How Has Ryu Been Spending His “Slush Fund” Money?
Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu spent approximately $860,000 of his discretionary funds in fiscal year 2016-2017, according to an analysis of public records by the Ledger.
Ryu spent just under $730,000 of his discretionary funds on his own, while another $130,000 was recommended for funding by his so-called “Discretionary Funds Task Force,” a nine-member, hand-selected committee of community members created by Ryu after his election in 2015 to help prioritize discretionary spending and to ensure oversight and transparency.
Each of the city’s 15 councilmembers receives about $1.5 million annually from a handful of revenue streams that can be spent at their discretion, therefore known as discretionary funds but often colloquially referred to as “slush funds.”
These funds come from, for example, the city’s “Street Furniture Fund,” income the city receives from ads placed on transit shelters and bus benches and from AB1290, property taxes paid by homeowners to help curb blight. The funds are earmarked, generally, for infrastructure improvements and other community services.
Ryu created a committee to make recommendations for such spending after it was revealed his predecessor, Tom LaBonge, had used $1.6 million in discretionary funds from 2006 to 2015 to increase his payroll.
During the campaign to replace LaBonge, who left office due to term-limits, Ryu campaigned, in part, on a promise of transparency regarding discretionary spending.
When the discretionary task force was formed, it was believed it would review and make recommendations for all of Ryu’s discretionary spending.
But as previously reported, because the committee only meets six times a year, Ryu makes his own decisions on spending discretionary funds in between the committee’s meeting dates.
Of Ryu’s own spending last year, traffic and police enforcement to manage a growing influx of tourists and hikers seeking to get near the Hollywood Sign had a high price tag at $95,000.
Other large discretionary expenditures by Ryu were $200,000 for street maintenance and curb and sidewalk improvements throughout the council district; $100,000 for a traffic study around Griffith Park; nearly $80,000 for traffic management for several locations on Ventura Boulevard; $70,000 to install guardrails at Lake Hollywood Park and $55,000 for tree trimming in Windsor Square and Sherman Oaks.
Ryu’s Discretionary Task Force approved all but three requests for funds during fiscal year 2016-2017, denying a request of $80,000 to assist the Los Angeles Police Vice Patrol to combat prostitution on Western Avenue; a $10,000 request for training for the Streetlights Production Assistant Program, to help create careers for socially disadvantaged young adults in the entertainment industry; and $5,000 from the since defunct East Hollywood Visitor’s Assoc. for start-up costs to attract tourism to the communities of Los Feliz, Silver Lake and East Hollywood.
The committee did approve 15 other requests, including $25,000 for the Friends of the Griffith Observatory to help fund its school field trip program and $40,000 for construction and maintenance of two medians on Highland Avenue — which falls in both CD4 and Council District 13 — contingent on the receipt of matching funds from Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell who oversees Council District 13.