City Council tentatively approves Long Beach budget amid continued calls for reform

Long Beach took the first steps toward approving its fiscal year budget Tuesday night after the City Council voted unanimously to approve what’s been referred to as a “bridge budget” by some members as the city transitions out of the pandemic and into multiple years of projected deficits.

This year’s $3 billion budget was largely propped up by over $250 million in federal funding that was injected into the city’s coffers through the state and federal governments.

The additional funding comes as the result of the pandemic and likely prevented the need for wide-scale cuts that would have been required with the city’s projected $30 million funding shortfall headed into the budget cycle prior to receiving federal funds earlier this year.

Long Beach’s fiscal year begins in October, and the 2023 budget cycle could present a much different challenge for city officials who could be staring down a $36 million funding deficit.

While the 2022 budget was able to plug holes and maintain core services, dozens of community members and organizers filed into the council chambers Tuesday night to demand that the council adopt the People’s Budget.

The People’s Budget, an annual list of demands from community organizations that advocate for renters, seniors, communities of color and youth programming, called for a $65 million cut from the Long Beach Police Department’s budget this year to fund community needs.

Instead, the department is set to receive about $262 million in funding, a $16 million increase from last year’s budget, though it will not increase staffing levels, according to city officials.

Funding for the department has been subjected to heightened scrutiny from community organizations in recent years but council members said earlier this month that cutting funds to the department amid a recent rise in shootings in the city would be irresponsible.

Joanna Diaz, who’s part of a coalition of groups that include Long Beach Forward, Black Lives Matter Long Beach and Long Beach Residents Empowered, which advocate for the People’s Budget, said the budget process has shut out residents who could not attend online and could not attend in person. Diaz urged the council to adopt the People’s Budget.

“Show us who you love and where your heart lies,” Diaz said, as more than 20 members of the audience with yellow signs that read ‘Care not Cops’ applauded.

Kevin Joerger, a community activist, asked why the City Council was ignoring other unfunded liabilities like the Climate Action Adaptation Plan while still devoting over 40% of the city’s general fund to police officers.

“We don’t have $1 million for renewable energy but we have $260 million for the LBPD?” Joerger said.

Earlier Tuesday, the city’s Budget Oversight Committee advanced a list of projects and expenditures to be made through the use of $1.3 million in one-time funding. The list included $200,000 for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, $100,000 to support the city’s fireworks task force and  $100,000 for a vision plan for a COVID-19 memorial.

The committee also approved $540,000 to be split evenly among the nine City Council districts for one-time uses within those districts.

The committee asked that other projects like a feasibility study for the creation of a new public pool in North Long Beach, installing new historic street lamps at Bluff Park and the replacement of a playground that was burned down at Admiral Kidd Park last month to be tapped as “high priority” projects that could be funded with any surplus revenue discovered during the next fiscal year.

A final vote to formally approve the 2022 fiscal year budget is expected to happen at the next scheduled City Council meeting on Sept. 7.

From pension costs to tree watering, here’s what this year’s budget will not fully fund

Community groups vow to continue fight for funding as police budget grows

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.