Re-Imagine LA Coalition Rejects CEO’s 2021-2022 Fiscal Budget, Urges Full Funding of Measure J

Image via LA County Supervisor Kuehl

By Ishani Desai

LOS ANGELES — The Re-imagine LA Coalition denounced the LA County CEO’s plan allocating $100 million funds to Measure J for the 2021-2022 fiscal year on Monday.

As LA CEO, Fesia Davenport controls LA County’s budget and its day-to-day operations. Re-imagine LA, a coalition that is made up of community organizers, said the money is not enough to carry out the promised initiatives under Measure J. The charter amendment secures $900 million dollars from its funding sources.

Any less undermines the language of the measure, said Re-imagine LA in a press release.

“This is not optional,” said Kelli Poole, director of racial equity in homelessness at Social Venture Partners in a statement. “Measure J is not a new program — it was a ballot measure that the voters passed into law, thus mandating the County to act.”

According to the Measure J website, the spearheaded initiatives by the ballot measure cost approximately $395 million. The two main pillars of the charter amendment include $322 million for Direct Community Investment and $73 million for Alternatives to Incarceration.

Voters of California approved Measure J in 2016 to funnel approximately 10% of local revenue, about $1 billion dollars, into alternatives for incarceration and community investments, such as mental health services and affordable housing. LA County spends 42% of taxpayer’s money on law enforcement and the legal system. The costs total to $1.75 billion.

Measure J seeks to shift money from a punitive justice system into investments that build communities rather than criminalize them.

Davenport said during a press conference that the money diverted to Measure J serves as a year one down payment. It is not certain which solutions under Measure J will be supported by the budget.

The approval of Measure J came at a time when deaths of African-Americans by white policemen spotlighted the biases against people of color in the justice system, said Issac Bryan, the co-chair of the Measure J campaign. Black Americans are five times more likely than their Hispanic or white equivalents to be imprisoned. A Pew Research Center study shows that while 12% of Black adult men make up the American population, African-Americans make up 33% of prisons.

In LA County alone, African-Americans are incarcerated at 13 times the rate of their white counterparts and make up 8% of the population in LA County jails.

Measure J also seeks to change the criminalization of poverty and mental health, said Bryan. Around 41% of inmates suffer from mental illness.

“We’re building up pathways for care and healing,” Bryan added.

Some opposers of Measure J claim that it did not have enough forethought into its creation.

“The proposed Charter amendment is a knee-jerk reaction to the recent civic unrest and not the product of thoughtful deliberation from a broad cross-section of stakeholders,”
said Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.

Advocates claim that pathways to jailing are detrimental to healing racial injustice and serve to penalize rather than enact solutions.

“The County has the power to make meaningful change that aligns with our communities’ demands,” said Mark-Anthony Clayton Johnson, founder of Frontline Wellness Network in a statement. “Carceral budgets directly lead to punishing people by locking them away in deadly cages.”

Measure J also seeks to reform homelessness policy. Part of the ballot promised rent assistance and housing vouchers to those facing housing insecurity or people experiencing homelessness.

The interdisciplinary nature and reinvestment of funds to LA County prompted activists to reject Davenport’s approach.

“Our communities deserve better; after tireless racial justice uprising and commitment to budget advocacy from the streets to the public comment podium, the County CEO is remiss to ignore the grassroots people power that led to the passage of Measure J in the first place,” said Ivette Alé, La Defensa co-founder and senior policy lead at Dignity and Power NOW in an emailed statement.

Ishani Desai is a writer for the LA Vanguard’s campus and city desk. She is a history major at UCLA, originally from Bakersfield, CA.

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