Political relations between the U.S. and Mexico may be fractious, but cultural institutions on both sides of the border continue to connect with each other in interesting ways — and the California Institute of the Arts, as part of its Latin American Initiative, wants to improve the connections further.

The art school, based in Valencia, has teamed up with the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, to organize the MXLA Creative Economy Forum, a two-day summit set to take place next week at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles. It is to explore cultural exchange between Mexico City and L.A.

“There is much moving back and forth across the border,” said former CalArts president Steven Lavine, who helped organize the forum. “In light of the anti-Mexican rhetoric, my hope is to make more visible the huge scale of what is going on.”

“If you take the top filmmakers in Hollywood, you end up with Mexican filmmakers like [Alfonso] Cuarón, [Alejandro] Iñarritu and [Guillermo] Del Toro,” Lavine added. “There is a long history of connection between the film industry in Mexico and the United States.”

Fashion designer Carla Fernandez, deejay Camilo Lara, Museo Jumex chief curator Julieta Gonzalez, artist Eduardo Abaroa and filmmaker Jonás Cuarón (son of Alfonso Cuarón, of “Gravity” fame) are some of the noted Mexican cultural figures set to speak at MXLA..

Participating from the U.S. side will be Tomas Cookman, the founder and CEO of Latin indie label Nacional Records, Sony Pictures Chairman Tom Rothman, former MOCA curator Alma Ruiz, author and MacArthur Fellow Josh Kun and artist Harry Gamboa.

And there will be figures who straddle the border, such as artist Ruben Ortiz-Torres, a CalArts alum who was born in Mexico and is now based in Southern California.

The hope is that in connecting people from disparate areas of culture, there can be an opportunity to find new ways to cross-pollinate and perhaps pool resources.

Nacional’s Cookman, Lavine noted, has been adept at bringing together small record labels and indie artists in ways that allow them to work independently while sharing distribution and other commercial infrastructure. Perhaps there is an element in that model that could be employed by book publishing, for example.

“A lot of culture turns on distribution, how stuff gets where it needs to go,” Lavine said. “One of the questions we want to address is how can you make processes of distribution function better?”

“The government looks at the big-ticket items, but some of that might stifle culture in the process.”

By putting everyone together in a single room, Lavine is hoping to spur some of those conversations — and perhaps some new relationships.

But it won’t all be talk. In addition to the various speakers, a special, surprise performance is also scheduled.


MXLA Creative Economy Forum

When: June 26, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and June 27, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown Los Angeles

Admission: Free with RSVP

Info: mxla2017.calarts.edu and redcat.org

Sign up for our weekly Essential Arts & Culture newsletter »

carolina.miranda@latimes.com

@cmonstah

ALSO

As Trump aims to build a wall, Los Angeles architecture school SCI-Arc builds bridges to Mexico

Mexico City’s art scene is booming, but even with deep roots, political uncertainty keeps it fragile

The naked guy at graduation is just one of Steven Lavine’s memories from 29 years of running CalArts



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It is a good time to be eating Southern food in Southern California. Los Angeles, of course, has long had Southern fare, but there’s been a particular interest in the region’s food of late, from the “redneck” platter at Manuela to the temples of hot fried chicken at Hotville Chicken and Howlin’ Ray’s to the Vietnamese-Cajun seafood boils that dot Little Saigon strip malls. If this current popularity of Southern food in L.A. has piqued your interest in the complex history underlying this region’s cuisine, then you’d do very well to pick up John T. Edge’s “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South,” which was published in May.

Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and has written or edited more than a dozen books. In “The Potlikker Papers,” he focuses his lens on telling a history of Southern food (the title itself references the seasoned liquid left in a pot after greens have been boiled). He starts in 1955 with Georgia Gilmore, whose home kitchen was a stop for organizers during the civil rights movement, and ends in 2015 with a chapter about the region’s changing demographics. Recently, we spoke with Edge about his new book, the stories told and sold about the South and ways to think about the Southern influence in L.A. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)

MORE: Our cookbook selection »


Tell us about the genesis of “The Potlikker Papers.”

