After a week-long campaign advocating for San Luis Obispo to decrease its future police budget, Cal Poly Students for Quality Education (SQE), along with 25 other local organizations, were unsuccessful as the city council unanimously voted June 1 to approve their 2021-2023 financial plan.

The two year financial plan allocates approximately 25% of the city’s annual operating budget to police. This is the highest percentage of money in the city’s budget, with public works and fire trailing behind.

The police budget is increasing from the 2019-2021 operating budget. However, it is a slightly smaller percentage than before with a roughly 1% decrease.

In the police’s budget, 94% is for staffing, with the rest covers contract services and other operating costs equally.

San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) is adding an additional social worker to their Community Action Team (CAT). This team “identifies problems and crime trends that negatively impact the quality of life for residents, business owners and visitors” in San Luis Obispo, according to the city’s website.

SLOPD currently has one social worker, but City Manager Derek Johnson said during the meeting that their caseload “far exceeds a manageable caseload.”

Many community members, including electrical engineering senior and SQE member Alejandro Bupara, spoke during public comment to express dissatisfaction with the implementation of an additional social worker. Bupara said that social workers and community response teams should be independent from the police department.

“More calls for services shouldn’t mean more police when police don’t keep us safe,” Bupara said during public comment.

In an Instagram post, SQE said that the city’s financial plan is “full of more investment in something the people have been clear that we don’t want to see.” This is referencing the movement to defund the police.

The post compares the police budget of $39 million over the next two years to the $2 million spent on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Major City Goal during that same time frame.

SQE’s campaign included a remote town hall hosted by Abolitionist Action Central Coast/San Luis Obispo (AACCS) to provide a space for people to ask questions about the city’s budget, fill out their action toolkit and practice giving public comment at the June 1 city council meeting.

The action toolkit included multiple options for people to advocate against the city’s budget, including sending emails, calling the council and signing their name onto the demands.

The group used social media to continue to advocate for police defunding.

“We’ve been consistent: we need DIVESTMENT from police, and we need INVESTMENT in rent & other expense relief and very-low-income housing!” an Instagram caption read.

SQE has also been firm on the continued existence of policing in San Luis Obispo City.

“We wanted to make sure that those changes were coming from an abolitionist lens, rather than a reformist lens,” Bupara said.

Proponents of police abolition advocate for the policing system to be ended and resources shifted into the community. Reformists advocate for a change in how the policing system operates.

Bupara explained that many students organizing against an increase in the police budget have a personal stake in the matter. 

“Cal Poly Students for Quality Education and AACS come from a background that is directly affected by policing,” Bupara said. “[They are from] heavily criminalized communities of color.”

SQE believes defunding the police by partly lowering the number of police staff can begin the city down the path of abolition. They will also release an itemized breakdown of the budget and specify where funds can be reallocated away from the police.

The organization called for $5 million to be divested from police and invested in establishing very low income housing.

Johnson said during the meeting that the council doesn’t provide funding for affordable housing units directly, but they can incentivize developers to incorporate affordable housing through policy signals. He said housing is expensive mostly due to the cost of land.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that all money the city budgets for housing is directed at affordable housing and subsidizing the construction of affordable housing.

“The tricky part is if you say to a developer ‘You have to build 70% of your development to be affordable,’ because that’s what we want, they won’t build it at all,” City Council member Carlyn Christianson said during the meeting. “When you make your inclusionary housing policy, you want to incentivize the development of affordable units but you don’t want to make it so unprofitable for the developer that the say ‘Why bother building housing here, I’ll go build it in Paso Robles.’”

Earlier in the meeting, Johnson said the city “can do anything, [they] just can’t do everything.” Christianson echoed in regards to affordable housing policies fixing the city’s housing issue.

“There are some things we can make a good stab at,” Christianson said during the meeting. “We can’t actually solve a lot of the things that we are working on, but we really are, as you noted, making huge strides in terms of government terms.”

AACCS will be hosting a protest today, June 4, to continue demanding for “a budget we deserve.” The protest will be at Cheng Park starting at 5:30 p.m. Masks and social distancing is required.

“We will not let them ignore a whole summer of protests!” AACCS wrote in an Instagram post.

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