The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to commit 10% of unrestricted county-generated revenues to community investment, mirroring the aims of Measure J, which was struck down by a legal challenge.
In July, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ruled that Measure J was unconstitutional because it interfered with the board’s own authority under state law to set the county’s budget. That decision is under appeal. However, the judge also found there was nothing to prevent the board from moving forward on its own with the policies laid out in the measure.
County Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport recommended paying out the $100 million earlier set aside for Measure J under a new board policy called the Care First and Community Investment Program. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the board he believed the policy was unconstitutional and threatened public safety.
“Changing the name of it does not change the nature of it,” Villanueva said, mocking the county’s plans for establishing a new advisory committee as “a bureaucratic orgy of wokeness.”
Though the money for community investment can be funded from growing county revenues or reductions across a variety of departments, the sheriff spoke about the money as if it were being pulled directly out of his department’s budget. Though it is true that none of the Measure J or CFCI money can run through any law enforcement agencies, Supervisor Kathryn Barger denied that this spending amounted to “defunding” law enforcement.
“Diversion is something this board has worked on long before the ‘defund law enforcement’ community,” Barger said. “At no point will I support defunding in place of this. I don’t think it’s an either/or.”
The sheriff urged the board to instead spend more money on a rapidly growing number of homicide investigations, enforcement against illegal marijuana grows, and combating homelessness. The CFCI funds will be allocated to community-based programs dedicated to affordable housing, rent assistance and other forms of housing support, as well as to youth development and job training, which some advocates say will help increase public safety. The money will also support a variety of programs — some run by the county — geared toward reducing the jail population, including community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.
Barger asked that a vote on $42 million in funding related to the closure of Men’s Central Jail be split from the board’s overall decision on CFCI.
“I, along with my colleagues, agree that the Men’s Central Jail should be closed. But I am not convinced to date that we have the ability to create a diversion program on the outside to accommodate those that are being ousted from Men’s Central Jail,” Barger said.
In addition to the need for more mental health and substance abuse treatment beds, Barger said, “I also believe there’s a certain number of beds necessary in the county for violent offenders. Without these beds in place or identified, I am unable to support the allocation.”
The commitment to jail closure passed, 4-1. A Measure J advisory committee had pushed for a total of $170 million in spending.
Davenport stressed that the board has separately agreed to allocate an additional $314 million in one-time coronavirus relief funds to similar community-oriented programs. Nearly half of that money will go to interim and permanent supportive housing and $87.7 million will directly fund projects suggested by the advisory committee. In all, 91% of the committee’s recommended programs will receive funding that amounts to 110% of the committee’s total request.
The CEO noted that many of the recommendations from the committee came without detailed information about service levels, scale or how much of the funding would pay for administrative vs. service delivery costs. She said her team was working with the committee to refine various proposals and develop procedures for future years. To answer concerns raised by the advisory committee that the county’s cumbersome contracting process and insurance requirements would keep money from flowing to community providers, the board also agreed to hire a third party administrator to manage the funding.
The board-approved policy otherwise matches the other provisions of Measure J, including building up to the full 10% set-aside by June 30, 2024. It also gives the board the ability to reduce the set-aside on a four-fifths vote in the event of a future fiscal emergency.
Program evaluation will not begin until the second year of the program, based on the CEO’s assessment that many early-stage community-based organizations would not be able to generate useful audit data in the first year.