I initially thought I was going to write a book that was the post-Civil War South. [But] I recognized along the way that I’m definitively disinterested in the Civil War, and that the South I embrace, love and am also angry with begins to take shape as the civil rights movement comes into focus. And if you think about one of the propulsive moments of the movement, you come to the Montgomery bus boycotts.

In my research, I realized Georgia Gilmore could be a propulsive force in my book. And the best way I could pronounce what I intended was by opening my book with her. [Following the history to 2015] gave me a 60-year span, which is a neat, somewhat manageable span of time.

“The Potlikker Papers” by John T. Edge. (Penguin Press)

You’ve characterized this book as a people’s history of the South.

For much of the South’s history, Southerners and those outside the region tended to dismiss or denigrate people of color and women. Here I sit, a white man saying that with as much clear-eyed vigor as I can manage.

I think if you’re going to grapple with, and ultimately understand, how Southern food, the South and ultimately how America evolved over 60 years, then you’re going to gravitate toward the stories of people of color and women. Certainly, I’m not telling new stories. These characters are known to smart folk. I’m hopefully framing their stories in new ways.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVSUjkCg6eU/?taken-by=johntedge

America’s relationship to food is maturing. It’s not just pleasure or sustenance; it is a totem of identity.

— John T. Edge

While working on this book, was your focus influenced by the larger political climate?

Yeah, I’m writing in a moment wherein I recognize that America’s relationship to food is maturing. It’s not just pleasure or sustenance; it is a totem of identity.

I feel like this book shows up at a good time, not only because Americans are involved in conversations about appropriation and identity but also because it shows up as other smart books are stepping into the conversation. That’s what you want as a writer. You don’t want to speak into a void.

You dedicate your book to Jessica B. Harris.

When I first got interested in thinking and writing about food culture, I read Jessica’s work. Over a career of 40 years, she has become one of the primary researchers and interpreters of African American food culture. For a white son of the South who wants to apprehend his place, one of the things I was deeply interested in was getting a good handle on the import of African American food culture, in the South and beyond.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BP2-t1LD-j4/?taken-by=johntedge

Do you have a sense of your place now?

I’m still struggling. I live in such a complicated place, a place long misunderstood by those outside and inside the region. It is a region wrapped in a caul of sentimentality, romance, mythos and lies; untangling that thicket is not so much a lifetime of work, it’s a generation.

I see the South limited by previous stories told about this place. I am determined to offer narratives for a South that might finally realize its democratic potentials.

L.A. restaurants have a history of trafficking in antebellum nostalgia, from the ’30s plantation-themed restaurants to the Ladies Gunboat Society, which opened in 2014 and was named after the women’s clubs that raised funds to build Confederate warships during the Civil War. How do you contextualize the South as being a more dynamic place than stories sold about it?

It depends on which story of the South you’re telling. Think about Vietnamese Cajun crawfish, which is a Gulf export interpreted in L.A. today. To me, what success looks like is connecting those two. Yes, there is the Gunboat Society kind of depiction of the South, and I’m not maligning that.

I ask, though, what when we consider interpretations of the South, we also consider Vietnamese American interpretation of Cajun Gulf Coast foodways as a part of the Southern dynamic in L.A. Those interpretations [alter] the conversation about who’s appropriating whom and who’s in power. It’s confoundingly beautiful.

food@latimes.com

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At Manuela in DTLA, Jonathan Gold enjoys a ‘Redneck’ platter surrounded by fine art

Lucques’ Caroline Styne talks about the restaurant labor crisis and how it will affect your dinner bill



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President Obama has been out of office only a few months. But he might have both a street and an L.A. freeway named after him soon.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has proposed renaming Rodeo Road in southwest L.A. “Obama Boulevard” in honor of the president. Wesson noted that Obama held a campaign rally at Rancho Cienega Park on Rodeo Road when running for president and that the area already has streets named after presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Adams).

In May, a plan to name a stretch of the 134 Freeway after Obama moved forward with approval from the state Senate. The freeway is not far from Occidental College in Eagle Rock, which Obama attended.

In California alone, several schools have been named after Obama. And in the Monterey Bay town of Seaside, city leaders designated a key street Obama Way.

