City Council opposes Measure J

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Santa Clarita City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to formally oppose Measure J, the countywide ballot measure proposing to increase spending on community-based programs and decrease spending on law enforcement. 

Known by proponents as “Reimagine L.A. County,” the measure would set aside 10% of the county’s unrestricted funds for programs such as affordable housing, youth development, job training and for alternatives to incarceration, including restorative justice programs and health services. Funds would not be invested in law enforcement agencies or jails and prisons. 

The amount of funding could be anywhere between $360 million to $490 million of the $34.9 billion in the current budget, Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said in a prior board meeting. 

Measure, J, co-authored by supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, follows monthslong Black Lives Matter protests and aims to “address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice,” according to the proposal’s analysis. 

On Tuesday, City Council members argued the measure is problematic, ambiguous and would tie the board’s hands in accessing the money for future emergency situations. 

“This is very problematic,” said Councilwoman Marsha McLean. “The language, clearly and succinctly, states in the ordinance, as it is written, that the money that is allocated — 10% — none of it goes toward any law enforcement or agency or whatsoever that is meant to keep us safe.” 

Social programs already exist, from the local to federal levels, but issues these programs are expected to address are only worsening, according to Councilman Bob Kellar, who called the proposal “insanity.” 

Now is not the time to shift away those funds, said Councilwoman Laurene Weste.  

“I don’t believe mandating permanently taking 10% away from the county’s already-inadequate budget in a time of crisis is the right thing to do,” she said. 

The City Council voted 5-0 in opposition to Measure J. 

What are supporters and opponents saying? 

Supporters, including four of the five county supervisors and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, argue that allocation of funds will address disproportionate incarceration rates and inequities among underserved and low-income communities. 

“It’s time to go back to the ballot,” Cullors said in a statement. “Reforming L.A. jails through Measure R was phase 1. Now it’s time to reimagine and reinvest in a whole new paradigm for dignity, safety, health.” 

Those in opposition include county Sheriff Alex Villanueva, law enforcement union groups and Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley and who cast the lone “no” vote against placing the amendment on the November ballot. She has argued that while she agrees in investing in communities, the move would challenge the county even more amid the ongoing pandemic. 

“The county should be even more judicious with taxpayers’ dollars and allocate funds accordingly,” she said in a previous statement. “Unrestricted funds can be used in a variety of ways during this financial crisis, including to close the county’s current budget deficit and minimize future layoffs.”

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