AIDS activists petition to put L.A. health commission on Nov. 4 ballot

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

After dropping a campaign to create a city of Los Angeles health department separate from the county's, AIDS healthcare advocates instead petitioned election officials Monday to let voters decide if a city Health Commission should be formed.

The proposed 15-member board, which would be appointed by the City Council, would monitor the work of Los Angeles County's health departments, which currently provides disease monitoring, facility inspections and other public health services for the city.

"It's really important that the citizens of Los Angeles have input into how healthcare is delivered," said initiative co-sponsor Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and a longtime critic of the county health department.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and other supporters of the measure submitted 103,093 signatures to the City Clerk's office mid-day Monday; 67,635 signatures are required to certify a measure for the Nov. 4 ballot. 

The council could choose to adopt the proposal or place it on the ballot, Weinstein said. Weinstein said backers of the measure had been in contact with council members about the proposal, and that they were "looking for common ground."

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county's public health department, called the ballot initiative "a bureaucratic solution in search of a problem," noting that the county Board of Supervisors already appoints members of a public health commission to review programs.

The new petition was filed less than three months after a court struck down a previous and controversial ballot measure from Weinstein's organization that, if approved by voters, would have required the city to end its health services contracts with the county and set up an independent department of health within 120 days.

City and county officials opposed that effort, arguing that creating a new department would be disastrous for public health and for the city's finances. City officials estimated last year that it would cost $261 million a year to operate a separate health department.

The new proposal calls on the council to study whether it would be feasible for the city to create an independent health department. Currently, only three of the county's 88 cities operate their own public health departments: Long Beach, Pasadena and Vernon.

[For the record, 10:30 p.m. April 14: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that the new city board would monitor the work of Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health. The proposed commission would monitor that agency as well as any other county body involved in formulating and implementing health policies or services.]

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