A diverse group of Los Angeles labor organizations, helmed by law enforcement, is working to block voters from deciding whether the county ought to set aside funds for community investments and alternatives to incarceration.
On August 5, the Coalition of County Unions (CCU), representing Los Angeles County civil servants, filed a lawsuit against county officials in order to block voters from considering the “Reimagine LA” ballot measure slated for November 3. The charter amendment has been advocated for by activists and was approved for the election by the Board of Supervisors on August 4.
Backed by unions that represent social workers, public defender investigators, probation officers, lifeguards and many other workers, Reimagine LA would eventually commit about one billion dollars of locally generated, unrestricted funds towards communities. Law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using the earmarked funds.
The amendment could even out a budget that concentrates spending power among agencies tasked with punishment, not support. Currently, the prosecutor’s, probation and sheriff’s departments enjoy a $1.75 billion funding allocation—overwhelming the mere $230 million set aside for services related to homelessness and housing, mental health, diversion and re-entry, according to Reimagine LA.
“This budget allocation does not reflect this Board’s values and priorities,” wrote Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis in a July 21 motion, “nor does it position the County to robustly and adequately invest in community based counseling and mental health services, youth development programs, small businesses and jobs, or affordable housing. A redistribution of resources is needed.”
CCU does not concede the austerity faced by social programs, but does recognize their importance. “The Coalition of County Unions and its member unions have a long history of supporting community initiatives, including eliminating homelessness, improving our parks, and securing affordable housing and endorses the measure’s goals of increasing rehabilitation of juveniles and adults and investing more in underserved communities,” a CCU spokesperson told Filter.
The CCU complaint claims that the ballot measure violates procedural law and the state constitution. In particular, the Board allegedly failed to provide required advance notice to labor bargaining organizations and is punting the budgeting process to voters, instead of leaving the decision to elected officials.
The sheriffs union claims that its position is not necessarily due to opposing community-oriented programs. “Let me make it perfectly clear, we are in no way challenging funding for special programs,” said ALADS President Ron Hernandez in one board meeting. “[W]e are challenging the process for this proposed measure.”
This lawsuit is not about the Board’s policy position. “We had no choice but to file the lawsuit because the Board deprived our members of their voice, which is a clear violation of the Board’s own Employee Relations Ordinance. The Supervisors have never engaged us in any kind of discussion, they have not provided us with a plan (though the CEO has told us that there will be layoffs), and they are legally required to negotiate with us before going to the voters,” said Blaine Meek, the CCU chair, in a statement.
Other voices who’ve come out against the proposal have been more transparent in their opposition to prioritizing community needs over maintaining law enforcement funding. “Making deep, across-the-board cuts to law enforcement would substantially imperil public safety in Los Angeles County. Moreover, the motivation here appears to be solely political,” wrote Mayor James R. Bozajian of the affluent city of Calabasas, in one of the letters sent by various individuals and organizations.
“To address racial injustice, over-reliance on law enforcement interventions, limited economic opportunity, health disparities, and housing instability, it’s time to structurally shift our budget priorities and reimagine Los Angeles County,” wrote the two Supervisors.