Culver City’s City Council heard departments presenting their individual budgets for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 at two meetings held Monday and Tuesday. The budget of the city’s General Fund — its primary source of spending money — increased by over $15 Million from the past fiscal year, which ends June 30, to a total of almost $176 Million.

Overall revenues for the city are up due to increases in sales tax revenue — which makes up over a quarter of the city’s total money brought in — and business tax revenue in part from cannabis taxes.

Here are a few main takeaways from that budget, and how it shows the city’s approach to the coming fiscal year.

Policing Expenditures Continue to Rise

Among the first to present its budget was the Culver City Police Department, which is given the largest share of the city’s projected expenditures at $53.8 Million, or 31 percent of the city’s total spending. 

This represented a 4.6 percent increase from the prior year, but city staff explained that the bulk of the increases came from mandatory retirement fund increases and salary increases from an ordinance originally passed in 1954 that ties Culver City Police and Fire salaries to their peers in the City and County of Los Angeles.

An explanation of this fact did not calm the chagrin of many of the speakers at the budget presentation meetings, with many lamenting that money isn’t being spent on things in the community like fixing parks, improving summer and afterschool services, and continuing to invest in the city’s public transportation infrastructure.

“I understand you explained what you can’t do,” speaker Greg Maron said regarding the explanation of the ordinance. “But I think the people of Culver City voted for leadership not to tell us what they can’t do, but to tell us what they can do to make sure the budget and the priorities of the city reflect our needs.”

The department also requested several increases outside of these salary raises. The Department’s tasers have been phased out and acquiring replacement parts has become difficult, so $50,000 is being appropriated for the department to purchase new tasers and holsters. 

A request of $100,000 is being made for exploration into currently unspecified “pursuit mitigation technology” that would “mitigate the inherent dangers of vehicle pursuits” according to Police Chief Jason Sims, and $200,000 is being set aside as a potential matching contribution required to receive a body camera grant if the city is selected. 

Regarding the pursuit intervention technology, Sims said that there are different types of technologies that they would be exploring, such as placing a tracker on a suspect’s vehicle during a chase to track it without engaging in a high-speed pursuit.

The continued expansion of police technology in Culver City has been a concern for several years, and Vice Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin echoed those concerns with regard to a lack of clarity on the pursuit mitigation technology.

“It was very alarming even to hear you say you hadn’t yet identified a program,” McMorrin said. 

City Cuts Transportation Fund Budget

Another large change that received criticism from the public was an over 37 percent reduction in the Transportation Fund’s budget. The $24.8 Million cut from the expected expenditures in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year is the largest of any department and comes in the wake of a highly controversial decision to scale back the MOVE Culver City project.

Much of this dropoff comes from almost $6.5 Million set aside for special equipment in the previous budget being removed. Aside from this, the city’s Municipal Bus Lines Fund — which funds most of the Transportation Department’s initiatives and operations — decreased the general Transportation Operations budget by 8.6 percent, or about $2.7 Million.

However, the focus of Transportation Department Director Diana Chang’s presentation was the areas that are being bolstered within the department. The equipment management budget has been given a 9.1 percent increase of almost $846,000, and the Paratransit budget — which focuses on Dial-A-Ride and other specialized transportation services without fixed times or locations — is being more than doubled from about $362,000 to a recommendation of over $890,000. 

Despite the slight cut to the operations budget, the Transportation Department has almost $10 Million in capital improvement projects focused on transportation infrastructure this coming fiscal year, including over $1.2 million in funds to add five new micro-transit vehicles to the city’s fleet and $220,000 for bus lane and stop video enforcement.

Most of the proposed enhancements come from requests to increase staffing in certain areas, but a request of $45,000 was also made from the funding the city receives from the Air Quality Management Department (AQMD) to help kickstart the electric bus program in the city by purchasing an off-grid solar powered EV charging station.

