While L.A. County just approved its largest annual budget allocation yet from Measure H, the 2016 sales tax measure to address homelessness, Santa Clarita officials renewed their call for the city to get its “fair share” of those funds during a budget study session this week.
Their main gripe: Despite sending tens of millions of dollars to help fight homelessness and a local multimillion-dollar investment for services from city coffers, Santa Clarita has received “pennies on the dollar” back from its contribution.
“So, I’m not naive enough to think that Santa Clarita is not going to have to give more than their fair share and get less than their fair share,” City Councilman Bill Miranda said Thursday in a phone interview. “I understand that because I’m not naive. But when the county takes approximately $8 million (a year) from us and gives us back less than $800,000 — something’s wrong. That’s not our fair share.”
Miranda noted those were just estimates, but he was speaking to what Councilman Cameron Smyth referred to Friday as Santa Clarita’s status as a “donor city” to L.A. County.
Plus, Miranda wasn’t far off.
From 2017, the first year Measure H was in effect, to the first quarter of 2021, the most recent figures available, Santa Clarita has paid $26,532,752.70 to L.A. County for its apportionment of the sales tax, according to figures provided by Helen Chavez, assistant chief deputy and communications director for Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Fifth District, which includes Santa Clarita. Annually, that comes out to averages of about $6.25 million a year sent to L.A. County versus about $791,000 the city can identify as what’s come back over that same period — about $186,000 annually.
Smyth, who called for the city to form an ad hoc committee on homelessness back in 2017 and has served on it since its inception, called the situation “incredibly frustrating but not unexpected,” and why he opposed Measure H when it was brought to voters in 2016.
“I initially opposed Measure H primarily because I had very little faith that the revenue generated would find its way to the communities that need it,” Smyth said, “and that it wouldn’t just be lost in the black hole that is the county’s budget.”
Smyth also noted there’s been a sea change in the response from residents in the need to address homelessness locally, mentioning Santa Clarita’s transition from a city that annually hosted a contentious discussion over the location of its temporary emergency winter shelter to one that didn’t have a speaker in opposition when year-round funding for Bridge to Home, a full-time shelter, was approved in 2020.
Smyth said a coordinated effort between city staff, local nonprofits and the support from officials and the community has helped put Santa Clarita “at the front of the line, so to speak,” in terms of identifying not only the needs, but also how to address them. But this community cooperation and support haven’t helped the city realize more revenue from Measure H dollars yet.
“I can look at that as well from the city's perspective that it's always easier for an elected body when there is consensus support amongst the community, when you are looking to allocate a grant or revenue,” Smyth said. “But, you know, again, Santa Clarita has always been a quote-unquote, ‘donor community’ to L.A. County, whether it be Measure H dollars or infrastructure transportation dollars, similar to you know, California being a ‘donor state.’”
The county’s discussion at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to approve more than $600 million — prior to supervisors approving another emergency declaration for the homelessness crisis — points to part of the problem. The county identified its lack of coordination between the voter-approved Measure H dollars and its previously existing funding sources in a 30-day report back to supervisors that looked at how it can get more dollars to local municipalities.
“Up until this time, we have not undertaken a county effort to realize and identify all of the funding that we receive for homelessness,” said Fesia Davenport, CEO for L.A. County, at Tuesday’s meeting. “Usually, the discussion has focused on Measure H.”
An email Friday to Christina Villacorte, communications director for L.A. County’s Homeless Initiative and Affordable Housing, on whether the city could employ different strategies to obtain a larger share of Measure H funding, was not immediately returned. Her voice mailbox was not receiving messages.
The city of Santa Clarita could identify just three allocations received from its more than $26.5 million contribution to the county pot, with Family Promise the biggest beneficiary.
“In 2018, the city of Santa Clarita was awarded a $50,000 grant in Measure H funds to develop a comprehensive plan to combat and address homelessness in Santa Clarita,” Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city, said in an email Friday. “Subsequent to this, in 2019, the city entered into an agreement with the county to receive Measure H funding in the amount of $548,493, to provide Family Promise of Santa Clarita Valley (Family Promise) funds for pre-construction-related cost for their interim housing facility and innovation grants to six local-serving nonprofit organizations. In 2022, the city approved a one-year contract with L.A. County to receive Measure H funding in the amount of $193,443 to further assist with the Family Promise housing project and fund a homeless services coordinator to help facilitate the 2022 Community Action Plan to Combat Homelessness.”
Janice Hahn, chair of the Board of Supervisors, heard statistics Tuesday on how many people have been served by Measure H dollars, with 100,000 placed in interim housing, 85,000 people permanently housed and 36,000 connected to benefits that have increased their income.
But she and Barger both acknowledged a need for a change in strategy, with county officials seeming to support the city’s call for more local control of those funds.
“When we passed Measure H six years ago, we created 47 strategies to guide us how we would invest these funds, and each year we pass the Measure H budget,” Hahn said Tuesday during the supervisors’ meeting. “And while many people are served, our homeless numbers are not decreasing, and then the pandemic hit. And it became clear that what we were doing needed to be changed.”
In Barger’s comments Tuesday, she emphasized the need for “co-investment opportunities” and a call for Davenport to develop plans with local jurisdictions. Barger also shared her support for this year’s Measure H budget, which includes a $20 million “local solutions” fund to support cities’ respective visions, Chavez noted earlier this week.
“Budgets reflect priorities, and I’m pleased this year’s allocation includes funding for our city partners so they have adequate resources to do their part,” Barger said in a written statement Thursday. “I’ve consistently voiced my belief that municipalities know their communities best and can craft housing solutions developed and supported locally.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs said part of the concern is that, with city staff and residents working together to try to address homelessness and its issues, without the Measure H funding, dollars have to come from other areas in order to take care of the costs incurred, noting more than $2 million in matching funds the city had to come up with when it moved to make the Bridge to Home shelter year-round.
Separate from Measure H, Barger helped secure a $2 million match for those funds, with state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and then-Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares also securing $3 million from a state budget allocation in July to support Bridge to Home, according to city officials.
Gibbs was recently named as Santa Clarita’s representative to the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency, which was created through state legislation and authorized to, among other things, develop ballot measures for the purposes of financing housing-related measures, including new construction of affordable housing projects. At its first meeting Thursday, Gibbs was recommended by a vote of its membership to be the representative for the north county region, over the representatives from Burbank and Palmdale.
“One of the comments I made was, any funding model that we approved to take to the voters must include a guaranteed return amount based on the contribution from each city, not just Santa Clarita, not just the large group, but the small cities as well,” Gibbs said Friday in a phone interview. “So even if more funding goes to specific areas or specific cities, there needs to be a set amount that gets returned, because the local municipalities are the ones who are more in touch with the needs of their community.”
Soup for the Soul, which is Bridge to Home’s biggest annual fundraiser, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Canyon Country Community Center. The center is located at 18410 Sierra Highway. Tickets are $150. For information about the organization or the event, visit btohome.org.