County Sues For Control of Redistricting

March 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County is suing the state in an effort to quash a new law that places the task of re-drawing the county’s supervisorial districts in the hands of a 14-member citizens committee.

The county’s complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, seeks an order declaring that the law created by the passage of SB 958 last year is unconstitutional, along with a permanent injunction barring its implementation.

“The State of California has imposed an unfair, unworkable and unconstitutional new redistricting law exclusively on the County of Los Angeles,” the lawsuit alleges.

The state did so “with no rational basis or justification, and absent consultation with Los Angeles County voters, who now find themselves the subjects of an ill-conceived civic experiment that they have no power to fix or to repeal,” the suit says.

The county’s chief executive office issued a statement calling the bill unconstitutional because it singles out Los Angeles County and is counter to constitutional law requiring county offices to be nonpartisan.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, authored SB 958, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October and applies only to L.A. County.

The new law creates a commission whose membership is based on political party registration, which the county says discriminates against independent voters, who make up 25 percent of those registered countywide.

“Instead of choosing the commissioners in a manner that is deliberative and nonpartisan, SB 958 tips the process, promoting partisanship, playing favorites between political parties and unaffiliated voters,” according to the lawsuit.

The 14-member Citizen Redistricting Committee is to be responsible for creating supervisorial district boundaries every 10 years, after each U.S. Census.

Based on registration numbers from October, the county estimates that 70 percent of the commissioners would be Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, and 5 percent would be from smaller parties. Voters who registered without a party preference— the fastest-growing segment of newly registered voters — will not be given equal consideration, according to the county CEO’s office.

The county staunchly defended the board’s current “rigorous public redistricting process,” noting that “the last apportionment, which was based on the 2010 Census, included extensive input from county voters and was never challenged in court.”

Latino civil rights advocates did threaten to sue in 2011. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and then-supervisor Gloria Molina pushed the board to create a second majority-Latino district, a move that was the subject of heated debate.

Their motion was rejected on a 2-3 vote in September 2011, with three white male board members arguing that it would move nearly a third of the population into new districts and consolidate areas with little in the way of common interests.

Asked for his current view, Ridley-Thomas said: “The County of Los Angeles has a duty to protect the rights of its citizens, and that’s why this lawsuit was filed. One million voters — about 25 percent of the electorate in the county — will not have a voice or a say in redistricting just because their political affiliation is independent or they chose not to specify. That’s not right.”

Supporters of the law called it a good government proposal that would make board races more competitive and “help to maintain communities of interests, to ensure groups with similar socioeconomic interests are not negatively impacted by redistricting,” according to a legislative fact sheet issued by Lara’s office.

Lara said he finds it surprising that the Board of Supervisors “would go to court to oppose a law that recognizes Los Angeles’ diversity and promotes transparency in a county whose population is larger than that of 40 states.”

“If the citizens redistricting commission is good enough for the state Legislature and Congress, it should be good enough for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors,” Lara added.

The law’s proponents say they worked to model it after Proposition 11, which created a citizens commission to set the boundaries for state Assembly and Senate districts.

Opponents note that the statewide commission has five Democratic members, five Republican members and four from neither party, unlike the political proportions mandated by SB 958.

While the board’s decisions to litigate are almost always the result of closed-door discussions, opposition to legislation the board doesn’t like — or support for bills they agree with — is often highlighted during public meetings. Those public sessions often end with a vote to send a letter to legislators or the governor signed by all five board members.

Solis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her decision not to bring a motion before the full board.

Though the citizens commission would not be called to redraw boundaries until after the 2020 census, the county said the process of identifying and vetting members needed to begin promptly and asked the court to act quickly in response to its suit.

 

With Ballot Initiative, Los Angeles Looks Toward Ending Homelessness

February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

While Los Angeles is home to the nation’s largest homeless population, L.A. County has responded with a broad spectrum of programs to match.

The scope of the problem is large, but the agencies and organizations tasked with ending homelessness are making progress – progress that advocates say could be helped by greater public investment.

The March ballot initiative known as Measure H proposes a quarter-cent sales tax that would finance the medical, housing, and employment needs of a homeless population that includes large numbers of former foster youth, women, and people of color.

