South L.A. Needs YOU to Speak Up at Regional Budget Day on Saturday, March 16.

The responses to the Mayor's Budget Survey received from around the city as of 2/13/13.

“This chart sums up why South LA consistently gets left behind when funds are divided,” reads the post on the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council’s facebook page (referring to the image above).

The chart describes the distribution of the responses received as of February 13 of this year to the Mayor’s annual Budget Survey.

The survey — available online or in hard copy — was designed to engage neighborhood councils and other community stakeholders on their fiscal priorities to help the Mayor’s office best direct resources, given the $216 million budget shortfall projected for 2013 – 14. The response period for the survey closed last week so that staff would have time to review the results and prepare the budget, set for release on April 20th. The results of the survey will be posted to the budget website on March 16, 2013.

Although city staff are apparently still tallying the results from the nearly 5,000 surveys received, of the 2,881 responses they had logged in February, only 67 were from South L.A. Worse still, 19 of those responses came from the Mid-City Neighborhood Council, an area north of the 10 freeway and sandwiched mostly between La Cienega on the west and Crenshaw on the east. While it is great they participated in such numbers, the area — now including some of the Culver City arts district — is not necessarily representative of the larger needs of South L.A.

While the extent to which the ~$200 million shortfall is of consequence in a $6 billion budget might be debatable for some, the survey seemed to indicate that cuts are looming on the horizon. Participants were asked to rank the importance they gave to things (i.e. police or fire services, economic development and private sector job creation, livable communities, or improved infrastructure), engage questions of long-term reform (i.e. of pension programs or outsourcing of city contracts), vote to support or cut off funding to particular programs/services, vote to raise taxes or fees, and decide whether or not L.A. should be dipping into its budget reserves. At the end of the survey, you are taken to a summary page that tells you just how much your choices left the city in debt (in my case) or whether you succeeded in balancing the budget.

The Empowerment Congress wants you to know that even if you were not able to participate in the survey, Regional Budget Day is this coming Saturday, March 16th. Representatives of the Mayor’s office and/or city administrative staff will be on hand to present the results of the survey and solicit feedback from community stakeholders. South L.A.’s workshop will begin bright and early at 8:00 a.m., when participants can start signing up to offer comment, and run through 12:30 p.m. It will be held at the Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Center, located at 8475 S. Vermont Ave. (90044). You are asked to please RSVP here or call 213-978-1551 to confirm your participation.

For more information about the Empowerment Congress West, please click here.

  • Ubrayj02

    The mayors budget outreach is a stupid farce that needs to end. If this is how or why money is allocated in this city, no wonder we’re handing hundred million dollar paychecks and 0% interest loans to corporations and developers while ignoring the basic needs of our citizenry.

    Hire some damned professionals to survey Los Angeles not with a “budget survey” that has pre-baked conclusions about the city’s finances, but with a livability survey to check for how close the city is hewing to its charter mandates. Elections are one way citizens can let our leaders know how they are doing – but a survey of livability conditions would be an awesome tool for policy makers, reporters, and members of the public.

    How happy are people in an area? Do they have friends? Is their life peaceful or fraught with danger? Awful smells? Noise? Fear? Do they take part in civic life or belong to any non-profit groups?

    The “technology” we are collectively focused on right now is the least likely to help us in the future. We are focused on internet connections and online surveys when we should be focusing on the social ties and the human needs of people. Our ability to surmount the massive fiscal problems we have, to contract the borders of city services, and to do this while maintaining a high quality of life is dependent on our blocks and neighborhoods being made up of educated self sufficient units of residents.

    The mayors survey is a great tool that is being misused and abused by a bunch of community college dropouts. Their survey is a bunch of b.s. and the lot of them should be fired.

  • sahra

     I don’t necessarily disagree… a lot of the “outreach” tools are very poor at accomplishing their primary stated goal, which is outreach. And the extent to which the wider range of community concerns are incorporated into decision-making is questionable. I complained about this with LA/2B. It is a great idea in theory, but not likely to yield useful input from communities, especially those who don’t understand planning language or connect to the narrowness of the vision of streets and connections between communities they are being asked to support.

