Discretionary Funding: Transparency Sought: Bonin Uses His for Homeless

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(Editor’s note: The Pacific Palisades Community Council asked Councilman Mike Bonin to use discretionary funding to keep the “Beach Patrol” intact.  The patrol is LAPD officers that work with the nonprofit, all-volunteer Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness to prevent illegal camping on hillsides in the very high fire severity zone. Last summer there were six officers and that was cut to two this summer.)

This fire in the Via de las Olas bluffs in 2015 was started by a homeless fire. LAPD help keep illegal campers out of the very high fire severity zone.

Each LA Council office receives discretionary funding. That money is not allocated through the city budget. How much money does each councilmember receive?

Circling the News reached out to the L.A. City controller’s office, and Ian Tompson responded, “We don’t label the funds so it’s not always clear what they are. We just report finances as reported to us by City departments and offices. The City Clerk’s office keeps track of Council funds, and you should talk with them.”

CTN filed a public information request with the City Clerk for the amounts. Constituents should know how much discretionary funding each council district receives.

Councilmembers have wide leeway in how the revenues are spent. For example, in Council District 4, Councilmember Nithya Raman urged nonprofits to apply for funding (for $5,000 or less).

In the 13th District, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell moved $1 million from AB 1290 Discretionary Funds in 2020 to assist small businesses in his district during the Covid pandemic.

District 5’s Paul Koretz spent $100,000 on LAPD ($30,000 on overtime in Wilshire, and $30,000 in West L.A., $10,000 in the West Valley and Pacific divisions, and $20,000 along Melrose).

Councilman Joe Buscaino directed nearly $1.3 million in District 15 funds toward police overtime to address crime.

In 2015, City Councilman Bernard Parks gave five branch libraries a total of $30,000 from his district’s discretionary funds as a “parting gift” prior to leaving office.

Bonin?

Westside Current did a public records request after it learned that $5 million in discretionary funds would go to housing the homeless in CD 11.

The Current learned that $2.5 million went directly to Saint Joseph’s Center staffing (“Almost Half of $5M Venice Boardwalk ‘Encampment to Home’ Funding Used for Staffing, Operations” May 5).

In a March newsletter, Bonin announced that he was allocating $500,000 to work with SHARE (Self-Help and Recovery Exchange).  In shared housing, formerly homeless people live together as a group, in a fully furnished single-family home, sharing a bedroom with a roommate.

In April, Bonin’s newsletter announced that $253,000 would be used to pay rent assistance and eviction prevention for residents on the Westside.

The office gave $5,000 to Resilient Palisades Earth Day festival.

Porta-pottys also received a chunk of Bonin’s discretionary funds. Bathrooms are not cheap.

An L.A. Times June 2019 story (“$339,000 for a Rest Room? L.A. Politicians Balk at the Cost of Toilets for Homeless People”) wrote “L.A. has estimate that staffing and operating a mobile bathroom can cost more than $300,000 annually.”

On Venice Boulevard, at the 405 underpass, there are porta-potties  for the homeless.

Where do discretionary funds come from?

The money comes from three sources: 1) from oil pipeline franchise fees (split 50-50 between the city’s General Fund and the appropriate Council Districts).

2) Real Property Trust Funds revenues come from the sale of “surplus” city-owned properties (with proceeds split 50-50 between the General Fund and Council Districts).

3) Street Furniture revenue – since 2001, annually, between $2 million and $5 million a year comes from advertising revenue generated on various “street furniture” such as kiosks and bus shelters. Funds are split among the city’s 15 Council Districts and unused funds can be rolled over to the following year.

A fourth source of funding is officeholder accounts. This is monitored by the Ethics Commission and each councilmember can raise up to $107,000 each year.

Councilmembers can decide how they want to spend the money, and then receive approval from City Council members.

In 2010, The L.A. Times (“L.A. City Council’s Spending Accounts”) called it “money for pet projects.”

In that Daily News story (“Los Angeles City Council Has $9.6 M in Redevelopment Money to Spend”) Robert Stern, former director of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he is not surprised by how the council members use the funds.

“I suppose you could say it should go into the general fund, which is having problems these days, but it is money that could just get lost,” Stern said. “This way, they get to take all the credit for how the money is being used. This is part of the game and part of our system.

“When it comes to money for your district, you want to make sure you are front and center and get credit for how it is used.”

CTN reached out to Bonin’s spokesperson Naomi Goldman to see if he planned to help the Palisades community.

Goldman wrote in a June 16 email: “The budget for the Los Angeles Police Department is at a record high, dwarfing expenditures for everything else in the city. For the remainder of Councilmember Bonin’s time in office, he is focusing use of his discretionary dollars on efforts to address the homelessness crisis and on strategies to prevent homelessness. He is funding shared housing programs and organizations doing outreach and providing casework to unhoused individuals, and he is providing money to groups working to prevent homelessness and support people at risk of homelessness, such as tenants, foster youth, and survivors of domestic violence.”

CTN responded, asking Goldman, “Does that mean Bonin will appropriate discretionary funding for the Palisades Task Force on Homelessness?”

When this editor hears back from the City Clerk or Goldman, we’ll update residents.

The 2019 Highlands Fire was started by a transient.

Water-dropping helicopters stopped the May 2021 transient fire before it could reach the homes on the Via los Olas bluffs.

This entry was posted in Community, Councilman Mike Bonin, Crime/Police. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Discretionary Funding: Transparency Sought: Bonin Uses His for Homeless

  1. Kathleen Jensen says:

    Portland, Oregon was a beautiful gem of a city when I lived in Beaverton, near NIKE headquarters, from 1979-1983. I graduated from Portland State University and moved away not l0ng before the light rail was built for the downtown area. It was painful to read this week how the beautiful Willamette River area has become a mecca for homeless: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-06-21/portland-liberal-support-lags-homeless-services-drugs
    I hope Santa Monica and LA don’t suffer the same fate as Portland, as it looks like they’re headed down the same path.

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