Rodeo Road is a major street that runs from near the Culver City border east to Mid-City. It’s sometimes confused by newcomers with the more upscale Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Rodeo Road is not far from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. That used to be Santa Barbara Avenue until the city changed the name three decades ago.



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President Obama has been out of office only a few months. But he might have both a street and an L.A. freeway named after him soon.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has proposed renaming Rodeo Road in southwest L.A. “Obama Boulevard” in honor of the president. Wesson noted that Obama held a campaign rally at Rancho Cienega Park on Rodeo Road when running for president and that the area already has streets named after presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Adams).

In May, a plan to name a stretch of the 134 Freeway after Obama moved forward this week with approval from the state Senate. The freeway is not far from Occidental College in Eagle Rock, which Obama attended.

In California alone, several schools have been named after Obama. And in the Monterey Bay town of Seaside, city leaders designated a key street Obama Way.

Rodeo Road is a major street that runs from near the Culver City border east to Mid-City. It’s sometimes confused by newcomers with the more upscale Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Rodeo Road is not far from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. That used to be Santa Barbara Avenue until the city changed the name three decades ago.



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A judge threw out key parts of a defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit on Wednesday brought against the Los Angeles Times by freelance cartoonist Ted Rall.

The nationally syndicated cartoonist, whose work once appeared regularly in The Times, filed suit last year alleging that the newspaper defamed him by calling into question the veracity of his work.

Acting on a motion by The Times, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin dismissed Rall’s claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against three current Times journalists and former Publisher Austin Beutner.

The case stemmed from a May 11, 2015, blog post written by Rall and published alongside one of his cartoons on The Times’ OpinionLA blog. In the piece, Rall criticized a Los Angeles Police Department crackdown on jaywalking and recounted his experience being ticketed for the offense in 2001.

“This one is personal,” Rall wrote, saying a police officer had pushed him against a wall and thrown his driver’s license into the sewer during the encounter. Rall wrote that “a couple of dozen passersby” gathered to shout at the officer.

The LAPD disputed Rall’s account.

In a July 28, 2015, note to readers, Nicholas Goldberg, editor of The Times’ editorial pages, said LAPD records, including Rall’s written complaint from 2001 and the officer’s audiotape of the encounter, “raise serious questions about the accuracy” of Rall’s post.

There was no evidence of shouting onlookers, Goldberg wrote, and the tape depicted “a polite interaction.”

“Rall’s future work will not appear in The Times,” Goldberg wrote.

In his lawsuit, Rall challenged The Times’ account and questioned the authenticity of the audio recording.



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In summer 2007, the Los Angeles County median home price hit an all-time high of $550,000. It soon plunged as the housing bubble burst and the national economy crashed.

Now the median, the point where half the homes sold for more and half for less, has finally passed the heights of 10 years ago — the result of an improving economy, historically low mortgage rates and a shortage of listings.

According to a report released Wednesday from real estate firm CoreLogic, the county’s median price in May rose 6.8% from a year earlier to reach $560,500 as sales jumped 4.8%.

The milestone comes fives years after prices bottomed out and amid fresh concerns over the high cost of housing in California and urban centers across the nation.

Real estate agents said many buyers are convinced values will only continue to climb for the foreseeable future — a dynamic causing them to be more aggressive.

“They want to get in now before they lose out,” said Hooman Zahedi, a real estate agent with Redfin, who specializes in the San Fernando Valley.

In recent months, Zahedi said he started penning cover letters on behalf of clients and attaching their family pictures, hoping to pull at the heartstrings of sellers who are weighing multiple offers.

High rents and a fear of rising mortgage rates are other factors leading to packed open houses, said South Bay real estate agent Barry Sulpor.

His $975,000 listing for a three-bedroom in north Redondo Beach was “standing room only” last weekend, he said.

“I am finding no letup.”

Still, many experts say today’s price increases appear more sustainable than those a decade ago.

A steadily improving economy — not risky loans — is driving demand now, they say. And with few homes on the market, especially in California with its persistent housing shortage, prices are rising as expected.

