LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia audits Inside Safe program, issues dire warning

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Saturday, April 6, 2024
LA City Controller audits Inside Safe program, issues dire warning
We spoke one-on-on with L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia about the city's finances and the Inside Safe program.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The city of Los Angeles is doing an audit on its Inside Safe program after the management of funds to tackle homelessness came into question by a group of community members.

But the chief financial officer for the city, Controller Kenneth Mejia, says the city has bigger financial problems.

"It's fair to say that the city of L.A. should be worried about our financial health. It's not looking good and the people of Los Angeles will suffer based on decisions that City Hall makes," said Mejia.

According to the city administrative officer, Los Angeles has a projected budget deficit of $476 million dollars, which is made up of $289 million in overspending and $187 million in less than expected revenues. The overspending occurred in three departments: police and fire - mainly because of staffing issues and overtime - and in liability claims.

"We're not in a recession. This is not COVID. This is a budget deficit that we made here in City Hall," said Mejia.

A federal judge expressed frustration over what he described Los Angeles County officials' lack of transparency over the county's homeless efforts.

As the city figures out how to address the deficit, some have floated the idea of eliminating vacant positions. According to the city controller, one out of every six city jobs are unfilled.

Mayor Karen Bass has made filling open positions a top priority, and her office has made progress hiring 3,000 people since she took office.

Mejia says he's against eliminating 2,000 vacant positions to save money.

"It's not like these positions have been vacant for many years. They haven't. All these departments have been trying to fill these positions. A few months ago, we were talking about 'We need to fill these vacant positions. Come on, join the city.' And now, we're like 'Oh wait. We need to hold back because we're overspending on police, liability claims, on fire.' Now, we have to cut other positions in other departments in order to cover that overspending," said Mejia.

In a statement, the mayor's office said they remain "focused on the work that has resulted in thousands more Angelenos coming inside last year than the previous year, a record number of LAPD applications, and finalizing a budget in partnership with our city department heads that will be balanced and protect services for Angelenos."

Inside Safe is now part of an audit ordered by federal Judge David O. Carter of all homelessness assistance programs funded or conducted by the city of Los Angeles.

Even though an independent federal audit is underway of Mayor Bass' Inside Safe program, a major part of her homeless efforts, Mejia is conducting his own audit of the program.

"Inside Safe is a program that uses a substantial amount of money. Constituents have been calling to see more transparency on the program. These outside contractors are way more expensive. For this specific audit, we're only using two auditors because our audit teams are usually 2-3 people, and this is something the taxpayers already pay for," said Mejia.

Mayor Bass has until April 22 to release her budget for next year, which is when we'll learn specifically how the city plans to address the deficit.