San Leandro: Council reinstates homeless task force previously cut from police budget

A narrow vote last month by the San Leandro City Council to pursue $1.7 million in cuts to its police department, in part, through the elimination of its lauded homeless task force, led to what some councilmembers deemed “buyer’s remorse” by colleagues who successfully moved to reinstate the program last week.

San Leandro beat“I don’t want to completely cancel out this program and leave this group of people without services while we take our time to do other things,” San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter said. A sense of regret following the vote last month to cut a homeless task force provided by San Leandro police officers led her to pursue reinstatement of the program, Cutter added.

Several of the councilmembers who supported the previous cuts also voiced similar regret, as did City Manager Jeff Kay, who sought changes to maintain the $1.7 million in cuts to the police department approved by the council, but with different line items from the city budget.

Kay told the council he worried about a roughly $800,000 cut of two police officers for the homeless task force at a time when the recession, the pandemic, and a pre-existing housing in homeless problem in the city  and region.

The council agreed to restore the homeless task force, known as the San Leandro Housing Compact, and replace with $431,000 reduction in police overtime, along with a lieutenant and sergeant position. and still maintain $1.7 million cut.

The cuts amount to about a four percent reduction in city’s police budget. “It hurts. They will feel it. We will all feel it,” Kay said. “But it’s not out of step with, quite frankly, what we’ve asked multiple department’s to do. That’s sort of our world right now.”

The mayor’s about-face on the homeless task force cut led the three councilmembers who voted against the cut two weeks prior on the grounds they were made without enough deliberation, along with a belief the proposal did not satisfy the public’s demand for further cuts to the department.

Lopez warned against making a “knee-jerk” reaction at such a late hour. She labeled Cutter and Councilmember Benny Lee as having “buyer’s remorse” for their prior vote on the issue. Lopez, Hernandez, and Aguilar, Jr. voted against the proposal.

“We can’t cut positions that help the community, especially our most vulnerable population,” Hernandez said of the homeless task force.

Exactly which parts of the city budget will benefit from cuts to the police department’s budget remain undetermined. The city plans to create a budget task force this week. In the meantime, a number of possibilities, include using the extra funding to create a homeless navigation center as many other East Bay cities have done recently.

Expanding library hours and services is another preliminary option. Or the council could simply return the budget savings to the general fund, Kay said, an option that could help stave off further budget cuts in the future as the recession continues on.