“We just don’t build enough housing,” said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist with the California Assn. of Realtors.

Even so, for potential buyers who can scrap together a down payment and get a loan, rock-bottom interest rates mean monthly payments are actually cheaper than during the height of the bubble, according to the Realtors group.

And adjusted for inflation, May’s median remains 11% below the 2007 high, CoreLogic said.

That of course is little comfort to many families wanting to purchase a home.

Only 29% of L.A. County households could reasonably afford the median-priced house in the first quarter, up from 28% in the fourth quarter, though down from 31% a year earlier, a report from the Realtors group shows.

That forces many Southern California buyers to stretch their budgets.

A report released last week from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found nearly 36% of Los Angeles and Orange county homeowners in 2015 spent more than 30% of their income on housing, the threshold at which costs are usually deemed to become a burden.

Nearly 17% spent more than half their income. Nationwide, only 10.2% of owners spent that.

Zahedi, the San Fernando Valley agent, said some of his clients are spending more than what they initially felt comfortable with, while others are purchasing homes in cheaper neighborhoods they initially looked over.

Either way, he estimates around three-quarters of his buyers spend 40% of their income on housing costs.

Other people are likely just giving up, Zahedi said, noting he’s seeing homes typically get three to five offers, rather than five to 15 a few months ago.

Marc Tahler, another agent in the San Fernando Valley, said demand is white-hot in the middle of the market, but once you get above $1.3 million, some buyers are “pushing back.”

“On certain properties, they can’t believe it’s back up to where you were,” he said. “It’s like ‘I am not spending $1.3 million on this.’”

In the wealthy beach cities of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo, buyers are forging ahead, convinced if they back out now, “it will only be tougher,” according to Sulpor, the South Bay agent.

“They can just look at the numbers, and lo and behold, home values just keep appreciating.”

Even if the economy keep’s chugging along as it is, something will eventually give, economist Appleton-Young said.

“The share of income people can spend on mortgage payments is not indefinite,” she said. “This can’t last forever.”

andrew.khouri@latimes.com

Twitter: @khouriandrew



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Dozens of animals had to be rescued after a fire broke out in the middle of the night in a South L.A. pet shop on Wednesday, fire officials said.

Video from the scene in the 4700 block of South Broadway showed dozens of firefighters moving quickly in and out of the burning building carrying bird cages and glass containers with mice, rats and other rodents.

The blaze was reported on the first floor of the two-story building about 1:35 a.m., said LAFD spokeswoman Amy Bastman.

The building contained a pet store on the first floor and apartments on the second.

Nearly 40 firefighters fought the blaze for about a half-hour and no injuries were reported.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.



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Beset with physical struggles that make it hard for her to get around, Del Hunter-White reached out a year ago to the Department of Disability about getting a curb painted blue and designated disabled parking in her Venice neighborhood.

After several weeks and daily calls, the 60-year-old, who has nabbed small roles in TV shows and commercials, got an employee on the phone who told her the parking program responsible for creating disabled parking in residential neighborhoods has not been active in seven years.

It was dispiriting news to Hunter-White, who said that in her densely populated, rapidly changing Abbott-Kinney neighborhood it can be hard even for the able-bodied to find regular parking.

“I don’t want to be doom and gloom, but I am sometimes,” Hunter-White said. “Everything is a fight right now.… I don’t want to have to walk on bad knees and go searching for spots for four or five blocks.”

Although businesses and new apartments are required to provide a certain amount of disabled parking, officials from the Department of Transportation and Department of Disability said that the program that handled requests by residents was suspended in 2010 in the wake of the economic recession and budgetary problems.

Two years later, in 2012, changes in state and federal guidelines made it so that even if new parking spots were to be created, it would now be far more complicated to do so.

“Those guidelines, that apply to all cities, not just Los Angeles, stipulate that simply painting a blue curb and posting a sign on a street is no longer sufficient,” Paul Backstrom, a policy advisor to Councilman Mike Bonin, wrote in an email to Hunter-White. “The city must provide an access ramp, a concrete landing pad in the parkway and ensure that the sidewalk path on the block is in good condition (no uplifts and/or cracks).”

