Last month the City of Los Angeles adopted its 2022-23 budget, dedicating 2.6 times more funding to the Los Angeles Police Department than towards efforts to reduce homelessness. Culver City’s proposed 2022-23 budget, presented at two City Council meetings on May 16 and 17, is even more unbalanced.
In the proposed budget, we dedicate 9 times more funding to the Culver City Police Department (CCPD) than towards ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness.
This is despite a recent poll finding that 83% of people in Culver City think homelessness is a very serious or extremely serious problem, whereas only 52% of residents think crime is a very serious or extremely serious problem.
Why is the city’s spending so inconsistent with what Culver City residents see as our most pressing issues?
Diving deeper into the numbers, about 75% of the spending on homelessness is to support operations for two motels that will provide interim and permanent housing for Culver City’s unhoused residents. This has been an essential but missing piece of the city’s strategy to address homelessness. Permanent housing, in particular, is in incredibly short supply, and reducing homelessness will be impossible without enough of it.
That said, the motel funding only satisfies a previously unmet need — it is not a replacement for other homelessness programs the city has funded in the past, such as the homeless outreach services provided by St. Joseph Center. And yet, the city recently signed an amendment that actually decreases what we’re paying St. Joseph Center monthly for homeless outreach services.
All this falls under the budget of the Community Development Department, which overall is being cut by nearly $1.8 million, including cuts to other programs that keep people from becoming homelessness, such as rental assistance and rent stabilization. While the number of unhoused Culver City residents increases — the homeless count grew 35% between 2020 and 2021 — the city proposes spending $1.8 million less on the department that handles one of the few issues that nearly everyone can agree is a serious problem in our city.
CCPD funding, on the other hand, is proposed to increase by more than $1.9 million — this increase alone is nearly triple what the city pays St. Joseph Center for homeless outreach services — bringing the police budget to a record high of $50.9 million. This is $22 million higher than the police budget 10 years ago, a 76% increase that far outstrips population growth. The city’s resident population has remained relatively static, and the commuter-adjusted daytime population increased merely 10% from 2010 to 2020.
Studies have shown that, at best, “if there is an effect of police levels on crime, it is small.” And sure enough, with larger societal trends outweighing the minor impact of increases in the police budget, our crime rate has had a slow but steady increase even as our police budget has ballooned over the last decade.
We hear the constant refrain that crime is exploding because the police have been defunded, but the reality is different. Crime rises despite an ever-increasing police budget, and in the face of a near unanimous cry for action on homelessness, the department that provides homeless services is being defunded instead.
In the proposed 2022-23 budget, we again see $1.5 million budgeted for development of an unarmed crisis intervention and response program, as part of the city’s plan to enhance homeless services. Similar programs have been deployed in Eugene, San Mateo, and Denver, in the latter case resulting in a substantial decrease in both police violence and more traditional reported crime, at a quarter of the cost of equivalent police response.
But the $1.5 million budgeted for 2021-22 largely went unspent, and our program is still in an early stage of development. Meanwhile, CCPD rolled out its own armed crisis negotiation team for handling mental health crises and reported more than three hundred 72-hour psychiatric detentions in the last year, a practice that has been disproportionately used in California to detain Black and Hispanic women — calls that would be more effectively handled by professionals trained in mental and medical crisis response, not by armed police. The need for the unarmed crisis response program is urgent, but as we’ve seen, just setting aside money in the budget is not enough.
This budget does not reflect the values and desires of our residents, including and especially those who simply cannot afford to rent an apartment. The City Council must call for drastic budget changes to address the most pressing issue we face — that far too many of us have no better choice than to live in a tent on the sidewalk.