It’s not often that government can invest in helping those in our society who can least help themselves without asking taxpayers to kick in more money. That’s why California’s opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into high-quality community services for individuals with developmental disabilities is so important.
California is choosing to go local by closing state-run Developmental Centers, which traditionally used to be home to individuals with very acute needs. When the process is complete, all people with special needs will get care from local providers under a community service system like our region does from the North Los Angeles County Regional Center.
Once the Developmental Center closures are complete, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates in a recently released report that the state will save around $100 million each year from operating costs alone.
However, the real opportunity for the state could come from selling or leasing the Developmental Center properties—two of which are located in Orange County and Sonoma County. It’s unclear how much that could earn the state, but considering the cost of real estate in California it should be a sizeable amount.
In Orange County, we have already seen an impressive project called Harbor Village create mixed-income housing and a second project is on the way. Expanding these creative efforts can help meet California’s housing crisis and generate huge revenue to invest back into the special needs community.
However there is an obstacle. Under current law in California, money generated from leasing or selling state properties typically goes back into the state’s general fund.
Instead, California should create a special account to invest revenue made from these properties in order to fund community-based programs for individuals with developmental disabilities.
While I am a Republican who believes in limited government, I also began my career as a special needs teacher. I have seen first-hand the impact we can make in people’s lives by offering quality services to help them overcome their disabilities.
Sacramento must reinvest these savings back into serving individuals with developmental disabilities to ensure local programs can continue providing top-quality care. Although our state’s Developmental Centers are going away, the needs of our community members and their families are not.
During the recent recession, community-based services suffered painful budget cuts that left the livelihood of persons with developmental disabilities in serious jeopardy. Local organizations are strapped for cash and the increase in people entering the system without additional funding will devastate people who depend on these programs.
These community programs allow people to be at home near their families and friends. The programs can also teach individuals how to cook, do laundry and learn the bus system, among other basic self-sustaining skills. Californians with developmental disabilities deserve great services that build these skill sets.
For several years, there has been a bipartisan call to increase support for developmental services. Now, the Legislature has a chance to infuse a large investment without costing taxpayers any money. California won’t need to spend more to help: it just needs to apply the operational savings from the closures and must dedicate any new revenue from selling or leasing the Developmental Centers into a special account for community-based programs.
State leaders can stand up for our most vulnerable citizens and make special needs programs a priority. The money is already there. We just need the Legislature to do the right thing.
Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) is a State Assemblyman representing Santa Clarita Valley, Antelope Valley and the High Desert. He is a 28-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol and began his career as a special education teacher.