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

More placards, more problems

There are 2.4 million permanent disabled parking placards in circulation in California. In L.A. County there were 785,438 permanent placards distributed as of Dec. 31, 2016, which is up from 596,430 placards in 2011.

But despite this increase, the number of spots on residential streets in that time has remained unchanged.

Misuse of these placards has sparked outrage among drivers in the state where issues over parking — and driving in general — frequently lead to daily dramas.

A recent audit found that California’s Department of Motor Vehicles isn’t doing enough to verify that applicants for disabled spots actually deserve them. The audit also revealed that nearly 26,000 placard holders were listed as being 100 years old or older — probably indicating that the DMV had failed to cancel the placards of people who had died.

On top of the issues revolving around the placards themselves, there’s the problem of where someone with a legitimate placard can find disabled parking.

“Non-disabled people don’t have an understanding or appreciation of the time and energy it takes for a disabled person with mobility issues to get through their day,” said Anastasia Bacigalupo, executive director at Westside Center for Independent Living, a community-based organization supporting disabled adults.

Studying the costs

In January, the L.A. City Council approved a six-month program to study how to once again create blue curb parking. Residents can now apply through the Department of Transportation, with the Department of Disability then assessing the validity of the request.

Geoffrey Straniere, a senior project coordinator for the Department of Disability, is tasked with vetting requests for new residential disabled parking spots.

He said that new requirements have made the creation of any new spots trickier and more expensive.

“You were just painting in the past, and now you’re literally demolishing, pouring, reforming and taking away parkways and medians and greenery to create a parking spot,” Straniere said. “This is where some of the difficulty comes in. So now I just can’t put paint, I have to put something down that might cost $70,000.”

Straniere is helping to put together a report that will examine issues like costs and logistics — and that could be presented to the City Council over the summer.

In the first five months of this year, the Department of Disability had received 382 requests for new blue curb parking, of which 349 were deemed valid. The agency declined to provide information about where exactly the requests came from, instead breaking them down by City Council districts.

Most of the requests came from districts representing South and Central Los Angeles. Crystal Killian, a 29-year veteran of the Department of Transportation, said a combination of low income and high population density leads to more demand for on-street parking in certain neighborhoods.

Killian said that many of the people who request disabled parking in their neighborhood are senior citizens on fixed incomes.

“The parking spaces on the street are always occupied,” Killian said. “So you always have to hunt for parking.”

How many of these blue-painted parking spots currently exist is a bit of a mystery.

The city used to track the number of traffic signs and curb zones, but Killian said that in the mid-1990s those data were lost, and the city never created a new database to capture that information.

Killian said the report that will be put together over the summer will address issues such as the cost of creating new disabled parking spots.

“I think we don’t understand how expensive it’s going to be. That, I think, is going to be some of the critical things that will come out of the study,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of locations I’ve looked at need physical construction.”

Del Hunter-White, who has lived in Venice since the early '90s, receives therapeutic Pilates conditioning from Rani Vechar, left, to help with her arthritis.
Del Hunter-White, who has lived in Venice since the early ’90s, receives therapeutic Pilates conditioning from Rani Vechar, left, to help with her arthritis. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The quest for parking continues

Hunter-White likes to go out with her friends and enjoys regular games of tennis.

Despite trying to maintain an active lifestyle, she has struggled with nagging aches and pains from arthritis. It makes walking long distances a grind.

“Being in constant pain, I’ve adapted, but you don’t realize the amount of things you don’t do because the thought of pain is too much,” she said.

Her rent-controlled home is in a Venice bungalow complex. Most of the eight units are empty, except when they’re used by Airbnb renters.

Many of her old friends in the neighborhood are gone, replaced by young technology firm employees.

In this densely populated and busy environment, finding a parking spot she can use with her disabled placard has become increasingly difficult.

On weekends, Del Hunter-White doesn't use her car because it's so difficult to find a parking spot.
On weekends, Del Hunter-White doesn’t use her car because it’s so difficult to find a parking spot. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Venice is so congested on the weekends that Hunter-White said she relies on Lyft to get around out of concern that she will not be able to find a spot. The one blue curb spot nearby always seems occupied, she said.

