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California

County sets stage for potential March ballot measure to fund services for the homeless

Homeless Los Angeles
Zac Lee, 25, and Naomi Rosario, 22, who are both homeless, settle in for the night with other transients at Venice Beach on Aug. 26.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to hold a countywide election in March, possibly setting the table for a sales tax initiative to fund homeless services.

County officials had debated placing several possible funding measures to deal with homelessness on the November ballot. In July, they voted to put forward a tax on marijuana businesses, but then quickly reversed course after pushback from some homeless advocates and drug treatment providers.

The providers argued that the measure would put the county in the position of appearing to lobby for marijuana legalization, as most of the tax proceeds would only flow in if Californians vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas then launched a push to place a quarter-cent sales tax on the March ballot.

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The sales tax would raise an estimated $355 million a year — compared with a high-end estimate of $130 million for the marijuana tax. But the proposal did not have the needed four-fifths support among the supervisors to place it on the November ballot.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe — both of whom frequently oppose tax measures — are retiring and will be replaced by new board members in December, possibly giving the proposal the fourth vote needed. 

If the sales tax initiative to fund homeless services is not placed on the March ballot, the county would probably have to wait until 2018 to bring the issue before voters. The last opportunity for the supervisors to vote to place a measure on the March ballot would be on Dec. 9.

Ridley-Thomas proposed moving to consolidate the elections under the county registrar, arguing that if the 36 cities in L.A. County, including Los Angeles, hold their own elections in March — as they usually do — it could depress voter turnout, which would hurt the potential county measure’s chances.

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“A voter could be required to report to two different polling locations. Or if they are located at the same polling place, the voter must check in at two different tables, sign two different rosters and vote two different ballots,” he wrote in his proposal. “This creates confusion among voters and poll workers alike, has the potential of disenfranchising voters and contributes to an overall negative voting experience.”

The county supervisors directed the registrar and chief executive to begin coordinating with the cities to consolidate the election next spring.

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Apart from the potential county measure, voters in the city of Los Angeles will decide on a $1.2-billion city bond measure in November intended to raise money to build more permanent supportive housing for homeless people. That money could not be used to pay for other services, such as mental health and addiction treatment and job training.

Those types of services, which are primarily provided by the county, could be funded through a sales tax measure, however.

Although it is not yet clear that the board will vote to place a measure on the March ballot, some homeless advocates voiced their support for the potential tax initiative Tuesday.

“This initiative will require a campaign for its success,” said Marsha Temple, who runs the nonprofit Integrated Recovery Network. “Speaking on behalf of the homeless service providers, we commit to volunteer to ensure that the initiative prevails.”

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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Twitter: @sewella

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