors, according to the mayor’s office.
  • On the roll: Bass will serve as an honorary falconer at Saturday’s LAFC football game.

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