In early 2017, Hunter-White was told she could submit an application for the creation of a new spot. She applied in March and a month later, on April 19, she was told her application appeared to be in order.

But Hunter-White said an employee from the Department of Disability also told her that the review process could go through several agencies.

And that could take a year.



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Disappointing some immigrant advocates, Los Angeles County officials voted Tuesday to authorize $3 million for legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation but to bar those who have violent criminal pasts.

The Board of Supervisors’ vote came a day after the city’s Budget and Finance Committee approved up to $2 million for the same purpose.

The votes ended a debate about which immigrants should qualify for help through the newly created L.A. Justice Fund, although the proposal that the city is considering would include an exemption for individuals with a “meritorious claim.”

“The county’s $3-million contribution to the L.A.J.F. can only go so far,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, a champion of the fund, in a statement.

Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, argued for broader inclusion. “This county’s proposal would define people by their worst act,” she said at the meeting Tuesday.

The L.A. Justice Fund, which will include an additional $5 million from private philanthropic groups, was unveiled last December by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Solis in anticipation of a crackdown on immigrants by incoming President Trump. Implementation of the fund was held up in April over protests regarding the exclusion of immigrants with a history of violent criminal offense.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she wished there were a way to include some of those immigrants.

“Many people have paid their dues to society — have paid their price and served their time,” she said in remarks before the vote. “I simply want to speak up for those people.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who opposed the creation of the fund in December, cast the lone dissenting vote. “County taxpayers should not be forced to bear the cost to provide free legal representation for those facing deportation,” she said in a statement.

The county will enter into an agreement with the California Community Foundation to manage and disburse the funds.

The full Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve a similar agreement on Friday.

The foundation will award nonprofit agencies money to provide legal advice to immigrants and to represent them in court.

The proposed county agreement lists family members of citizens and other lawful residents as priorities to receive services, as well as children, veterans and victims of domestic violence or human trafficking.

The decisions this week come about five months after Trump signed executive orders to begin planning for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to step up immigration enforcement.

In May, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that arrests of people living in the country illegally during Trump’s first 100 days in office were up nearly 38% over the same period in 2016. Arrests in Southern California, however, have remained relatively flat.

The decisions also follow the state Legislature’s passage last week of a budget that would funnel $45 million to community organizations to provide immigrants with legal assistance and other services. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to sign budget-related legislation, but he has indicated he supports the idea.

Nearly 10% of the nation’s 11.1 million undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to the Pew Research Center.

A 2016 report found that immigrants in California who have legal representation are four to five times more likely to succeed in immigration court than their counterparts who lack such representation.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the immigrant rights advocacy group CHIRLA, said in an interview that her organization has seen a jump in clients since Trump took office, sometimes meeting with more than 100 new clients in one day, compared with a previous daily average of 20 new clients.

“The demand is high, and I think the fund will really help us see more people,” Salas said.

nina.agrawal@latimes.com

Twitter: @AgrawalNina



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Faced with mounting costs and declining enrollment, the Los Angeles Unified School District board approved a $7.5-billion budget Tuesday that will increase spending and lay off more than 100 library aides, clerks and other support staff next school year.

The layoffs represent a growing acknowledgement by district officials that the nation’s second-largest school district has to downsize, adjusting to the reality of population loss caused by falling birth rates, gentrification and competition from charter schools. Supt. Michelle King’s budget plan, the second of her tenure, forecasts that L.A. Unified will continue to shrink. It assumes that enrollment, which stands at about 514,000 students, will decline by nearly 34,000 students, or about 2% a year, over the next three years.

Such a drop probably would worsen the district’s financial problems because state funding is tied to enrollment and accounts for most of the district’s revenue.

Five of the seven board members voted to support King’s plan, but they did so grudgingly, with little enthusiasm for the prospect of difficult years ahead. Several called on lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown to provide more state funding for K-12 schools. Board member Richard Vladovic voted against the proposal, though he declined to state his reasons publicly, and board member George McKenna abstained, saying he was “lost” and “not happy” with the plan.