Voters have already shown a willingness to fund measures that help the people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles. Measure H would complement a $1.2 billion bond measure that voters approved last year to build 10,000 housing units for the homeless.

If Measure H were to pass by the needed two-thirds vote, it would create an annual fund of $355 million to help a population that has swelled to nearly 47,000. The county would approve spending plans based on recommendations from those on the front lines of the fight against homelessness.

“We have a pervasive crisis of homelessness,” says Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative Director Phil Ansell, who helped create homeless prevention programs in his former role as chief deputy director of the county’s social services department. “This would help us deal comprehensively with the issue and address the needs of different homeless categories. This is a complex problem that requires government, business and nonprofits.”

The Home for Good coalition led by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has housed about 18,000 veterans and more than 16,000 of the chronically homeless since 2011. It is among the organizations that will advise the county if the tax is approved.

Homeless man parks his RV on San Fernando Road in Linoln Heights. (Photo by Mike Alvarez)

Homeless man parks his RV on San Fernando Road in Linoln Heights. (Photo by Mike Alvarez)

Chris Ko, Home for Good’s director, says that more resources for homelessness prevention are needed because of high housing costs in the county.

In Koreatown, for example, Ko says that more than 1,000 people are homeless, and many more are “on the brink of homelessness.” Homelessness extends into all ethnic communities in Los Angeles, and Ko says that housing insecurity rates of Asians and Pacific Islanders are twice as high as those for whites.

Gentrification is creating more housing insecurity in Latino communities, says Celina Alvarez, the executive director of Housing Works, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

“People are living in parks and under freeways with no hope,” she says. “Every human being has a right to a home and the right to live in communities where they are valued … We have criminalized their behavior and stigmatized and ostracized them.”

Ethnic media reporters and advocates gather at Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 3 to take part in a discussion about the county’s homelessness initiatives.  (New America Media)

Ethnic media reporters and advocates gather at Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 3 to take part in a discussion about the county’s homelessness initiatives. (New America Media)

While the most visible homeless community is central to the Skid Row area, homeless teens and young adults – a growing segment of L.A.’s homeless population – are more dispersed, and thus can be “invisible” to agencies, according to Andrea Marchetti, the executive director of Jovenes Inc. Marchetti’s organization provides housing and employment counseling for youth and at-risk families in Los Angeles. The homeless youth population in L.A., which is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 young people, includes many who were formerly in foster care, Marchetti says.

Women also represent an increasingly large segment of the homeless population, partly because of domestic violence, says Debra Suh, the executive director of the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, an organization that helps Asian and Pacific Islander (API) domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

One third of the homeless population is female, she says, and there has been a 55 percent increase in homeless women in the past three years. “We are not addressing domestic violence,” she says.

“Women have to choose between violence at home and unsafe streets. They are between a rock and a hard place.”

Many immigrant women seek her organization’s help because they have no network of friends and relatives, and because her teams can communicate in many different API languages.

More “cultural competency” in homeless services is needed if more people from a variety of communities are to be engaged, says Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the executive director of the St. Joseph Center, an organization that annually provides housing, mental health, educational, and vocational services to about 6,500 people in South Los Angeles and the city’s Westside.

The size of the homeless population that is African American is extremely disproportionate, she says. African American Angelenos are 39 percent of the homeless population in a city that is only 9 percent black.

“Who we hire makes a difference in this work,” she says. “African Americans and Latinos should be among those hired. It’s called ‘cultural competence’ and we should demand it.”

Moreover, ending homeless isn’t rocket science, according to Libby Boyce, the director of access, referral, and engagement for L.A. County’s Housing for Health program.

“The solution is housing with services,” she says. ”We know how to solve this problem. We just need the resources to reach all the homeless in our communities … The vast majority on our streets are long-term homeless and many have mental health problems and substance abuse problems.”

Reba Stevens is a Los Angeles resident who was homeless for 21 years until she obtained medical help for her substance use disorder. She jokes that when she first heard about Measure H, she changed her name to Reba “Measure H” Stevens.

“Supportive services are the reason I’ve been continuously housed the past 17 years,” she says. “Measure H will provide the resources to address individual needs.”

