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LA County CEO Presents 2024-25 Draft Budget

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, April 23, Los Angeles County CEO Fesia Davenport unveiled the county’s first official budget proposal for fiscal year 2024-25

At the start of a presentation to the LA County Board of Supervisors, Davenport shared a retro video game-style cartoon video meant to help educate the public about the budget process, in which “Buddy the Budget Wiz” goes on a quest to get county funding for his lemonade stand business by making it to the top of budget “priority mountain.” 

Among the initiatives that have scaled priority mountain in the CEO’s $45.4 billion draft budget are housing and mental health services, to reduce the number of people who are unhoused or incarcerated. Yet, further up priority mountain are larger pots of money for law enforcement and incarceration.

A closer look at the new funding

Of the 835 new county positions included in the proposed budget, more than half are for the Department of Mental Health — to increase unarmed crisis response teams, available mental health clinics, homeless outreach, and pretrial and diversion services. 

Housing efforts, including subsidies and wrap-around services for people in permanent housing programs, and interim housing beds, are also slated to receive additional funding this year.

The budget would also set aside $728 million for efforts under the Homeless Emergency Declaration. This includes money to hire more outreach workers, housing navigators, substance abuse counselors, and more.

If the budget is approved, the county will also dedicate $2.4 million to offer $1,000 monthly in guaranteed income to 200 additional transition-age foster youth — a group at serious risk for homelessness — for two years.

Within the April budget is $49.6 million for jail remodels and a pot of $3.9 million to bring the county into compliance with the terms a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree regarding out-of-cell time for people in the jails’ High Observation Housing.

The budget also includes $4.9 million to launch pretrial services within the relatively new Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department, established as part of the county’s promise to prioritize “care first, jail last,” and shut down the dangerously deteriorating Men’s Central Jail.

To further that vision, in 2020, voters approved Measure J, a ballot initiative that amended LA County’s charter to permanently set aside at least 10% of existing locally controlled, unrestricted revenues to be directed to community investment and alternatives to incarceration.

This amounts to approximately $300 million in new funding for what the county calls Care First Community Investment (CFCI), according to the CEO. 

The sum “represents more local county funding in this budget than the amount committed to the Public Defender, to Public Health, to Parks and Recreation, and about 30 other departments,” said Davenport, who, along with the Board of Supervisors, faces criticism from community advocates every budget cycle over how much the county spends on incarceration and the sheriff’s department (which is slated to receive $4 billion this year).

“The recommended budget released is pushing for over $10B to go towards the carceral system. This is unacceptable,” Reimagine LA wrote in response to the draft budget. “The recommended budget uses the framing ‘Care First, Jails Last’ yet the CEO’s office is continuing to prioritize investment in jailing vs. investment in alternatives to incarceration.” 

Supervisor Lindsey Horvath expressed displeasure at the county’s ongoing excessive payouts for litigating and settling lawsuits against the LA County Sheriff’s Department. 

Within the weekly board agenda were recommendations to approve a $4.7 million settlement over a car accident involving a deputy, and a $800,000 settlement in a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, excessive force, and accidental shooting. Earlier this month, the board approved a $25 million settlement after deputies shot and paralyzed Isaias Cervantes, a 25-year-old who was autistic and hard of hearing. 

In 2023, the county spent just under $1 billion on litigation and settlements. Lawsuits against the sheriff’s department accounted for approximately $150 million of that sum.

“Think of what we could have done with even a fraction of that money,” Horvath said.

The county could have used the money to help more people on the verge of homelessness stay housed, to further expand the guaranteed income program for transition-aged foster youth, to fund more gender-based violence programs, and given more money to parks and the fire department, said Horvath.

While LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said she was pleased to see the county reach $300 million for CFCI after falling $12 million short last year, she expressed concern at stagnant funding for public defense. 

“I’m disappointed to not see more growth in public defenders and alternate public defenders,” Hahn said. “Both departments have very high caseloads and requested many more positions than they were granted during this budget phase.” The Public Defender asked for 10 deputy public defender positions and 20 psychiatric social workers, she said, “and didn’t receive any.”  

The PD’s office is an important part of the county’s diversion efforts, Hahn said. “It is critical these departments, like the Department of Mental Health, have the staff they need to support their clients and to support this board’s agenda,” the supervisor said. “They should be at the top of priority mountain. That is our priority — diversion. I hope in the next budget stage, we can see if that’s possible.”

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