LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – In response to the police brutality protests and the growing calls for racial justice, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an initiative Tuesday which would put a measure before voters in November asking them to devote 10% of the county’s unrestricted general funds towards social and community programs.
The board voted 4-1 to put a charter amendment on the November ballot for voters to decide whether to divert as much as $490 million per year to be spent on homeless services, rental assistance, jail diversion, mental health services, job training, youth programs and access to capital for minority-owned businesses.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger opposed the measure, saying it would unnecessarily restrict future boards and make it harder for the county to manage through economic downturns.
If passed by voters, the amendment “to address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice” would be phased in by June 30, 2024.
It would prohibit such funds being used for or redistributed through law enforcement or correctional agencies, including the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, but would not prohibit its use to cover costs related to trial courts.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has championed the measure, has pushed back against the idea that it amounts to defunding law enforcement.
“We want a road map for our vision of the `care first, jail last’ system,” Kuehl said last week.
“I do think that it is appropriate to say to the people of L.A. County, ‘would you like this to be a longer-term investment?”‘
Last month, the board voted to declare racism a public health crisis.
Kuehl and her co-author, Supervisor Hilda Solis, encountered strong resistance not only from Barger, but from Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai, who warned that the 10% requirement could hamstring future boards, limit flexibility during economic downturns and negatively impact the county’s strong credit rating.
The ordinance cites only a percentage of “the county’s locally generated unrestricted revenues in the general fund,” not an absolute number. However, Hamai has indicated that the amount at stake would range from $360 million to $490 million of this fiscal year’s $34.9 billion budget, or less than 2% of all the county’s spending.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose department budget totals roughly $3.4 billion, told the board last week the measure would force him to close patrol stations in Altadena and Marina del Rey and make other big cuts to public safety.
County departments are subject to an 8% budget cut for the coming fiscal year and, as a consequence, the sheriff’s department is facing the possibility of laying off 457 custody employees in October if no additional funding can be found. No patrol deputies are targeted to be laid off.
Solis argued that the charter amendment would create more good-paying union jobs.
“To say that we’re out to cut jobs right now is simply untrue,” Solis said. “What’s wrong with putting this in front of the voters and having them decide? This is about funding the vision of L.A. County, to reimagine a Los Angeles County that puts care first and jails last.”
Last month, the L.A. City Council voted to cut the L.A. Police Department’s budget by $150 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The L.A. Unified School District Board of Education also voted to slash the school police budget by $25 million, or 35%.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)