Anti-Illegal Immigration Groups Vilify County Officials for Backing DAPA, DACA

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ vote Tuesday in support of programs that protect some immigrants from deportation drew hostility from supporters of President-elect Trump, opponents of illegal immigration and others who urged officials to focus instead on the homeless, veterans and unemployed Americans.

The board voted unanimously to support comprehensive federal immigration reform and work to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, two federal policies for undocumented immigrants adopted during the Obama administration.

It also agreed to back a bipartisan bill dubbed the BRIDGE Act, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, designed to provide a backstop should DACA be eliminated by the incoming administration.

The motion to add these policies to the county’s legislative agenda was co-authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger.

“Even though there has been a myriad of proposed legislation pertaining to immigration, our immigration system remains broken,” the motion stated.

Barger has consistently argued for trying to solve the problem at the federal level.

The vote was condemned by more than a dozen speakers, some of whom declined to give their names. Prior to the meeting, a group of protesters stood outside the Hall of Administration next to a small SUV covered in flag decals, pro-Trump slogans and a photo of Hillary Clinton behind bars in black-and-white jail clothes, above the caption, “How to Make America Great Again.”

Some accused the board of treason and another called the county a banana republic.

“The supervisors should focus on American citizens — homeless, veterans, unemployed and disabled — not illegal aliens,” Rhue Guijant told the board. “The motion to shield illegal aliens in the country promotes and supports federal lawbreaking.”

Mark Masaoka, policy director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, spoke in support of the board motion.

“Entire industries are dependent, whether we like it or not, on immigrant labor,” Masaoka said.

An opponent countered that “every one of them has stolen someone else’s job.”

A community activist waiting to speak on another issue said he couldn’t help but speak up.

“The level of hate and the vitriol that I’m hearing has to be challenged,” Hamid Khan said of the opponents depicting “the faces of the other, the savage native, the criminal black, the illegal Latino, the
manipulative Asian, the Muslim terrorist, these are the faces that are constantly paraded … in our culture, in our politics … rather than looking at the real thing.”

Solis said the county was committed to protecting immigrant residents.

“Los Angeles County will stand up and protect our immigrant residents against any changes to federal policy that seek to unfairly target or scapegoat them,” Solis said in a statement following the vote.

“Whether they unfairly target community members for deportation or threaten to cut funding that many of our county services rely upon, we are taking action to shield them from these potentially harmful changes.”

Still Time to Get Flu Shot, Say Health Officials

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County health officials reminded residents Tuesday that it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

The virus is now widespread and has hit that point earlier than in past years, according to health officials.

“Influenza typically peaks in January and February and can linger well into the spring, so vaccination for anyone over 6 months of age is still highly recommended,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer.

“By getting vaccinated now, you can protect yourself at the time of year when you are most likely to be exposed to the flu virus,” he said.

Health officials urged everyone to frequently wash their hands and stay home when ill to reduce the spread of the flu.

Those at greater risk for complications include: pregnant women; children under 5 and adults 65 years old and older; people with weakened immune systems, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or conditions affecting the nervous system; individuals who are overweight or obese; healthcare personnel and staffers in nursing homes or long-term care
facilities; and child care workers. Children 6 months to 8 years old should get a second flu vaccine dose this season for better protection, according to county health officials.

Most insurance plans cover vaccines at no cost and many pharmacies offer flu vaccines.

The county offers free flu vaccines for residents without insurance or a regular doctor.

More information can be found at http://bit.ly/FluVaccineInfo or by calling the county information line at 211.

In a County With More Babies Than Any Other, Childcare Comes at a Cost – And Not Just for Parents

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

New America MediaIn California, childcare for infants costs as much as tuition in the University of California (UC) system, according to new data from the Lucile Packard Foundation of Children’s Health.

In 2014, parents of infants in California spent an average of more than $13,300 on childcare. That year, UC tuition and fees were just over $13,200.

At the national level, all eyes are on college affordability. But the lack of affordable early childhood options has even more dire long-term consequences.

Achievement gaps start early. According to a report this year from the Economic Policy Institute, children from more affluent backgrounds tend to perform better than lower-income children in reading and math as early as kindergarten. And that gap then continues throughout the rest of the kids’ schooling.

