Long Beach People’s Budget calls for a reimagining of the budget process

By Kristy Hutchings, Press-Telegram

Long Beach activists this week once again called, for the fifth year running, on city officials to reimagine its budgeting process — and to create a spending plan that prioritizes marginalized communities.

The People’s Budget Long Beach Coalition, made up of 14 local progressive activist groups, revealed its list of demands outside City Hall on Tuesday evening, Aug. 2, as the city presented its own budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 in the Civic Chambers.

The City Council must adopt this year’s budget next month, but will hold a series of public hearings to receive — and potentially include — community feedback in the final draft before then. Long Beach’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Organizers advocating for the People’s Budget said they hope to get their communities actively engaged in the budget process — a strategy that’s helped them secure funding for certain causes in previous years.

“When everyday people come together and realize that they have power and voice to inform the budget process — that’s been the key to the successes in the past,” said Melissa Morgan, communications director of LB Forward, an organization supporting the People’s Budget movement.

During last year’s budget season, the coalition helped win $1 million for Long Beach’s housing navigator program, $1 million for a community land trust to establish community-owned permanently affordable housing and $1 million for youth development programs.

Another $2.1 million went toward the city’s Tenant Right to Counsel program, language access services and the Long Beach Justice Fund — all of which were included in the People’s Budget demands that year.

Several of those proposals, however, had already been included in the Long Beach Recovery Act, which was the City Council approved in March 2021.

“I think that’s part of the beauty of a People’s Budget process campaign,” Morgan said, “bringing in folks who had no sense that they could take part in influencing decisions that our elected officials get to make for the entire city.”

This year, the People’s Budget requested more than $23 million be allocated to specific programs ranging from ongoing rental assistance for low- and very low-income households, to establishing a satellite Multi-Service Center location to assist unhoused people in the city.

Diverting funds from the Long Beach Police Department, the People’s Budget said, would benefit other city programs and social services.

“Against the backdrop of the ongoing public health pandemic, and the reality that since the murder of George Floyd, Long Beach never defunded LBPD,” the press release said, “activists and organizers decried the city’s misdirected funds given to police — instead of having invested them into communities in need.”

Diverting money way from law enforcement, however, seems unlikely.

The city’s proposed budget would add 20 new police officers to the Police Department. Of those new officers, 16 would serve on the LBPD’s bike beat.

The City Council considered and unanimously approved an increase to the LBPD’s bike beat officers in early July. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who initially proposed the item, argued that bike beat officers are less threatening and more likely to create strong connections within the communities they serve.

But, Morgan said, that isn’t what some folks in the community want.

“The community has said loud and clear for years —  we don’t need more police,” Morgan said. “How many people have to die until these decision makers realize that’s not going to work?”

Instead, the People’s Budget called on the city to establish a Black Reparations Fund and a Black-led community agency, according to a Tuesday press release.

Both initiatives, according to the release, would serve to “provide a pathway to full reparations, which requires a systemic account, acknowledgement and report of past and ongoing systemic harms.”

Those two requests total $197 million, according to the People’s Budget press release. The LBPD’s proposed budget for this year, on the other hand, totals just more than $293 million, according to city documents.

“Imagine what we could do with all of that if it’s redirected to some of the source issues that folks are experiencing that leave them living in poverty,” Morgan said. “City officials have to listen to people’s experiences and have to engage so that they’re responsive to those needs.”

Long Beach will hold it’s next community budget hearing during it’s Aug. 9 City Council session.

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