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L.A. sues to block vote that could force separate health departments

The city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit Monday to halt a ballot measure that would require the city to start its own health department separate from the county's.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a major provider of HIV testing and treatment services for Los Angeles County's health department that also frequently butts heads with county leadership, led the charge to get the city measure on the June 2014 ballot.

The foundation bankrolled a successful ballot measure last year to require condom use on adult film sets in the county. That measure is now tied up in a legal battle between the foundation and porn producers after the county declined to defend its constitutionality in court.

Also last year, the foundation alleged in a lawsuit that the county improperly awarded a $75-million sole source contract to a pharmaceutical company. The county has accused the foundation of overbilling by $1.7 million.

Foundation President Michael Weinstein has called the county's health department a poorly run "clunking bureaucracy" and said it is not transparent about public health issues. He said the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which run their own health departments, do a better job. 

Officials of both the city and the county oppose the initiative, which would require the city to stop contracting with the county for health services and instead set up its own health department within 120 days of the election.

By law, the two agencies may not launch an electoral campaign against an initiative. But both government entities voted to sue to stop this one from getting on the ballot.

The city's complaint argues that the measure is "invalid as a matter of law" because it would violate state laws regarding public health and that it "impermissibly interferes with essential government functions, and unlawfully encroaches on the administrative functions of a city."

It argues that the court should also stop the initiative from going forward "to save taxpayers the waste of approximately $4.6 million in public resources to conduct an election on a proposed initiative that is invalid as a matter of law."

County spokesman Dave Sommers said the county would file its own lawsuit Tuesday.


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