“For most families, if you’re talking about full-time care for an infant or toddler, those costs certainly rival, if not exceed in many cases, higher education costs,” says Ted Lempert, the president of Children Now and a former California State Assemblyman. “Some kids have access to really caring, well-trained adults in very strong early childhood programs, and a lot of kids have nothing. And that’s putting those children at a huge disadvantage very early on.”

The costs are highest in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles County has more babies (age 0 to 2) than any other county in the state – nearly 200,000 babies in all. In L.A., the average cost of infant care is more than $14,300; in Orange County, it’s more than $15,000.

Quality early care is out of reach for many

 

The affordability crisis is happening at the same time that there’s growing recognition of how important quality childcare is for a baby’s development.

“This was not a major topic 10 or 15 years ago,” says Lempert. “In the past, even in recent years, it’s been really only about the family economics – the idea that we have to get childcare so that the parents can work. That’s critical, but in addition to that, there’s so much more focus now as well on things like opportunity gaps and inequities – the idea that childcare is critical for the child in terms of an anti-poverty strategy. It’s both generations we’re supporting.”

In the United States, there’s long been a mindset that when a child is very small, they are the parent’s responsibility. While there are subsidized childcare and preschool slots for those families that meet the income eligibility requirements, funding still hasn’t been restored to pre-recession levels, and “even back then we weren’t meeting the need,” says Lempert. A family of three needs to make less than $42,216 per year to qualify for subsidized care.

In L.A. County, there are only slots in licensed care providers for one out of four children, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. This count does not take into account families who utilize non-licensed providers (like when a child is cared for by a family member or nanny) or part-time after-school programs, says Rowena Kamo, the network’s research director.

“Despite the lack of availability of slots, we are still seeing some facilities close,” Kamo says, noting that some licensed home childcare providers, which tend to be less expensive, have had to shut their doors due to factors like an aging care provider workforce, low reimbursement rates by the state, and a difficult business model.

Care providers struggle to stay afloat

It’s not just parents feeling the pinch. Even though childcare costs so much, the median wage for childcare workers in California is less than $12 an hour. And ironically, at this wage, a childcare worker who is herself a parent needs to spend over a third of her income to pay for center-based childcare for her own child.

Tonia McMillian has been a home-based childcare provider in Los Angeles for 23 years. She says that while she wants to support low-income parents who need subsidized care, it’s a “balancing act month after month.”

Despite this, she says, “I’m not going to turn my back on families that need the services I offer. You have low-income moms who can’t afford to pay their childcare, especially parents who work variable schedules with last minute call-ins, and they lean on me to be there for them.”

McMillian says the new attention on the crucial nature of the early years for later success has not trickled down to caregivers.

“[Childcare providers] play a major part in developing children’s minds, keeping this economy going, yet we are not being treated as if we are a vital part of the economy,” she says. “[The state] leans on us heavily to meet the needs of parents, but they are not doing their fair share to make sure we have training and wages.”

There’s also sexism at play. “Home-based childcare and center-based providers are a predominately female occupation, and predominately women of color,” she says. “This is a direct reflection of how people look at ‘women’s work,’ and that’s absolutely not fair. But it’s blatant.”

McMillian is co-chair of the Raising California Together Coalition, a program of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Along with other groups, the coalition successfully campaigned for $15 per hour minimum wage, which will be phased into L.A. County by 2020.

Still, not all caregivers will benefit from the wage hike.

“I’m extremely happy those center-based workers will receive that $15, but home-based providers won’t be seeing that,” McMillian says. Home-based providers are usually considered independent contractors, “even though we do the same work, just in different environments.”

These low wages, the demanding nature of the work, and the lack of a “career ladder to build upon” lead to high rates of turnover among care providers, especially those who work in home-based settings, she says.

And in a profession where expertise has a direct impact on the future educational success of the children cared for, these conditions are becoming increasingly unsustainable.

County Appoints New Public Health Director

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed a new public health director Tuesday with more than 25 years of relevant experience, including as a senior leader of public health agencies in Boston and Massachusetts.

Barbara Ferrer was most recently the chief strategy officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and oversaw key program areas, including food, health and well-being.

Before that, Ferrer served as the executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. During her tenure, Boston saw a decrease in the rates of childhood obesity, asthma in public housing and smoking, as well as a significant reduction in the infant mortality rate in black families.

