“Giving real people real power over real money.” That’s  the slogan for the City of Los Angeles’ first participatory budgeting pilot program. The Los Angeles Reforms for Equity and Public Acknowledgement of Institutional Racism (L.A. REPAIR) is designed to empower nine communities with decision-making power to allocate approximately $8.5 million through a participatory process. 

A steering committee with representatives from each REPAIR Zone spent eight weeks designing the framework for the pilot program, including the rules that govern the process around engagement and where outreach needs to happen.

On Sept. 1, advisory committees from three REPAIR Zones – Boyle Heights; Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills; and Southeast LA. (which includes South LA areas east of the 110 freeway), gathered on Zoom to receive an overview of the process for soliciting participation and collecting ideas. 

Advisory committee members are responsible for going out into their community to educate and inform people on the participatory budgeting (PB) process and encourage them to submit their ideas for community improvement and initiatives that will meet a needs for the community.  

Committee members and local community-based organizations were encouraged to host in-person and virtual events, distribute flyers, attend public gatherings, canvass parks, festivals, grocery stores, farmers market and more to promote and publicize the PB program.

Members and residents of these three Zones can submit program or service-based ideas through an online portal at repair.lacity.org now through mid-October. 

“We have a pretty public budgeting process but oftentimes it feels like there isn’t a direct hand on guiding where some of those dollars go,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “By the time you get a good idea to us, we say, ‘Okay, maybe we’ll look at that in next year’s budget.’”    

“L.A. REPAIR is about taking down some of that hierarchy and making a real horizontal process that everybody can show up to. If you have a good idea and the power of the organizing [people] behind it, you will get the resources to be able to see that idea actually enacted,” the Mayor said.

Spurring community involvement

Elizabeth Rhodes, a medical case worker and Watts resident is on the advisory committee and attended the virtual meeting. She heard about the PB through a friend who knew she was looking for ways to get involved in her community.  

“I’ve never really felt like I’ve done a whole lot as far as being a part of some of the solutions that we need in this community,” said Rhodes. 

She participated in the work of the steering committee to create the PB framework and will also join one of the organizations which will canvas the community to spread the word and solicit ideas. Although Rhodes’ objective is to educate her community, she has a few of her own ideas on how to spend the $1.5 million allocated to Southeast Los Angeles.

“A cooling center, something to address homelessness, there’s so many things, but the main thing is the trash,” Rhodes said. “I’m just so over it. If we can incentivize our young people to pick up trash like folks pick up bottles and they put them in these recycling centers. We could actually do that for paper and give money. I think we might be able to get more people involved.”

Rhodes would also like to see mattresses and blankets removed from the alleys around Watts and dilapidated abandoned buildings painted and sealed off.

Rhodes has a simple message to others who would like to see change in their city and community.  

“As opposed to just standing on the sidelines and complaining, like I’ve done for so long . . . it’s not going to get better until you get out there and get involved and try and make it better and be a part of the solution,” she said. 

Seventeen-year old Audrey Landerous also attended the advisory committee meeting. She heard about PB through the office of Councilmember Curren Price where she has had a summer internship for the past two years. The high school senior at Alliance Collins High School in Huntington Park aspires to be the councilmember in District 9 and continue Price’s work in the future. She would like to see the Southeast L.A. funds go towards small organizations that provide public resources.

Landerous plans to frequent places like South Park and Gilbert Lindsay Park where there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the community. 

“No one, other than people in our community, is going to know what we need,” she said.

Following idea collection, nonprofits and other community-based organizations will have the opportunity to respond to submitted ideas by proposing programs and service-based projects. The community will be invited to vote for their favorite ideas in early 2023, and the ideas with the most votes will be funded by the city and implemented by a local community organization.

History of particpatory budgeting

PB started in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, as an anti-poverty measure that helped reduce child mortality by nearly 20%. Since then PB has spread to over 7,000 cities around the world, and has been used to decide budgets from states, counties, cities, housing authorities, schools, and other institutions.

PB came to the United States in 2009, when Chicago Alderman Joe Moore put $1 million of his discretionary funds into this participatory process. PB has grown to nearly 50 distinct programs across the United States. Cities like New York, Chicago and Oakland have all used some form of PB to shape their city budget.

PB in Los Angeles was established through Garcetti’s Justice Budget in 2021. The $8.5 million L.A. REPAIR PB program aims to address institutional racism and historic inequities by giving decision-making power over public funding directly to the residents and stakeholders of historically excluded communities.

The budget allocation to REPAIR Zones is part of the City’s $11.2 billion budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year approved on June 3, which also included an $87 million increase to the Los Angeles Police Department and $1 billion related to homelessness.

L.A. REPAIR is administered through the City’s Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department.  

The division was established in 2020 to address systemic racism and bias in the areas of commerce, education, employment and housing. Capri Maddox, former senior advisor to City Attorney Mike Feuer, is the L.A. Civil Rights executive director. 

Maddox has an established track record of working with issues of equity and underserved communities and constituencies.  

During her tenure in the City Attorney’s Office, she spearheaded the City Attorney Business Support Program; created the Foster Care Diversion Program; and organized the City Attorney Faith-Based Council. She also assisted LAUSD in acquiring over $43 million dollars in resources for students in need and led several equity-based initiatives.

Maddox said that although the Civil Rights Department will oversee the program, it will be created for and by the residents. “L.A. REPAIR PB offers an historic opportunity to make people-powered change in Los Angeles,” said Maddox. “For the first time, folks in underserved communities will be able to directly decide how city dollars are spent.”

David Price, director of Racial Equity, is leading the PB team, which also includes a program manager and coordinator.  Price was born and raised in South Los Angeles and is the youth minister at First African Episcopal Church (FAME).  He’s partial to ideas that address the educational and extracurricular needs of students and young people.

“This is our moment. This is our opportunity.  This is the very thing that we’ve been asking for,” said Price. “While it’s not as much money as we all would hope it to be, I think this is just the very beginning of where we can go.  We have to demonstrate that we are eager for these types of programs to be implemented and for our voices to be heard.”

Price said his vision of success for the program would be a minimum of nine funded programs inspired by residents. He would like for residents to feel heard and engaged and that the process considered their thoughts in a legitimate and authentic way. Because this is a pilot program and Los Angeles is implementing it for the first time, Price also deems success as residents making it clear that the city needs to keep funding the program for the foreseeable future.

Six more REPAIR Zones will start the PB process in 2023, including Arleta-Pacoima; Skid Row; South Los Angeles; West Adams-Baldwin Village-Leimert Park; Westlake; and Wilmington-Harbor Gateway. For more information on the REPAIR Zone process or to submit an idea, visit https://repair.lacity.org.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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