Residents who are 15 years and older who live, study or work in Boyle Heights, Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills, and Southeast LA will have until April 30 to vote on how an estimated $3 million of the Los Angeles city budget will be spent to benefit their communities.
The revenue comes from Los Angeles Reforms for Equity and Public Acknowledgement of Institutional Racism, also known as L.A. REPAIR, the city’s first and California’s largest participatory budgeting program.
L.A. REPAIR program and REPAIR Zones
As CALÒ NEWS initially reported in March, the L.A. REPAIR program will be distributing a total of about $8.5 million directly to nine L.A. City neighborhoods, called REPAIR Zones. The program, created by the Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department (LA Civil Rights) has one main goal: to create physical spaces and public programming centered on environmental, social and economic healing for these under-served communities, which are made up of mostly Latino and Black working-class families.
Boyle Heights, Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills, and Southeast LA are all part of these REPAIR Zones and will be the first zones to step into the participatory budgeting process.
On April 1, city and community leaders held a press conference and kickoff voting event at the Children’s Institute Watts Campus. Community members from the three REPAIR ZONES (Southeast LA, Boyle Heights, and Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills) were able to cast their vote in person on the program proposals.
“For the first time, historically marginalized people in Los Angeles are deciding how city dollars are spent, giving them the power to address long-standing issues in their communities,” said LA Civil Rights Department Executive Director Capri Maddox at the press conference. “This is just one way LA Civil Rights is addressing a legacy of institutional racism and discrimination in Los Angeles.”
The Proposal Process
The proposals originated from the “idea collection” phase when, in the Fall, community members shared hundreds of ideas on what programs they wanted to see in their communities. After that, the L.A. REPAIR Advisory Committees for each zone (made up of volunteers from the community) sorted and summarized the most common ideas into program concepts. What followed was community-based nonprofits submitting proposals that address the community needs and program ideas contained in the program concepts. Proposals were reviewed. Those that met the evaluation criteria are on the ballot. The winning proposals will be decided by a ranked-choice vote.
After the voting closes at the end of the month, the “implement fund and programs” phase will follow, which will consist of city officials funding the program that obtained the most votes and monitoring the implementation of programs. The winning proposals will be decided by a ranked-choice vote.
According to an LA Civil Rights report, all the REPAIR zones have populations that are at least 87% people of color and represent more than half of all Angelenos living in poverty.
Participatory budgeting is about “giving real people real power over real money,” as stated on the LA Civil Rights website. Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend public monies.
Michael Cusack, the project manager of the LA Civil Rights’ Participatory Budget Project, said that participatory budgets have been used since 1989. Since then, the community-led budgeting process has been implemented in New York City, Oakland and thousands of other cities worldwide. “Participatory Budgets are so young in the United States,” Cusack said, “but it’s building rich democratic cultures in cities across the country like the city of LA.”
On the voting ballot, Boyle Heights, Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills, and Southeast LA residents, workers and students will select three proposals they would like the city to fund, and rank them in order of preference.
The Boyle Heights REPAIR Zone and the Mission Hills–Panorama City–North Hills REPAIR ZONE both have $775,000 available for up to three proposals to be funded by the City of LA. The Southeast LA REPAIR Zone has $1.5+ million available for up to six proposals to be funded.
Council member Hugo Soto-Martínez was also present at the March 31st press conference. He represents District 13, which includes neighborhoods like Silver Lake, Echo Park and Westlake. “I remember growing up in South Central, coming to Watts and always having the feeling that the government was not there for us,” Soto-Martínez said. “They did not represent us, they did not know our values, our issues,” he said. “This is amazing, that we are going to decide how this money is spent.”
Proposals in the different communities
“Nature-Based Solutions in Boyle Heights” is the title of one of the proposals for the Boyle Heights REPAIR Zone. The project would ultimately install a community garden with rainwater capture infrastructure in the Lorena Terrace vacant lot.
In addition, this project would create a place where tenants of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) could raise, buy and sell fresh produce. Urban gardening, healthy foods and water efficiency workshops will also be offered with this program.
The budget for this proposal is $477,897, according to the official voting guide.
The Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills REPAIR Zone has a proposal titled “Street-Based Housing Navigation Services for People Experiencing Homelessness.” This program would provide street-based outreach and housing navigation services to approximately 150 unsheltered people living within the REPAIR Zone.
This program is looking to reduce unsheltered homelessness in the region by dedicating resources to unhoused individuals and moving people directly from the street into permanent affordable housing. The budget for this proposal is $500,000.
Southeast LA REPAIR Zone has “Clean Tap Water Now” as one of the proposed programs. This pipe retrofitting pilot program will directly combat clean water insecurity and access within the Watts community.
Many older homes in Watts have outdated plumbing systems that result in undrinkable and unusable water for residents, as stated in the voter’s guide. This pilot program looks to hire local plumbers and contractors to retrofit aged and degraded pipes. The budget for this proposal is $500,000, making it the most expensive program among all three REPAIR Zones proposals.
The results of the voting will be announced by the end of May. Then, the mayor and city council will review the results and approve funding. After that, the LA Civil Rights Department will work with the selected community-based nonprofits to launch their programs as soon as August.
Soto-Martínez said that he hopes this participatory budget process serves as a model for what city government should look like. “It is the community that is closest to the problem that knows the solutions. This is the beginning of a beautiful thing,” he said.
Following the vote in the first three zones, the participatory budgeting process will begin in the next six REPAIR Zones: Arleta-Pacoima, Skid Row, South LA, Westlake, West Adams-Leimert Park-Baldwin Village, Wilmington + Harbor Gateway Zones. Anyone who lives, works, studies, or is the guardian of a student in the Boyle Heights, Mission Hills-Panorama City-North Hills, and Southeast LA REPAIR Zones can vote for their favorite proposal at repair.lacity.org.