By Julietta Bisharyan
LOS ANGELES – Inspired by the advocacy of powerful grassroots groups, five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved progressive and substantive motions Tuesday to fight anti-black racism and gender inequality and to fund alternatives to incarceration.
The motion, 51-C, would create a November ballot initiative with the intent of setting aside at least 10 percent of Net County Costs (NCC)—the amount of resources allocated to a department or program—for direct community investment and incarceration alternatives.
According to a Department of Auditor-Controller report, the cost to incarcerate people with mental health needs is more than $206 a day in LA County. In addition, the county’s pretrial population—individuals who have not been convicted of any crime but cannot afford to post bail—costs nearly $500,000,000 per year.
“It is time to prioritize the Office of Diversion and Reentry, as well as other promising ‘care first, jail last’ programs with a stable, dedicated budget commitment. Making such a rock-solid commitment, with the support of voters across Los Angeles County, will guarantee that these efforts will have the chance to succeed,” reads the motion drafted by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis.
In response, the Board of Supervisors, along with its partners, have worked to safely divert over 5,500 individuals from county jails to more appropriate and effective settings, where they can get treatment and avoid future convictions.
“Even as we are forced to confront the unimaginable toll of a global pandemic, millions of people across the world are also naming and condemning the systemic discrimination, exclusion, and inequity that has been brought into sharp focus,” the motion read. “This is not just a moment in time, it is the expression of a transformational movement on a scale not seen since the Civil Rights era.”
While the Board only needs a 3-2 vote to allocate the funds, Kuehl warns how quickly progressive change can be reversed by newer, more conservative administrations.
“This is a moment of deep transformation for LA County. The Board propelled justice forward today by moving the Reimagine LA ballot initiative forward,” said Ivette Alé, Senior Policy Lead at Dignity and Power Now.
“In order to repair generations of racial and economic injustice, it will take courageous action and that is what we saw the Board take with these monumental votes. Today marks a historic turning point that will change the lives of Black, brown and low-income people for generations to come,” they added.
A motion designed to combat anti-Black racism, authored by sole Black Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, was also unanimously approved.
Another motion for the County’s Gender Responsive Advisory Committee (GRAC) successfully expanded community-based services and diversion programs for cis women, trans, gender non-conforming and intersex individuals.
“Today, I applaud the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for taking the first step in giving LA County voters the opportunity to decide who and what is prioritized with our tax dollars,” said Eunisses Hernandez, co-executive director of La Defensa.
“The Reimagine LA County charter amendment will allow the voters of LA County to, once and for all, make a systemic change to ensure that all of our communities—especially Black, Brown, and Indigenous—can thrive and feel safe,” he added.
LA County CEO Sachi Hamai told the Board that Sheriff Alex Villanueva had refused to meet her demands for transparency regarding his budget deficits. Believing that his law and order rhetoric would resonate more with the people of LA, Sheriff Villanueva dismissed the Board’s majority for wanting to seek guidance from the voters on the County budget.
“The [LA County Board of Supervisors] just pushed forward agenda item 51-C, advancing the campaign to cont. defunding [LA County Sheriffs] & change public safety forever,” tweeted Villanueva on Tuesday. “Do YOU share their opinions? If you don’t want your streets to look like a scene from Mad Max, use your VOICE to tell the board what you think.”
Supervisors Solis and Janice Hahn also credited the work and effort of the young grassroots activists who helped change the Board’s criminal justice model.
“Our justice advocates in LA have been toiling on the ground, doing this work for a decade,” said Solis.
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