Story by Sofia Alva
Photo by Katelyn Hernandez
The City Council discussed and reviewed the draft budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 at its meeting on Wednesday, June 10. Multiple parties criticized the City for its lack of accountability in creating a sustainable budget, in addition to calling for SPPD to be defunded and reformed.
City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe began the meeting by acknowledging the pattern of accounting errors that occurred in past budgets. She assured the Council and community members that the issue was resolved and that there were no longer any missing funds.
However, former City Finance Director Josh Betta released a 56-page critique of the City last week, highlighting $4.5 million in unknown funds based on the most recent audited budget. Betta says the proposed budget lacks transparency and fails to address the coronavirus’ impact on the city. This motivated over 1,000 South Pasadena residents to sign a petition calling for the City Council to delay adopting the budget until an audit is completed.
Community members also criticized the SPPD’s almost $10 million proposed budget at both the City’s closed session labor negotiations with the South Pasadena Police Officers’ Association and the general council meeting.
The SPPD’s 2020-2021 budget allocation is approximately $9.86 million: 88 percent for officer wages and benefits, 11 percent for operations and maintenance, and one percent for maintenance of the department’s capital assets. This is approximately a $500 thousand increase from the 2019-2020 SPPD budget.
The South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform (SPY4PR) activist group submitted a public comment with over 300 resident signatures and took to the streets on Wednesday, June 10 to protest the increase in SPPD funding. The group demands increased transparency, a complete overhaul of SPPD’s policy manual relating to acceptable use of force, and the City’s commitment to create a civilian oversight commission to investigate police misconduct.
“SPPD should act as community builders, instead of trying to catch citizens doing something wrong,” SPHS alumna Jael Osborne submitted in a public comment. “Officers should be willing to have a reasonable and open conversation with citizens instead of only looking to punish them. We want to regard our PD as contributing to the SP community instead of creating unnecessary fear.”
SPY4PR and its supporters called for the City Council to freeze the SPPD budget until a list of 21 demands are instituted. Councilmember Marina Khubesrian acknowledged these concerns and an opportunity for the city to do more.
“I’d like to reimagine some of the ways we do policing as some of the youth have asked us to,” Khubesrian said. “I think there’s a lot we can do and learn from them to prevent the use of force.”
Councilmember Michael Cacciotti suggested that the SPPD reduce the number of vehicles and invest in fuel efficient ones as a way to save city funds. Additionally, the City Council passed a motion requesting that Police Chief Joe Ortiz assign an SPPD representative to work with a subcommittee of the Public Safety Commission to review the SPPD use of force policy manual.
The City Council will work alongside the Finance Commission to review and adopt the proposed budget at its next meeting on Wednesday, June 17.