At the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Ferrer worked as the director of health promotion and chronic disease prevention and of the division of maternal and child health.

Ferrer will assume responsibility for the Department of Public Health on Feb. 6 at a salary of $376,635. The department has a budget of more than $900 million and nearly 4,000 employees.

Supervisors Establish Office of Immigrant Affairs

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Immigrant rights advocates faced off with anti-immigrant groups Tuesday outside the county Hall of Administration, trying to shout each other down, before the Board of Supervisors voted to established an Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The ICE Out of LA coalition was on hand to urge the supervisors to move quickly to institute proposed protections for undocumented immigrants, including a legal defense fund for residents threatened with deportation.

Holding signs calling for “representation, not deportation” and chanting “no Trump; no KKK; no fascist U.S.A.!,” the pro-immigrant group voiced its support of the board’s efforts to protect residents from potential changes in federal policy.

“We can’t stay silent,” said coalition spokeswoman Edna Monroy.

In December, in response to a proposal by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, the board directed its lawyers and staffers to analyze how changes in federal funding could impact county services provided to immigrants and investigate what the county can do to prevent federal immigration enforcement at courts, schools and hospitals.

Solis and Kuehl held a news conference this morning to reiterate their commitment to that work, including a proposal to protect the data and identities of immigrants and a potential Office of Immigrant Affairs.

But outside, Monroy and her allies were competing with an equally vocal group of anti-immigrant organizations.

Middle-aged white women wearing T-shirts with the slogan “A Stolen Life” and pictures of victims of crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants were joined by a racially diverse group of protesters holding signs reading “Keep Refugees Out” and “No Sanctuary Cities.”

A tall, black man in a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap said the group was “trying to promote Donald Trump’s policies.”

Saying the message was “America for Americans,” Robert Peete of Make California Great Again said taxpayer money should be used for other purposes.

“There are white people in Long Beach living in the canal,” Peete said. “I’ve never seen that in my lifetime.’’

Others chanted “Build That Wall” as the two groups battled megaphone-to-megaphone, shouting back and forth and jockeying for room and camera angles on the outdoor stairs leading to the county boardroom.

Sheriff’s deputies stepped in more than once, speaking with representatives from both sides and trying to keep the peace.

Monroy said the two groups often end up in the same venue and there has sometimes been pushing and shoving, but no serious injuries have resulted.

The rallies broke up without incident, with leaders from both sides heading indoors to speak before the board, where Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was forced to repeatedly caution them to stop shouting and disrupting the session.

“Why don’t you try respecting each other and everything will be fine,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Staffers reported that the vast majority of county departments offer services – including medical care and a public school education – to residents without regard to immigration status and do not maintain records on residents’ status. One exception is the Department of Public Social Services,

which is required by law to share that information.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell sought to assure residents that his department relies on community trust.

If people do not come forward to report crimes due to fear of deportation, “we’ll have more to worry about and fear than the words spoken on the presidential campaign trail,” McDonnell said.

He said his deputies would not arrest anyone based solely on their immigration status, calling that a “promise” as well as a department policy that is also written into law.

Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington conceded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are at county jails “almost on a daily basis,” but said that less than 1 percent of inmates released from local jails are turned over to ICE agents.

Harrington said thousands of inmates had been released to ICE annually prior to enactment of the state Truth and Trust acts, which limited ICE hold requests, but put current numbers at closer to 1,000 each year.

Other speakers disagreed.

An “ICE hold gets put on all the clients I’ve seen go through the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department,” said Amanda Schuft of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. She gave the example of one mentally ill man who spent a weekend in jail for petty theft and was held in ICE custody for two years.

Others argued that the board members weren’t doing what they were elected to do.

“California is under siege,” Tami Terusa of Californians for Trump told the supervisors, warning that the state “is going to be ground zero” in the fight to end sanctuary cities.

Some saw President-elect Donald Trump as a savior.

“This is an attack against the federal government,” said Shirley Husar of Urban Game Changers.

“As of January 20, we are asking that Donald J. Trump come and intervene on our behalf.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged her colleagues to press for immigration reform at the federal level, saying she believed that there was bipartisan support for protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrvials.

“We have a responsibility to address this on the federal level and not continue to keep these people in the shadows and continue to give them a reason to hide,” Barger said.