    The budget survey is tough, too, as it presents things as an either-or proposition. You can have fire services, but maybe not livable streets. Or livable streets but maybe not law enforcement, so you won’t be able to get out and be in your newly livable streets. It isn’t particularly holistic, in other words.

    For that reason, these forums can sometimes be of use — people can elaborate on the choices they would rather be presented with or the form in which they would like the choices they do have play out in their communities. Many might like funding for law enforcement to continue to be a priority, but I for one would prefer to see less law enforcement in the schools and more resources dedicated to training domestic violence response teams and community-building activities with youth instead of just more cars patrolling the streets and harassing poor youth.

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic — I sat in on a meeting on the Crenshaw Line and saw genuine communication between Metro reps and the community stakeholders happening yesterday. Learning happened — it was actually pretty amazing. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but it happened and I think it will help Metro in the area in the future.

    The system isn’t great — i definitely am in agreement with that — but sometimes you have to participate in it to begin to ask for the changes you would like to see in it. And South LA can’t afford to always be the voice left out of the mix.

  • Nate

     I agree that these surveys are frustrating, and as you mention Sahra, the same thing occurred with the LA/2B survey.  They need to be short, simple, and offer a clear sense of value trade-offs a person can relate to.

    I mean, I have no idea of whether “fire services” are a high or low priority for me.  And even if the question were presented as “would you accept cuts in fire services in exchange for increased funding of education?” – I still don’t know the correct answer to that question. 

    The scenario you bring up is a good one though- presenting people with a questions like, would you rather have an armed police officer in your child’s school or an extra mental health counselor on staff?  That one I can answer.  And these kinds of question could get at broadly held values people hold, instead of asking them to assess complex, often abstract government departments.   

  • Yvonne

    It’s easy to be cynical and believe nothing we say or do is ever going to make a difference.  I sit on my Neighborhood Council and, for weeks, have listened to one of the Budget Advocates explain the arduous process of creating the survey.  There were some very tired volunteers at the end of it.  These people came together, spent time with one another, brought their imaginations and their neighborhood experiences with them to come up with an, actually, pretty easy-to-use survey.  The survey taker had a choice of doing it in as little as a few minutes.  The taker also had the option of writing essays for every single question.  My Budget didn’t balance.  I wasn’t mad.  I felt wiser.

    We just had an election where 16% of the electorate turned out.  Of that 16%, the majority voted against the permanent 1/2 cent increase in the sales tax.  The majority of voters in South L.A. voted *for* the 1/2 cent increase.  The minority of responses for the Budget Survey are going to be from South LA.  So, is there a correlation between voters that continually go to the polls either un- or under-informed?

    Instead of rolling our eyes and ignoring another civic funtion, we should be throwing ourselves into any opportunity to give our opinions in the right forums.  Being vocal and active takes practice.  Hint:  that’s why West LA is so good at it.  We’ve got to start somewhere.  Why not on South Vermont Avenue this Saturday morning?

  • Ubrayj02

     To be vocal and active takes resources.

    Resources like: housing, food, and other necessities covered; excess labor to spend working on side projects like civic engagement; and, a population educated enough to communicate in standard methods of our civilization.

    You will find these resources in short supply in most of the LA neighborhoods that LA city government ignores.

  • Yvonne

    Therein lays the Catch 22.  People with fewer resources who need to be the most vocal aren’t because they don’t have enough resources to be vocal.  The people who need the most resources aren’t vocal so they are ‘ignored’.  What I’m finding is the City doesn’t go out of the way ignore issues; it works on the top or loudest issues first because everyone’s been laid off.  We cannot make one complaint (usually to the wrong outlet) then sit and wait.  And get mad or give up.
    What’s occurred over the decades is the leaders who came to the forefront to protect the huddled masses are gone.  The nature of those leaders was to protect.  Our leaders encouraged us to complain because they took those complaints and acted on them.  Unfortunately they didn’t teach the constituency.  Generations down the road, stakeholders have fewer resources than ever before.  Leaders seek great publicity or the next highest office.  It’s not a political system of ‘do’ because no one holds elected officials accountable.  Which takes being vocal.  But people with fewer resources who need to be the most vocal aren’t because…
    So, do stakeholders give up?  Do we accept civic ignorance or geography as fate?  No single mother working two jobs can be expected to attend one of the countless City meetings (although there are some single mothers that do).  Perhaps the one resource in shortest supply has become resourcefulness.

