Over 40 organizers and community members met outside Long Beach City Hall Tuesday to unveil the annual People’s Budget, which listed demands from community groups for more investment in communities of color and other programs along with continued calls for defunding the Long Beach Police Department.
The 2021 People’s Budget calls for a host of reforms including a reduction in police force size and a ban on surveillance technologies the department uses with funds typically allocated to the department instead being redirected to basic needs and essential services for the community.
“Policing is not the answer to our schools’ or our communities’ most pressing needs including basic work, housing, homelessness, health and immigration,” said Dawn Modkins, an organizer with LA Voice, which is part of a coalition of groups that put together the budget.
The budget also calls for other investments into communities of color including violence-prevention strategies that do not involve police officers, reparations for Black residents who were victims of racial profiling during the war on drugs and a prioritization of Black ownership in the city’s growing cannabis industry.
Black ownership of cannabis storefronts has been an ongoing discussion in the city, however all of the 32 storefronts allowed under city law have already been claimed. The City Council voted in March to begin exploring whether the city could create a handful of new licenses set aside specifically for Black and other minority owners.
Audrena Redmond, an organizer for Black Lives Matter, said that revenue generated from cannabis taxes should not go into the city’s general fund, but instead allocated to programs that benefit communities in need.
“Those are growth dollars,” Redmond said. “Put those growth dollars toward our health department for mental health services. Put those growth dollars into housing. Put those dollars where the heck we are.”
Although not all the requests have clear dollar figures attached to them, the ones that do already reach into the millions. Organizers called for a $1 million investment in a youth fund, and another $1 million in child care subsidies for parents trying to return to work after the pandemic.
The document also calls for $2.4 million for full implementation of the city’s language access plan, which is supposed to provide in-person translation and translated city documents for residents but has faced criticism for its failings in recent years.
Senior groups called for $150,000 in rental assistance for senior renters and the construction of a new senior center.
Another $8 million is being requested for housing and the right to counsel for residents facing evictions or dealing with other housing-related disputes.
James Suazo, executive director of Long Beach Forward, said that more defined costs for programs the coalition is calling for will be worked out in the near future but and that there aren’t specific parts of the LBPD that the group is calling to end.
“The point we’re trying to make is that we need to revisit the role of the LBPD and what they do on a day-to-day basis,” Suazo said, adding that police shouldn’t be responding to mental health calls for service.
The People’s Budget has been an annual campaign since 2018 and organizers have had mixed success with getting their demands integrated into the official city budget which is adopted every September.
Last year, organizers called for a cut to the LBPD’s budget of 20%, but after the City Council made some cuts due to pandemic-driven revenue decreases, it ultimately added some funding back to the department resulting in a 5% decrease to the department’s budget.
Part of this annual campaign is to magnify how private and exclusionary the city’s budgeting process is, Suazo said. He added that despite the People’s Budget not being adopted in its entirety last year, when social justice movements were magnified by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, there is optimism that this year could be different.
“If anything we can look back at this year and look at how much inaction there has been by the City Council,” Suazo said. “These people are fed up that there hasn’t been action.”