More than 120 people signed up to speak before the board on the issue and dozens had that opportunity. But after a near-continuous series of outbursts and warnings, Ridley-Thomas called the board into a closed-door session.

The board returned roughly 90 minutes later and, acting on a motion by Solis, voted 4-1 to establish an Office of Immigrant Affairs. Barger cast the dissenting vote.

The board also directed departments not to ask about immigration status unless required by law and proposed that the county’s Office of Education consider a senior-level position to oversee immigrants’ concerns.

 

County to Seek Legal Aid for Immigrants Facing Deportation

December 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to push for state legal aid for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.

The issue was part of a discussion of the county’s 2017-18 state legislative agenda.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis recommended county support for services and state funding that would provide immigrants with due process protections, including legal representation when facing deportation.

“Deportations destroy families, and I am more committed than ever to protecting individuals who are integral to the fabric of our communities and are just trying to achieve the American dream,” Hahn said. “Undocumented immigrants facing deportation proceedings need legal representation to help them navigate complicated immigration laws and fight on their behalf.”

Solis championed a motion last week seeking to protect immigrants from any changes to immigration law made by the incoming federal administration.

“My immigrant protection motion, which the board passed last week, will explore steps the county can take to protect our residents,” Solis said.

“In this continued effort, Los Angeles County must leverage all the resources available by supporting similar legislative proposals coming from every level of government.”

Other county legislative priorities include:

— preservation of the Affordable Care Act;

— justice, rehabilitation and diversion programs and infrastructure;

— homeless services;

— affordable housing;

— transportation; and

— environmental health and sustainability.

The last priority was added as an amendment by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and includes advocating for extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program, set to expire in 2020.

Hahn and Solis also amended that item to include legislation giving local governments the authority to require responsible parties to clean up environmental contamination.

 

County Moves to Place Homeless Tax on March Ballot

December 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The reconstituted Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to put a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the fight against homelessness before voters in a special countywide election in March.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas teamed up with Supervisor Janice Hahn to recommend the tax, a measure Ridley-Thomas had pushed for in July, but failed to garner enough support to pass.

The board also considered a number of other funding alternatives for homeless services, including a millionaires’ tax, a parcel tax and a tax on marijuana, but could not agree on any option to put before voters in November.

Hundreds of people were in the audience to show support for the fight against homelessness, including billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and Los Angeles City Councilmen Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Jose Huizar.

Organizers who assembled a crowd outside on Temple Street before the board meeting said more than 75 organizations, including community advocates, labor unions and faith groups, had joined together to press for a March ballot measure on the issue. It took more than an hour for everyone to clear through security and some were forced to stand in the back of the packed board room, while others assembled outside listening to the meeting over loudspeakers.

“This is the face of democracy in the county,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Ridley-Thomas also joined with Supervisor Kathryn Barger on a proposal to have homelessness declared a county emergency, a move that paves the way to put the sales tax on the March ballot. That motion was also unanimously approved.

The board voted in June to press state officials to declare a statewide emergency and direct more funding to the problem. The Los Angeles City Council and some state lawmakers have echoed that call, but Gov. Jerry Brown has resisted such efforts.

Hahn said that if any other disaster – an earthquake, fire or flood – left 47,000 people homeless, “We would bring every resource we could and many people would stay up at night worrying” about how to get people back in their homes.

That January point-in-time count of the homeless reflects a 19 percent increase since 2013, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

“In contrast to almost anywhere else in the United States, most people who are experiencing homelessness in the county of Los Angeles are unsheltered,” the county’s Assistant CEO Fesia Davenport said.

The number of those in tent encampments, huddled under freeway overpasses or otherwise on the street account for nearly three-quarters of the 47,000 homeless people, according to the LAHSA data.

Cedillo recalled a recent trip to Hamburg, Germany, during which he didn’t see one homeless person.

“Not one person in this county should be sleeping on the streets,” Cedillo said.

Harris-Dawson told the board that the city of Los Angeles’ recent success in passing HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund the construction of housing for the homeless, cannot stand alone, as the city relies on the county to provide supportive services.

“HHH only works if the county can make an investment in services,” Harris-Dawson said.

