The San Diego City Council created a new Office of Race and Equity late Monday as it adopted a budget that cut the city’s general fund by nearly 10 percent during a tumultuous time in city history.
The Council’s vote came after nearly 12 hours of public comment, the overwhelming majority calling in to urge the city to cut $100 million from the San Diego Police Department’s nearly $600 million budget, a sudden show of support for the “Defund the Police” movement that has emerged since police brutality protests broke out in San Diego and across the country following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
The Council did not seriously contemplate that request. It did maintain core city services – areas like library hours, tree trimming and pothole filling – beyond what Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed in his budget.
And while the Council did not explore a significant cut – or any cut, even – to SDPD’s budget, it did find funding for two new areas that Council members said could address concerns about systemic racism in the city.
Councilwoman Monica Montgomery championed the idea of an Office of Race and Equity, a new group in the city that could work among departments to address structural inequality. It would also control a $3 million fund that it could invest in communities or use to partner with nonprofit groups working in racial justice. The Council funded it with a small cut to expected contracts for outside firms next year.
And Council President Georgette Gómez put forward the idea for a new, $1.5 million outreach program to help homeless people not through law enforcement but through “compassionate care,” as Gómez said. It was funded through a cut to the city’s automobile needs.
The Council’s budget also included $15 million in rental relief for residents directly impacted by COVID-19.
The Council approved the budget on an 8-1 vote. Councilman Chris Ward was the lone no vote. He tweeted afterward that he voted against the budget because it didn’t allocate enough for rental or small business assistance.
But the nearly 12 hours of public comment was driven overwhelmingly by over 450 public commenters who requested a $100 million cut to the police budget. No one on the Council took up the request – or proposed any cut to the SDPD budget at all. SDPD accounted for 37 percent of general fund spending in the budget, up from 34 percent last year. The demanded cut would have brought SDPD spending to 33 percent of the city’s general fund.
Montgomery, though, told those callers she was sympathetic to their request and open to reconsidering SDPD’s role in the city.
“I do want everyone to know that I really do believe that we need to look at the way we provide public safety,” she said. “I think our officers are charged to do too many things and over the long term we need to look at reallocation, and allowing officers to do what they were originally charged to do. There are examples across the nation. But I really want to see what that looks like and have a plan for it.”