Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Los Angeles County is pretty big: It’s new budget is greater than half of all American states and even more than the Gross Domestic Products of numerous countries.

The Board of Supervisors approved final adjustments Tuesday to Los Angeles County’s $29.9 billion budget for 2016-17.

By way of comparison, that total exceeds the budgets of more than half of states nationwide and is more than the GDP of several small countries. However, it is also about $100 million less than the latest valuation of Airbnb.

Advocates for the homeless largely praised the county’s commitment to spend $20 million on affordable housing in this fiscal year, part of a multi- year plan to ramp up spending to $100 million annually by 2020-21.

However, on the lawn outside the Hall of Administration, community activists at a “learn-in” proposed alternatives to the county’s spending plans.

A coalition of community members led by Californians United for a Responsible Budget called on the board to divest money from the Sheriff’s Department — including roughly $148 million earmarked to be spent on planning for new jails — and invest in diversion programs, youth opportunities and fighting immigration court battles on behalf of low-income residents.

“Grassroots organization have been fighting for adequate and equitable resources for all our community members and have only received piecemeal policies,” said Diwaine Smith, youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition. “We are still waiting for the board to divest from law enforcement by stopping the proposed women’s jail.”

Last year, the board agreed to move forward with construction of a women’s lockup in Lancaster at the Mira Loma Detention Center, once used by federal immigration authorities.

The approval came despite protests from CURB and other advocates of criminal justice reform who called for pre-trial release, diversion programs for substance abusers and offenders with mental illness, as well as split sentences that would allow women to spend less time away from their families.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the board have been working to expand diversion programs, but the supervisors say that no matter how successful such programs are, there will still be a need to jail some offenders.

Some of the final budget adjustments approved Tuesday would seem to meet the coalition’s goals, including $43.7 million to expand community mental health services and a transfer of 100 clinical positions out of the Sheriff’s Department and into the Department of Health Services to manage jail inmates’ health.

The final budget also included $54.6 million in funding and 400 new positions for the Department of Children and Family Services — part of an effort to reduce social worker caseloads.

–City News Service 

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