Los Angeles County supervisors endorse a spending plan for Measure H homelessness tax

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a spending plan Tuesday for millions of dollars from a special sales tax to fight homelessness.

On a unanimous vote, the supervisors accepted virtually all of the recommendations of a 50-member planning committee on how to divide nearly $259 million projected in the first year of Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by county voters in March.

Declaring it a “signal day in the county of Los Angeles,” board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas nonetheless cautioned against complacency.

“We’ve got to make it work for the good of this county and the sake of our very moral fiber,” he said.

A parade of about 70 speakers stepped up mostly to praise the board for its “courage,” “leadership,” “determination” and “vision.” Others argued for several motions that offered nuanced direction to county officials who will administer the funds.

Ridley-Thomas introduced one of the motions, asking for a report in 45 days on how the county planned to use data to track the progress of the homeless strategies. Other motions asked for 200 shelter beds to be provided for victims of domestic violence and requested studies on addressing youths and college students and providing day care and additional funds to cities.

The board sidestepped the only contentious issue, whether to provide $1.2 million to the Sheriff’s Department to beef up its homeless outreach team. Several members of the citizen planning group strongly opposed the allocation, saying that working with homeless people was an inherent responsibility of the department and should be funded out of its regular budget.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell and police chiefs from several cities argued Tuesday that law enforcement officers often make the first contact with homeless people under stressful conditions.

In a compromise, the board committed $6.6 million from the AB 109 prison reform bill for homeless outreach by law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Homeless Services team would receive $1.2 million annually for three years. The remainder would be divided among other police agencies, excluding the Los Angeles Police Department, to support their homeless outreach.

The planning committee last month forwarded a nearly unanimous consensus to supervisors on how to divide the money over 21 strategies approved for funding by the board last year.

The bulk of the money will be spent on rental subsidies, services to support those placed in permanent housing, outreach and strengthening and expansion of the shelter system.

Measure H is projected to raise $355 million annually for 10 years. The three-year spending plan adopted Tuesday included tentative budgets of $374 million in the second year and $431 million in the third. Those budgets would commit all the $1.07 billion projected in the first three years, but would reach a pace exceeding the projected annual revenue in the fourth year.

The sales tax increase will raise the rate in most cities to 9.5% effective Oct. 1. County officials earlier said it would start July 1, but an agreement worked out with the state Board of Equalization, which will collect the money, pushed the date back.

The increase will not apply in Compton, La Mirada, Long Beach, Lynwood, Pico Rivera, Santa Monica and South Gate because the sales tax in those cities is already at the maximum allowed by state law.

Phil Ansell, director of the county’s Homeless Initiative, said the delay in receiving the funds will not slow down any programs. Internal county borrowing will be used to start on schedule July 1, and the smaller first-year budget will come in just under the nine months of tax collections.

doug.smith@latimes.com

@LATDoug

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