Gary Horton: A tax to nowhere


Bridges to nowhere. Taxes to nowhere.

As bridges should lead to a known destination, new taxation should likewise lead to known outcomes. Unfortunately, despite offering a worthy and pressing cause, Measure H doesn’t know exactly where it’s going.

This proposed tax adds a quarter of a cent per dollar to every taxable purchase in L.A. County, racking up some $355 million a year in new tax revenue over its 10-year span. But its authors aren’t yet able to inform voters exactly how the money will be spent.

Specific details will come later, after months of community and panel deliberation. Measure H is somewhat “Trust us – we’re the government.”

Indeed, Measure H is aimed at helping cure L.A. County’s exploding homeless crisis. Statistics show that homelessness here has grown from 37,000 to 47,000 individuals between 2009 and 2016.

In a population just over 10 million, L.A. County has dubious boasting rights that one out of slightly more than 200 inhabitants don’t inhabit homes. They live under bridges, over freeways, in parks, on benches, in our riverbeds and behind our shopping centers.

Plainly, something, anything, has to be done.

And that’s how Measure H “feels.” “Something has to be done and we’ll tax now so we’ll have cash ready when we figure out specifically how to spend it.”

That’s well-intended but financially iffy. Measure H funds 21 different anti-homeless initiatives of varying urgency and effectiveness. Included are important outreach programs to jail inmates returning from incarceration and for homeless veterans.

There’s financial assistance to existing homeless programs – but no guarantee our own local Bridge to Home would receive additional funds.

It proposes rent assistance for the near-homeless and recovering homeless, but note that significant funds may be directed to for-profit housing companies that benefit from the slush.

This “bleeding heart liberal” would normally jump at the chance to back a homelessness intervention tax. But this local businessman also understands that cutting any sum of money in 21 different directions, subjected to the whims of multiple rounds of community and special interest panels, burdened by multiple layers of bureaucracy and overhead, distributed across 4,751 square miles, and thinned out by rent-profiteers will, in the end, supply just a trickle of benefit for most of its objectives.

We’ll see mere drops of highly diffused assistance when laser-focused buckets – and even oceans – are needed.

“But we’ve got to do something!”

Yes, we do. We also need to know exactly what it is we need to do, where we need to do it, and what the results will yield before we start building our bridge to somewhere.

More than lack of funds alone, the key to solving homelessness first resides in fixing local governments and entrenched laws that won’t tackle the problem directly.

Most communities refuse to directly fund and build homeless housing. Most communities won’t correct zoning and code laws to permit increased low-income housing. Most local residents cry “Not in my backyard” to low-income or no-income housing solutions.

Our laws allow or tolerate vagrancy when instead our laws should be structured as both homelessness-solving and homelessness-intolerant.

Our communities must come to face facts and come to terms with required action sufficient to solve these structurally entrenched problems.

We need real community housing centers for walk-in assistance for anyone nearing homelessness or actually homeless. We need readily available emergency housing, built, owned and managed by our communities.

We need transitional housing for the unemployed and homeless underemployed. We’ve got to commit to rescuing our “hometown heroes” who’ve fallen right before us, right here at home.

Most importantly, we’ve got to build and fund housing and hospitals for the mentally disabled and mentally ill. Measure H is too small, too diffused, and too vague to achieve this.

“No human left behind” must be our ultimate commitment and the ultimate solution to homelessness. If we can wage countless wars in distant lands we should be able to defeat homelessness right here. Do we have the kind of guts for this kind of glory?

Determined actions like these require far more than Measure H will scatter-gun. They require a deep change of heart for all America, for us here in the Santa Clarita Valley, and require a willingness to substantially, not incrementally, step up to pay for them.

Measure H tiptoes forward toward solutions with a kaleidoscope of strategies, but we won’t see much after it’s cut 21 different ways – and certainly not here, far away in the SCV, where we have only 1,000 of the county’s 47,000 homeless.

Thus, and sadly, Measure H must return to the drawing board for a redo – with concrete plans, with hard, measurable, accountable steps.

That accomplished, let’s fund the improved initiative next time around and fight and build and end homelessness – as though 47,000 lives depend on it.

Because they do.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His weekly “Full Speed to Port!” column usually appears Wednesdays in The Signal but published Saturday this week as part of a special Measure H package.

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