Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday he plans to shut down the Parks Bureau and patrol stations in Altadena and Marina del Rey, among other cuts designed to reduce a projected budget deficit of $89 million.
Beginning July 1, patrol deputies in those two neighborhoods will report into the Crescenta Valley and South Los Angeles stations, respectively, according to the sheriff.
Villanueva used most of a weekly briefing set up to update the public on department’s response to the coronavirus to litigate his disagreement with the Board of Supervisors over his budget.
The county approved a $35.5 billion recommended spending plan last week that is largely a placeholder given the many changes that will have to be factored in before it is adopted in June and finalized in September.
That budget includes $3.5 billion for Villanueva’s department, which the sheriff said is $400 million short of “the actual cost of providing public safety.”
The sheriff asked reporters to “imagine you have a $4,000 monthly budget, but you’re only given $3,500 in income.”
That is a reality many households and businesses are facing as Los Angeles County residents lose jobs and businesses close due to stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
However, the sheriff’s budget deficit predates the pandemic, as the department closed its last fiscal year ended June 30, 2019, with a $63 million shortfall.
Villanueva says it is a structural deficit that dates much further back than that. He cited years of deficits run up by his predecessors that he says were ultimately covered by reallocating funds set aside in a line item for supplies and services.
This year, the board chose to withhold $143 million — once allocated for supplies and services — to try to force the sheriff’s hand in cutting back overtime and trimming other department fat. Nearly 60% of the withheld funds were released last week, but that fell short of satisfying the sheriff.
Villanueva directly defied another request by the board, which tied the release of those dollars to cutting academy classes for new deputies from 12 to four. Only four classes were included in the sheriff’s budget for the year.
“We’re going to reduce our academy classes from 12 to eight,” the sheriff told reporters, claiming that to do otherwise would result in hiring 160 fewer deputies annually.
“These are line jobs … these are not positions that we can just wish away because they’re inconvenient,” the sheriff said.
In addition to closing patrol situations to save $12.2 million, Villanueva outlined others cuts to generate big savings.
Eliminating the Parks Bureau and having responsibility for parks security revert to local stations will save $32.5 million, while eliminating the Community Partnerships Bureau will save an estimated $30 million, according to the sheriff.
As Villanueva posted up a picture of the board members and urged residents to call and protest cuts to the public safety budget, some of his plans seemed calculated more to upset residents or the board than to generate big savings. That includes dropping 10 positions on the Homeless Outreach Services Team to save $1.4 million. Other positions will be dropped from the Youth Activities League, Community Relations and Search & Rescue, among other divisions.
“All this is designed to kill overtime,” the sheriff told reporters. “We really don’t have a lot of fat to trim.”
Fewer detectives will fill the ranks of several high-profile bureaus, including Special Victims, Gang Investigations and Major Crimes, if Villanueva follows through as outlined.
He pushed county officials to release proposed budgets from every department.
“The public needs to be able to see every single county department … so they can make a decision for themselves … how the Board of Supervisors is representing their priorities,” Villanueva said.
Asked for comment, county CEO Sachi Hamai released a statement that reads: “All of our county departments are submitting plans for painful cuts that may be needed in response to the exceptional economic challenges we are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d like to encourage the sheriff to continue working on his plans in a way that emphasizes public safety for all residents, including those in the unincorporated communities.”
The CEO noted that all department budgets can be viewed at lacounty.gov/budget/, where all of the details of the recommended budget are laid out in two volumes.
The board also made clear last week that they believe the sheriff is bending facts and data to make his case.
More than one-quarter of the county’s discretionary funds — as opposed to federal and state funding tied to specific services — goes to the Sheriff’s Department, Hamai pointed out during last week’s board teleconference.
The two sides also argued over whether holding more academy classes generates more or less overtime. And multiple supervisors expressed their disappointment with a lack of progress in cutting costs, despite having hired an auditor to assist the department.
“I’m frustrated, sheriff, that you haven’t been able to figure this out,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said at one point. “Your budget deficit is not going to be sustainable … especially given the big hit that we’re going to take because of the coronavirus.”’
When he discussed the impact of COVID-19 at the end of his Monday briefing, Villanueva said 3,287 jail inmates are being quarantined and another 183 are in isolation pending test results. A total of 123 have tested positive for the infection.
“Considering the sheer size (of the county jail system), those are very good numbers,” he said.
As for employees, both sworn and non-sworn, 1,185 are quarantined and 84 have tested positive.
Crime continues to drop in year-over-year comparisons as a result of stay-at-home orders, with violent crimes down 10% and property crimes down 8%, though the sheriff warned that residents should be aware that auto thefts are on the rise.
The sheriff thanked residents for complying with stay-at-home orders and noted that only 55 COVID-19-related citations had been issued and three arrests made, despite what he said were tens of thousands of deputy contacts.
“You really have to go out of your way to earn one of these citations or arrests,” Villanueva said.
He boasted of patrols, some on horseback, covering 21 miles of coastline in Malibu.
“We’ve actually been handing out masks to people who don’t have masks,” the sheriff said.
Posts on the department’s Facebook page make clear that many of the deputies helping out during those patrols are employees of the to-be-shuttered Parks Bureau.
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