“[It] will help us deploy EV vehicles quickly,” Chang said during her presentation, “and without permanent infrastructure.” 

Councilmember Göran Eriksson inquired about these electric vehicles, asking Chang about exactly what the department has learned about these vehicles and their operations.

“Are they according to specs or are we getting less mileage out of them…what have we learned so far?” he asked.

Chang explained that the buses do run about as the department expected, but not long enough to complete all of the runs the city’s service provides. Fleet Services Manager Allison Cohen explained that these buses can be out of service for longer than the department hoped, but part of the issue is the lack of experience the city’s engineers have with electric vehicles.

Housing Services See Big Changes

The overall budget for the city’s Housing and Human Services department is receiving an almost 35 percent increase this year, and with that comes some significant changes to the structure of the department’s spending.

Serious investment is expected to come to the city’s holistic approach to homelessness. Human Services and Crisis Intervention programs are receiving legitimate investment this fiscal year, going from $2,600 last year to almost $1.7 Million in this year’s budget. The city’s investment in its Housing Services overall — which currently includes its Section 8 housing program and the Family Self-Sufficiency Program created to assist those Section 8 families — is increasing from over $1.1 Million to $4.3 Million in this budget.

Much emphasis was also put on a recommended enhancement: $500,000 to participate in the Healthcare in Action program that uses a unique “street medicine” program by delivering care to people experiencing in a mobile medical van, making it easier to access these people in places not meant for human habitation, such as under freeways.

This program is running in several other nearby municipalities like the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and Garden Grove, and helps compensate for the infrequency of the county’s street medicine program — which only operates once a month.

“We have essentially created our own continuum of care,” Housing and Human Services Department Director Tevis Barnes said during her presentation to the council. “Wherever a person is, we are providing a project or program to meet them at that level.”

Councilmember Freddie Puza said that he trusted the provider of the van — a non-profit that shares the name of the program — but wondered exactly what the extent of the program was.

“For $500,000, what exactly is included in that package?” Puza asked Barnes.

She explained to Puza that the city will get a van that is fully staffed with at least three staff members that can treat people experiencing homelessness and prescribe them medication, and will canvas the city daily in a similar manner that the city’s mobile crisis team does, and are looking to have them make weekly stops at important areas like Project Homekey sites and areas designated for the Safe Space program, which provides people experiencing homelessness a safe place to sleep inside tents around the city.

There are also several new programs the city will begin to directly invest in that will improve temporary and permanent housing solutions. Just over $4.5 Million is being budgeted for Project Homekey — a state-sponsored project that turns motels, hotels, and other similar properties into temporary and permanent housing options for homeless and low-income residents — and over $3 Million is being budgeted for the city’s Safe Sleep program 

Expected Spending on Capital Improvements Sinks 

After the city spent far less than expected on capital improvements this past fiscal year, the city is expecting even less this year.

A total of almost $137 Million was budgeted for Capital Improvements across many of the city’s funds and revenue sources, but just a hair over $50 Million was spent overall, mostly due to projects and their costs carrying over into the next fiscal year. 

This resulted in about $87.7 Million of carryovers from the previous year, yet the budget sits at around $32.6 Million considering spending on both carryover and new projects.

Projects like the $1.4 Million West Washington Area Improvement Program, a $1.1 Million Higuera Street Bridge Replacement project, and the $567,000 LA Ballona Safe Routes to School Project have entirely carried over beyond fiscal year 2023-2024. Some projects with large carryovers see only a small portion of their carryover costs accounted for in this budget, such as just $500,000 being budgeted for bus stop improvements despite an over $3.6 Million carryover

There are entirely new projects being budgeted for in the works as well, many of which improve the public amenities around the city. Almost $2 Million is on the budget for enhancements to the Ballona Creek Bike path, around $842,000 for pedestrian and bike lane improvements from Overland to Playa, and $800,000 is being budgeted for upgrades to the Culver City Park fields.

Photo by jcomp

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