The county and most advocates across the country now back a model called “housing first,” which focuses on getting people into housing in spite of drug, alcohol or other problems they may have and then offers mental health and substance abuse treatment and other supportive services.

Officials have learned, Hahn said, “It’s impossible to get your life together if you’re on the streets.”

Huizar told the board that he hoped voters understood the already high costs of homelessness in terms of emergency room and jail visits, among other expenses.

“It costs all of us more in one way or another if we leave these individuals in the street,” Huizar said.

It will cost $450 million annually to provide the supportive services, short-term housing subsidies and emergency shelter needed to end homelessness and keep people off the streets, according to LAHSA. That does not include the construction costs funded by HHH and other sources.

The quarter-cent sales tax is estimated to provide $355 million annually for 10 years. A sunset clause is built in for accountability and assessment.\

The absolute numbers are large, but Phil Ansell, the director of the county’s homeless initiative, broke it down for voters, saying the tax would amount to “an additional tax of one dime on the purchase of a $40 sweater or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television”

Two-thirds of voters will need to approve the measure for it to pass.

Other city and district elections might be consolidated on the March 7 countywide ballot.

When Ridley-Thomas first proposed a special election, he said three dozen other jurisdictions, including the city of Los Angeles, were set to hold elections in March. He estimated that a consolidated election would cost roughly $19 million, with the county to pay half.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger pressed state lawmakers to allocate additional funding to Medicaid so that more federal matching funds could be drawn down and used to provide services to the homeless.

“As we move forward, it shouldn’t be an either or, it should be an and,” Barger said of state versus county funding.

 

Tax on Property Improvements Would Pay for Parks Under Measure A

October 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Among the many issues facing voters in November is Measure A, a 1 1/2-cent per square foot tax on improved properties in Los Angeles County to fund parks development and maintenance.

The proposed tax would raise an estimated $94 million annually, and the annual tax bill for a 1,500-square-foot house would be $22.50.

The tax assessment would be based on the square footage of structures, not the overall size of the parcel of land on which a building sits. Parking structures would be exempt from the tax.

The Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers and Water Conservation Measure would replace the funds generated by Proposition A, which was first passed more than 20 years ago. The Proposition A funding is set to expire in 2019. Measure A requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

If it succeeds, priorities for spending the money have been set based on meetings with residents from 188 study areas aimed at identifying each community’s top 10 parks projects. Thirty-five percent of funds would be tagged to pay for those projects.

Thirteen percent each would go to parks and recreation facilities in high-needs communities; environmentally oriented projects, including beach and waterway clean-up; and regional trail and accessibility projects that connect urban areas to nature. Another 15 percent would be used to fund parks maintenance in the communities where taxes are levied.

Roughly 7 percent would go to planning and administrative costs and 4 percent to veteran and youth parks-related jobs programs.

“Measure A provides safe places to play and participate in after-school programs in neighborhood parks — which receive over 41 million visits by kids each year” and “helps protect undeveloped natural areas so future generations can enjoy them,” according to a ballot argument submitted by proponents.

Those in favor also highlight planned conservation efforts including drought-tolerant landscaping and recycled water. Opponents, however, call it “the wrong tax at the wrong time,” arguing that the assessment will only add to the high cost of housing while failing to address bigger problems such as homelessness and school funding.

Opponents also point to millions of dollars in state funding for parks that has gone unspent to date and accuse politicians of mismanagement.

Proponents say the measure incorporates strict accountability that includes a residents oversight committee.

Pollsters working on behalf of the county government earlier this year found 69 percent of likely voters were in favor of the measure, a number that increased to 75 percent once those polled learned more specifics.

But it is not guaranteed to succeed. In 2014, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors tried to replace Proposition A funding with Measure P, another parks tax that garnered 62.8 percent of the vote, falling short of the two-thirds needed to pass.

At the time, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the Second District, had pressed for more dollars to be allocated to underserved areas.

The new measure has a greater needs-based component, though 50 percent of dollars generated will go back to the communities where they were raised.

Advocates say parks are about more than play, citing studies that green space can boost health and help keep neighborhoods safe.

The county’s comprehensive parks assessment found that about 51 percent of county residents do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park. The incidence of health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease is higher minority park-poor communities, according to Cynthia Harding, interim director of the county’s public health department.

 

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