  • Nate


    I understand your frustration.  I think a lot of people work hard to engage the community, and it’s difficult when it doesn’t bear fruit.  But the results are what they are- that survey and the manner it was promoted didn’t work in South LA. 

    But I think the correct response is to go back to the drawing board and keep working on more creative, effective ways to engage the community.  It’s great to encourage people to come out on a Saturday morning to participate in this kind of activity, but I think more effort needs to be made to go out to the people and find them in their daily activities.  What works in other neighborhoods may not work here. 

    This isn’t cynicism.  I have hope that eventually new forms of outreach will do what we’ve always wanted and get more people involved.        

  • ubrayj02


    I think the poorer communities in LA need some demographic mixing to give them a proper voice in city hall. Concentrated poverty solves several problems for our political culture: it isolates the needs of the needy in a few districts (for city council); it allows for the creation of self-oppressing poor people. The more the city removes from these areas, for a time, the less the area seems to demand of them – remove any outlet for creative energy and the gang thing pops up. Sending in a goon squad of cops to suppress the poor is a classic technique used in cities around the world. Cops-only approaches ensure that the self-oppression continues, and the political class can continue to ignore providing services it ought to be.

    I think that what needs to happen in poorer areas is that the poverty and ignorance needs to broken up by a few middle and upper middle class households every block. The network effect of a little class mixing shifts the whole equation – the richer folks stop thinking of the problems of the poor as not worth caring about and the poorer folks have a group of people broadcasting “this is what ‘normal’ good people look like and do”.

    The city can facilitate this by focusing on cheap high return livability improvements. I think the city should start with commercial boulevards first and try and see what works best – focusing their improvements on turning over commercial property to new owners (taxed at modern-day property tax rates) and raising the number of building permits and business licenses being filed.

    I think that we have a civil government totally unable or unwilling to see what needs to be measured in order to address many of our most pressing problems. This survey is a symptom of a stupid system that has been making the same errors about financial matters for several generations now.

  • ubrayj02

    I don’t see the value in asking people to give their input into the operational specifics of LA budget. The city is a service provider and the people of the city need to have their needs mapped out and provided for. A survey that asks people what is happening in their lives and figuring out how the city can address those issues is much more effective than asking people whether or not pot of money A should go to project A, B, or C one hundred times as you go through a budget survey.

    This survey needs to be used to figure out WTF the city is actually doing with its money as it affects the lives of its citizens. A big team of sociologists and anthropologists should be contracted from a local university, with some grant funding and with some pHd.’s getting written each year the survey is being run, and this shit should get done.

    Money should be spent to have an online livability survey advertised on local TV and the results should be presented in a fun way – with analysis and criticism of the results and the process from the local press, blogs, etc.

    The budget survey should be a call to action for various causes in the city as they are reflected in what the citizens of the city say. Doing a proper survey isn’t some super mystery, unless you are trapped in the vortex of stupidity behind Mayor V’s efforts.

  • sahra

    Thanks, Yvonne. Part of the reason we write about these issues is to alert city hall to the fact that they aren’t reaching the community in the way they need to. Thankfully, there are those that do listen when they can. The problem is resources… Many of the offices within city hall are woefully under-resourced and under-staffed. The costs of doing the kind of door-knocking they need to do to get a better feel for community needs are well above what they plan for and, given that they don’t have much of a history of working deep in communities, they aren’t sure how to start or who to connect with outside the structure of the neighborhood councils. Even within city hall, the different departments are not always communicating or collaborating well with each other. It doesn’t mean that the goodwill to do so isn’t there. (And it doesn’t diminish the work of the neighborhood councils. I know ECWANDC is incredibly active and well-informed.) But things like the city’s efforts to gather data via a budget survey still aren’t enough…they know they are not reaching so much of the community and haven’t for years. Why strategies haven’t evolved to meet realities on the ground is still a mystery. It is the needs of those that struggle the most that really need to be heard BEFORE fiscal decisions are made, not after. People in the area do care about the state of their community, they just aren’t being reached.

    I’ll be at the hearing for the first hour or two that morning. I hope to see you there!


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