President Bush's drug plan struck different chords in the San Fernando Valley on Wednesday, drawing measured support from police departments, criticism from drug rehabilitation centers and protest from one of California's most powerful congressmen.
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) said he was distressed that Bush had proposed diverting $320 million to the drug plan from a fund to help states provide educational services, health care and other assistance for illegal aliens who sought legal residency under the 1986 immigration reform act. The diverted money represents 45% of the new spending under Bush's plan.
"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Berman, a leader on immigration issues as a member of the House Judiciary's immigration subcommittee.
Increased Law Enforcement
Bush's $7.9-billion initiative, outlined in a national address Tuesday, would cost $716 million more in the next fiscal year than drug programs already in that year's budget. Overall, it includes an increase of $2.2 billion in fiscal 1990 from last year. About 70% would go to increased law enforcement; the rest is for treatment and prevention.
Law enforcement officers praised the President for articulating a national strategy to combat drugs, but several said they were unsure how much--if any--additional money they would receive.
"While they're talking about dollars for enhancement, we in this area are still trying to get our fair share of federal resources," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block. "Forget about the enhancement. We've yet to see what we're entitled to in terms of deputy U. S. attorneys, drug enforcement agents, FBI agents or Border Patrol agents. What happens at the border impacts us quickly and directly, and the resources down there are woefully inadequate."
Assistant Ventura County Sheriff Oscar Fuller called the package "a worthwhile but ambitious" plan. "I think it can be accomplished, but it will take extraordinary effort to make it happen. We've been dealing with this for years. A lot of money's been spent, but we've not had a great deal of success."
He, like others, is unsure whether any new dollars will come his way. "It's one thing to make grand statements, and I'm sure he's sincere, but somewhere between the source and the street, there are a lot of filtrations."
Simi Valley Police Chief L. Paul Miller said he regrets that Southern California will not receive special assistance under the plan. Authorities say Los Angeles is surpassing East Coast cities as a major drug distribution center, but federal help has not followed the drug trade.
"There was a very strong federal effort mounted in Miami," Miller said. "And I'm disappointed that the President's plan does not target the Los Angeles metropolitan area for a specific effort. What I'm glad about is that the President, going on television, called this problem to every American's attention because until attitudes change, we will not see much of a difference."
In Burbank, Police Chief Glen Bell took issue with some of the plan's critics. "People say, 'It's not enough, and it's too late.' I don't think it's ever too late, and I don't know if it's enough or not, but let's try it."
Criticism of Plan
While program directors at Valley treatment centers said they appreciate any additional help, they criticized the President's plan as short-sighted, misguided and insufficient.
"I think the idea is there, working on all fronts, but I just don't think the money is there," said Marcellus Robinson, program director for Via Avanta, a residential treatment program in Pacoima for drug-addicted mothers and their children.
Robinson, like other clinic operators, said he doesn't know how much more money is needed in the drug war. He just knows that he hasn't got enough. While women, some in desperate need of treatment, wait up to four months to enter his program, funding shortages have forced him to operate at nearly half capacity. He is licensed for 87 beds but has the resources to use only 45.
"The President does talk of increasing the number of treatment slots, and we are appreciative of every increase," said Maury Weiner, administrator of Tarzana Psychiatric Hospital, which is part of Tarzana Treatment Center, a comprehensive drug treatment center.
"But ours is one of the centers with waiting lists so long that people change addresses long before they are reached. Unless we have treatment on demand, we will still have all the lost souls that come from being put on waiting lists."
Others said the plan ignores important realities of dealing with drug addiction.
"We kind of put treatment up on a pedestal, and I really believe a medical model, a hospital-based approach to recovery, is very limited," said Angela Goldberg, program director for Bridge: A Way Across, which offers alcohol- and drug-prevention programs in Pacoima.
"It's very expensive and captures a place in time that has little to do with a person's regular life outside the treatment program. I really wish he would have been more innovative in looking at not just the fact that we have a problem but at what solutions will be effective responses--and I don't think treatment is."
One solution, Goldberg said, would be to make federal loans available to recovering addicts interested in long-term residential homes where they could live in a drug-free environment.
Bush's proposed use of money originally intended for new immigrants is important in California because the state absorbed nearly 60% of those who applied for amnesty and is entitled to a comparable percentage of the state legalization-impact assistance grants.
"If you take money from a program that's designed to provide the education and job training for newly legalized aliens to put them on the path to upward mobility and assimilation into American society," Berman said, "it adds to the social disarray in which many of these people find themselves and makes them more vulnerable to being preyed upon by drug pushers."
The 1986 landmark law stipulated that $1 billion a year would be set aside between fiscal 1987 and 1991 for the grants. Anticipating that the massive amnesty program would begin slowly and leave higher costs for later years, the law gave states until fiscal 1994 to spend the money.
Reps. Carlos Moorhead (R-Glendale), also a Judiciary Committee member, and Robert Lagomarsino (R-Ojai), agreed that the immigrant assistance grants should not be tapped for the drug plan.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), however, said the debate came down to priorities.
"I am a heck of a lot more concerned right now about the drug program than I am about the interim assistance program," he said.
Apart from the issue of the funding source, Valley-area congressmen generally responded along partisan lines.
"It's a great first step," said Gallegly, who served on a GOP drug task force last year. "It's something we needed to get in place for a long time."
Moorhead and Lagomarsino emphasized that success depends heavily on public support. "The main resource that he was trying to rally was the American people," Lagomarsino said.
Democrats said Bush's refusal to raise taxes dooms the plan to failure. "It's another example of President Bush appearing to be backing some action but not asking anybody to pay for government efforts with new revenues," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
Berman expressed disappointment that Bush failed to designate Los Angeles as a high-density drug-trafficking area, which would earmark increased law enforcement resources for the city. Berman has sponsored a bill that would require federal drug czar William Bennett to devote more manpower to combatting drug smuggling in Los Angeles and other major ports of entry for illegal narcotics.
Alan C. Miller reported from Washington and Lynn Steinberg reported from Los Angeles.
(RELATED STORY: Part I, Page 14)