Supes use earmarks in place of Measure J

Los Angeles County Seal.

After a court ruling struck down Measure J as unconstitutional, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors took steps Tuesday toward earmarking funds to implement the goals of the county ballot measure that would have diverted funds away from law enforcement and toward alternatives to incarceration.

Approved by L.A. County voters in November, Measure J required that no less than 10% of the county’s general fund be directed to youth development programs, investment in small minority-owned businesses, rent/housing assistance and job training, and low-income jobs, as well as alternatives to incarceration, such as community-based justice programs, non-custody programs, health services and others. The measure specifically stated that the 10% could not be allocated toward law enforcement, prompting its opponents to describe it as a “defund the police” measure.

While the L.A. Superior Court’s ruling, which is currently being appealed by the county, determined the measure interfered with the board’s authority in regards to budgeting, the decision did not involve any policy choices embedded in the measure. That means it didn’t prohibit the board from continuing to make investments in the community programs earmarked in the Measure J spending plan, according to county Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport.

The board’s Tuesday actions are intended to transform Measure J programs into Care First Community Investment, or CFCI, with the overall program goals and proposed spending plan set to remain the same.

The $187.7 million CFCI spending package is set to include a one-year down payment of $100 million, in addition to $87.7 million allotted from federal COVID-19 recovery funds disbursed as part of the American Rescue Plan. Additionally, the board has agreed to allocate $314.4 million in ARP funds to similar community-oriented programs.

Of the related motions unanimously approved by the board is one that is set to transition the $100 million of funds currently held in the provisional fund for Measure J programs to the new CFCI spending plan, the same one that was created by the Measure J Reimagine Advisory Committee. Those funds had previously been set aside from the county’s general fund, which is pulled either from excess county revenues or reductions across a variety of departments, in the 2021-22 budget, according to the motion.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva spoke during Tuesday’s meeting, contending the $100 million was removed directly from the Sheriff’s Department’s budget, rather than the county’s general fund, at a time when there’s a desperate need for public safety funds.

“All it is, is a giveaway of taxpayer funds that belongs in public safety to keep people alive (to) … [a group] that you control and they’re your friends,” Villanueva added. “All this money is going to be spent with zero accountability, zero oversight.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, disagreed with those sentiments, saying the motion is not a mechanism to defund law enforcement, but rather, part of a longtime diversion plan.

Of the $100 million, nearly half of those funds, or $42 million, are set to be used to close Men’s Central Jail and divert some inmates to yet-to-be-identified community-based treatment centers, along with funding other programs.

While Barger agreed with the CFCI as a whole — saying she believes the funds will truly make a difference — she did not support using the funds to close the Men’s Central Jail, as she said she believes the county needs more beds and better plans for appropriate diversion programs before doing so.

She, therefore, moved the board to bifurcate the Men’s Central Jail item from the overall motion and was the sole “no” vote.

“I cannot support the diversion of people from our jails without a plan to supply beds for those for substance abuse programs and those suffering from mental illness … (and) for violent offenders,” Barger added.

The second unanimously approved motion is set to transition the Measure J Reimagine Advisory Committee into the CFCI Advisory Committee, a 24-member board comprised of community representatives; individuals with “lived experience” or direct knowledge of the criminal justice, homeless or foster care systems due to a family member’s experience; and both county and labor representatives, among others, who are set to continue making recommendations as it relates to funding CFCI plans in future years.

Villanueva, who described the committee as a “bureaucratic orgy of wokeness,” said the “race-based appointments” to the committee did not seem constitutional.

“Changing the name of it does not change the nature of it,” he added. “All you’re doing is changing the name, but it’s the very same problem.”

Villanueva also urged the board to instead spend more money on public safety issues, such as combating homelessness, the increasing number of homicide investigations or enforcement against illegal marijuana grow operations.

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