While nodding to the harsh realities of the district’s fiscal situation, King defended her plan as doing the least amount of harm to schools.

“Yes, we have challenges, but this budget does prioritize the school site. It does,” she said. “We were going to do everything we could to keep disruption and cuts away from the school, and this is what this budget does.”

The budget, King said, puts more money into early learning, such as transitional kindergarten, and restorative justice, which seeks to end suspensions and expulsions through counseling. Arts education also retains its funding levels, she said.

Although overall revenue is trending down, L.A. Unified’s costs are growing, particularly in areas that are difficult to control.

Paying for employees’ pensions and healthcare after they retire is eating up more of the budget — next year, it’s expected to account for 8% of general fund expenditures. Salaries and benefits, already the district’s largest cost, are increasing as L.A. Unified’s 60,000 employees age. And spending on students receiving special education services has jumped and is expected to keep climbing.

Adding pressure to this already grim fiscal outlook is the possibility that the school district could be penalized for having too many administrators on its payroll. California requires unified school districts to keep their administrator-to-teacher ratios below a certain threshold: eight administrative employees for every 100 full-time teachers.

Districts that exceed this limit — which L.A. Unified recently has — are forced to give up some of their state funding. If L.A. Unified doesn’t cut some of its administrative positions, it could forgo as much as $24 million annually, said Deputy Chief Financial Officer John Walsh.

King’s spending plan begins to address that problem by reducing the number of central office administrators, coordinators and managers by about 150 next year, part of a 30% cut to the district’s bureaucracy run out of its Beaudry headquarters. Many of these employees have tenure as school administrators or teachers and could return to these positions at reduced salaries.

No teachers are targeted for layoffs. Although declining enrollment means fewer positions for instructors, the reduction is expected to come through attrition, such as teacher retirements.

The library cuts especially bothered board member Monica Ratliff, who did not seek reelection and is leaving the board at the end of the month.

“The reality is that libraries are going to be shut just like they were before,” she said, referring to the budget cuts during the Great Recession. “I think this is a really serious issue that the district has to come to terms with publicly.”

Next year’s budget is balanced, thanks to a combination of one-time funding from the state and “realignment” steps — which include 121 layoffs — by the district. But L.A. Unified is two years away from a $422-million shortfall, according to King’s spending plan.

Proposals to close that gap are vague, and school board members are far from agreement on how to bring the district’s costs in line with its revenues.

One suggestion would have the district stop paying into a trust fund it set aside to cover retirees’ healthcare, kicking that long-term expense further into the future. Currently, the district needs about $13.6 billion more to pay for the lifetime health benefits it promised to long-term employees.

Another proposal would raise class sizes by four students in grades four through 12, which would cut school staff by about 1,000 full-time employees.

A third policy proposal could provide the most savings, according to the district’s projections. Under this plan, L.A. Unified would be allowed to seize money from individual schools’ rainy day funds, collecting whatever principals had saved. But similar plans embraced by other financially strapped school districts have proved unpopular, and district officials have said they hope to avoid going this route.

Although King’s plan calls for a 6.7% increase in spending over last year, school board members have received an earful of requests for new spending as well as spending that is allocated differently.

At the center of the controversy is $1 billion in annual state funding that the district is required to use to provide extra help to students from low-income families, students learning to speak English and those in foster care..

In 2015, a coalition of advocates and local groups sued L.A. Unified, accusing it of spending this money illegally. They said the school system had misused hundreds of millions of dollars, using the funding to pay for operations across the entire school system rather than services for the specific students it was intended to help. The district contends it used the money appropriately.

School board members are also at odds over how to spend federal funding for schools with large concentrations of poor students.

Known as Title I money, this funding is a vital revenue stream in a district where about 3 in 4 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The district’s budget assumes that this funding will be cut by about 16% next year, anticipating that the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress might provide fewer dollars.

Board President Steve Zimmer and several speakers challenged this assumption and the resulting cuts that are to be suffered by schools. Zimmer said that his recent trip to Washington indicates that Congress would not support the level of cuts first proposed by Trump.

If the funding comes through, it can be added to school budgets in February, King said.

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume



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