City Council opts not to form city health department

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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The Santa Clarita City Council decided Tuesday to write a letter to Los Angeles County requesting that the different parts of the county have a greater say in public health regulations for their area. 

The letter will express “(the city’s) desire for the establishment of local boards to deal with local data,” said City Manager Ken Striplin, who summarized the findings of a report exploring the possible formation of a city public health department in Santa Clarita. 

“As you look at the cost — the operation cost, the startup cost — and the level of services you have to provide, as well as the amount of authority and autonomy you really end up with as a local health department, there’s really no compelling reason to proceed forward with creating a local health department,” Striplin told council members.  

Striplin also told the City Council that the state dictates public health policy, and counties have the ability to add stricter policies above the state’s regulatory floor. 

“As you look back over the pandemic and the different restrictions that were imposed by the state and the county, there was only a period of about less than two weeks where we would have been able to do outdoor dining for two weeks longer than we did,” Striplin said. 

While property taxes paid by Santa Clarita residents help to fund the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, the city cannot use property tax dollars allocated for public health to support a city health department. 

Striplin said the county will not give those dollars to the city, which delegated the authority to provide public health services to the county when the city incorporated in 1987. 

Councilwoman Marsha McLean encouraged her City Council colleagues to support Assembly Bill 1251 — legislation that would require Los Angeles County to base public health orders on data for a service planning area and not data for the whole county.  

“I want to make sure that we set up some kind of a mechanism so that we can have a seat at the table rather than the County of L.A. making all of the decisions for all of us,” McLean said. 

Councilwoman Laurene Weste agreed with McLean, also suggesting coordinating efforts with Palmdale and Lancaster. 

“Lobbying and legislation are probably one of the best things we can do because it’s going to give us this strength to get to where we need to get without belaboring our citizens with costs that we have no way to pay,” Weste said. 

Councilman Cameron Smyth skeptically asked if the letter would be “strongly worded,” as the City Council resolved wanting to express their desire for greater input. 

Smyth, a former member of the California State Assembly, also agreed that a legislative solution is the best option. 

“We weren’t under any illusions about the price tag that would come along with having to create a new bureaucracy, but I think it was an important exercise to complete, to show our community that we’re always going to be proactive and we’re going to always look for solutions,” said Smyth. 

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