By Hunter Chase, Reporter
In less than one month, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council donated money to the Los Angeles Police Department and then called to defund it.
At its May 18 meeting, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council voted 14-3 to donate $5,000 to the Harbor Area Boosters Association Inc. for the purchase of all-terrain vehicles for use by the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Yet, at its June 15 meeting, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, its board passed a motion 14-0 supporting Los Angeles Council President Nury Martinez’s motion to cut between $100 million and $150 million from the LAPD’s budget.
The May 18 vote to donate money was to replace the Harbor Division’s current ATVs, which are 17 years old. They primarily are used to patrol parks and beaches. LAPD Sgt. Catherine Plows said they are beyond repair. Those ATVs were also purchased with the help of donations by neighborhood councils in the Harbor Area. The cost of four ATVs is $60,000. Mona Sutton, a representative of the Harbor Area Boosters and board chair of the Harbor Division Community-Police Advisory Board said the boosters had so far raised $36,000 dollars. The Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, Harbor City Neighborhood Council and Great Plains each donated $5,000 earlier in the year, Plows said. The Boosters have already bought one ATV for $15,000 but are waiting for the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners to accept the funds, as it is not currently in session.
On May 19, the day after Coastal SPNC donated $5,000, Councilman Joe Buscaino introduced a motion to the Los Angeles City Council to allocate $10,000 from the Harbor Division Police Assistance Trust Fund for the purchase of the ATVs. It passed 14-0.
The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council did not donate money toward the purchase of the ATVs, as was previously reported incorrectly. Ray Regalado, the group’s president, explained that the board had already spent its neighborhood purpose grant money before the Harbor Area Boosters asked.
As previously mentioned, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council approved a motion to cut the LAPD’s budget. Similarly, on June 16, the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council voted 7-2 with one abstention to ask for a $150 million reduction in the LAPD’s budget. Treasurer Linda Nutile and Board Member Linda Alexander voted no, and Vice President Lisa DeNiscia abstained.
When asked if he regretted donating money for the ATVs, Coastal SPNC President Doug Epperhart said he never looks back, and that it’s done.
He noted that the debate over the ATV donation prompted many people to point out the LAPD’s large budget and wonder why it wasn’t enough to pay for the vehicles.
“My confusion is that the neighborhood council gets something like $39,000 for their yearly budget and LAPD has the largest budget in the city,” said Coastal SPNC member Noel Gould during the May 18 meeting. “I’m wondering when LAPD has such a large budget for vehicles, and the neighborhood council has such a small budget for the things that we do, why is it the LAPD is coming to neighborhood councils for what amounts to something like 15% of our budget?”
Plows said that the Harbor Division uses vehicles that are close to being scrapped.
“We do not have the ability to continue to buy motor vehicles,” Plows said. “It never ends up in our annual budget.”
Harbor Division does not receive new vehicles unless its vehicles crash or are too old to be re-serviced, Plows said. Senior lead officers have had to advocate for more vehicles.
“I’m inclined to vote for supporting this, I do want to go on record as saying that I am absolutely flabbergasted to hear that LAPD doesn’t think that the ATVs are important enough to spend any of their own budget on it,” Gould said.
Gould pointed out that even if the seven neighborhood councils in the area covered by Harbor Division gave $5,000 each, the Harbor Area Boosters would still be short of its goal of $60,000.
Plows said she has been reaching out to other sources as well.
Sutton said that it is a shame that the City of Los Angeles does not see San Pedro and the Harbor Area as worthy of funding and that despite the Harbor Area’s parks and coastline areas, the city does not want to provide funding.
The city focuses more funding on Venice Beach, Sutton said. Sutton said it has been the practice of the LAPD to send four officers from Harbor Division to patrol Venice Beach during the summer. Sutton said this did not occur the past two summers, but that it took two years of her advocating for it to stop.
“Here’s the problem with a city the size of Los Angeles … if you go to Sylmar, they will tell you ‘we don’t have enough police, they’re underfunded,’” Epperhart said. “If you go to East LA, if you go to Atwater Village, if you go to Mt. Washington … they’re all going to say the same thing, ‘We don’t have enough cops.’”
Epperhart said this is not necessarily because of knowledge of the city budget or the way that policing works, but instead based on anecdotal evidence, such as a phone being stolen from a car and the cops not showing up.
“I find it very problematic to increase funding for the policing of communities especially depending on … who is receiving citations,” said Coastal SPNC board member Erika Hernandez at the May 18 meeting.
Hernandez asked what the officers on ATVs would be policing.
Plows said the officers on ATVs will issue tickets for loitering, drinking in public, illegally parked vehicles, and also deal with cases of open containers, narcotics and domestic violence.
The Harbor Area Boosters asked the Coastal SPNC for $5,000 in February, but the board did not approve the expenditure. One of the reasons was that some board members were concerned the ATVs would be used elsewhere.
Plows asserted that the ATVs are assigned to the Harbor Division, and will not be used by other divisions.
“In the entire 15 years I’ve been here, our vehicles have never left our division, other than to be repaired,” Plows said. “They would serve no purpose anywhere else.”
Sutton asked why a large group of stakeholders were needed to convince the Coastal SPNC to donate $5,000 when referring to the group of stakeholders who asked for the Coastal SPNC to donate the money in February. Sutton said that one stakeholder was frustrated by the council’s indecision and wrote a check for $5,000 for the ATVs.
The ATVs are the will of the community, Sutton said. She said that the residents of the Harbor Area want law and order and a safe neighborhood.
Central SPNC Treasurer Linda Nutile encouraged Coastal SPNC to pay for the ATVs at their May 18 meeting, since the previously funded ATVs lasted for 17 years.
Central SPNC President Carrie Scoville declined to comment on this story. Harbor City Neighborhood Council President Danielle Sandoval could not be reached for comment on this story.