LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved more than $10 million in new spending for arts grants and affordable housing, just five weeks after signing off on a $34.9 billion budget that includes deep across-the-board cuts to all departments.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger pushed back against four separate bids to commit the board to new funding — and was outvoted.
“The county is facing monumental economic upheaval created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting prolonged closures and healthcare costs,” Barger said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “The county should be even more judicious with taxpayers’ dollars and allocate funds accordingly. Unrestricted funds can be used in a variety of ways during this financial crisis, including to close the county’s current budget deficit and minimize future layoffs.”
The board has moved mostly in lockstep in recent years on a progressive agenda that honors the county’s role in providing a social service safety net for its most vulnerable residents. Barger is the sole registered Republican on the non-partisan board, but has evidenced strong support for such programs, particularly in the arena of mental health care.
For example, Barger authored a motion, approved Tuesday by the balance of the board, to direct the county CEO to work with sheriff to move some dollars around to restore his department’s mental evaluation and homeless outreach services teams.
Barger has parted ways with her colleagues on rent control and restrictions on development, and has made clear that she believes immigration reform is a federal, not a local, issue. But, more often than not, she votes as part of a unanimous board.
The financial constraints posed by the pandemic may now make her a less reliable ally. Also Tuesday, she opposed a ballot measure that would mandate that 10% of the county’s unrestricted general funds be devoted to community investment and alternatives to incarceration, arguing that it would restrict budgeting flexibility. The debate over the measure was heated on both sides.
As for the new spending measures, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored a motion calling for an additional $3.6 million of grants for arts organizations that they said would address systemic inequities in the arts.
“This critical investment will boost the recovery of the region’s creative economy and help ensure that all of Los Angeles County’s residents share in the invaluable benefits of the arts,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Kuehl said the pandemic has hurt many arts organizations and a substantial percentage are in danger of permanently closing.
“The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have deeply affected arts organizations in many of the same ways as other commercial businesses,” Kuehl said. “With this motion, we are finding ways to continue to provide support to our local arts nonprofits and making sure that the healing power of the arts continues to be available to county residents in these troubled and stressful times.”
According to a survey by Americans for the Arts, 29% of the county’s nonprofit arts organizations are “extremely likely” to make temporary or permanent reductions in staff, while 33% expect the financial impact of the pandemic to be “extremely severe.”
The motion passed on a 4-1 vote.
Barger was also the sole vote against a motion by Supervisor Hilda Solis to reallocate $7.2 million in general funds to the county’s affordable housing trust fund.
Barger abstained from two votes related to creating new county departments — one to serve older adults and the other to promote economic development.
“While I support efforts to readjust and refocus county services where they can have the most impact, we should wait until we have received a detailed analysis to fully understand the fiscal impacts and the required resources and staffing for two new departments,” Barger said. “We should continuously strive to better meet the needs of our residents and businesses but must do so in concert with an understanding of the economic well-being of our region and our ability to establish these departments at this time.”
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who championed the idea of the department dedicated to serving older adults and those with disabilities, acknowledged that the county doesn’t have the resources right now to establish a new agency. However, she asked her colleagues to allow staffers to move forward with some of the groundwork.
“Right now, older adults and adults with disabilities are served by most if not all of our county departments,” Hahn said. “All of these efforts are important, but they are fragmented and there’s not enough coordination. Bringing these efforts under one roof will not only allow us to coordinate our work, it would also give us the ability to be proactive rather than reactive to address the needs of older adults and adults with disabilities alike.”
Hahn and Kuehl proposed the new department last year. A report on the merits was recently completed that deemed the new department necessary to properly address the needs of older adults and recommended including services for adults with disabilities under the same umbrella.
“Between 2010 and 2030, our older adult population will double. A standalone department of aging may be the best way to ensure the health and well-being of our current and future older adult populations,” Kuehl said.
The board voted 4-0, with Barger abstaining, to set up a leadership council to convene on a monthly basis to coordinate the planned transition and consult with Los Angeles city officials on the plan. The board also directed the CEO to develop a budget and funding structure for the new agency and report back in six months.
The board reached a similar outcome, on the same 4-0 vote, with regard to a motion by Solis to move forward with a department of Workforce and Economic Development for services currently provided by the Department of Workforce, Aging and Community Services, though a report back was requested within 60 days.