LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Los Angeles County voters appeared Wednesday to have passed a charter amendment requiring that a minimum of 10% of the county’s unrestricted general funds be spent on housing, mental health treatment, jail diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration.
With initial vote-counting from Tuesday’s election complete, Measure J was passing by a wide margin of 57.08% to 42.92%, with an unknown number of ballots left to be tallied.
If passed, Measure J will amend the county’s charter to require that no less than 10% of the county’s general fund be appropriated to community programs and alternatives to incarceration, such as health services and pre-trial non-custody services.
It will also authorize the Board of Supervisors to develop a process to allocate funds and authorize the Board of Supervisors to reduce the amount allocated with a vote of 4-1 during a declared fiscal emergency.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in July to let voters consider the plan, which was proposed by Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Soli.
“It’s fine to study the results of racism. It’s fine to say to ourselves, ‘we need to do something about this,”’ Kuehl said during the July meeting. “But what I’m saying and what so many of our constituents are saying…is, ‘in addition to saying you want to do something about (it), please do something about it. Make certain that all the things that you are trying to do and put in place don’t just vanish in a puff of smoke when you’re all gone in a decade.”’
A contentious debate preceded the vote, with county CEO Sachi Hamai and Supervisor Kathryn Barger opposing the move.
“The effects may go unnoticed during good budget years, but will become readily apparent during economic downturns when maximum flexibility is the single most effective tool to develop a sound budget,” Hamai said at the time. “I want to point out that during this pandemic, we needed this flexibility to close fiscal year 2019-20 without any layoffs.”
Much of the county’s revenue comes from state and federal funding and is designated for specific uses. L.A. County raises about $8.8 billion on its own, primarily through property and sales tax, and about $3.6 billion of that is unrestricted.
The charter amendment would restrict 10% of the total unrestricted funds, or roughly $360 million, for community investment.
Currently, about 20% of the unrestricted funds are allocated to the Sheriff’s Department’s budget of over $3 billion.
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