City officials are starting to pore over thousands of signatures to determine whether a proposal for a Los Angeles city health commission could make it to the ballot -- the latest step in a battle by AIDS activists who argue Angelenos need more leverage over services provided by the county.
The petition calls for a 15-member commission, appointed by members of the Los Angeles City Council, to monitor how county departments provide health services to the city. It would also examine whether the city should keep contracting with the county or create a health department of its own.
The proposal emerged after a court struck down an earlier bid by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to create a city health department, an idea that was vehemently opposed by city and county officials.
The nonprofit and the county have repeatedly sparred over contracts and billing, but the group has said its concerns about county health services are unrelated to those disputes.
"We've been an outspoken critic of the county health services -- so obviously we feel there's a lot of room for improvement," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Right now, "10 million people are being served by county health -- and the only means for input, really, is through a five-person Board of Supervisors," Weinstein said.
County public health department director Dr. Jonathan Fielding previously told The Times that a new commission was "a bureaucratic solution in search of a problem," saying that county supervisors already appoint members of a public health commission to review their programs.
Roughly 103,000 signatures have been tallied on the petition to create a city health commission, according to the city clerk's office. About 61,000 are needed to qualify for the November ballot.
The city clerk's office has started scrutinizing a sample of those signatures to check their validity. If enough signatures are found to be valid, the petition could be approved within two weeks.
If the numbers fall somewhat shorter, city officials could take another month to examine every signature.
If the petition is found to have enough valid signatures, the City Council could schedule an election or adopt it itself.
The initiative states that the commission would be funded "in a revenue-neutral manner" and would not get money from the general fund, which pays for basic city services.