Gov. Jerry Brown again refuses to declare a state of emergency on homelessness

A homeless camp last fall near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
A homeless camp last fall near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County’s latest efforts to needle Sacramento into giving more aid to the local fight against homelessness appear to be falling flat, with Gov. Jerry Brown saying he won’t declare homelessness to be a statewide emergency.

The county supervisors voted Tuesday to pursue a declaration from the state, which would open the door to more state money and staff time to be put into fighting homelessness.

Before that, the county had been lobbying unsuccessfully for a change in state law that would grant the county authority to seek a special tax on incomes over $1 million to pay for programs to address homelessness. Brown has opposed that as well, saying he has “deep concerns” about the plan and about giving additional taxing authority to local governments in general.


In a statement via a spokeswoman, the governor said Thursday that a gubernatorial declaration of emergency “is not appropriate.”

“We recognize the importance of addressing homelessness in our cities and will continue to support local governments, which remain best positioned to tackle challenges like this and tailor solutions to the needs of their communities,” the statement said.

The budget the governor and state lawmakers agreed on this week would set aside $400 million for affordable housing, to be spent only if a separate deal can be reached on streamlining the process for new construction. The state is also considering issuing a $2-billion bond to build supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, of which $267 million would be included in the coming year’s budget.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has led the push for the so-called millionaires tax and for a declaration of emergency, said the county would receive only $30 million or $40 million a year from the bond proceeds to build new housing, while the estimated cost to ramp up homeless services in the county enough to significantly decrease the numbers on the streets is $450 million a year.

The proposed half-cent levy on taxable income over $1 million would bring in an estimated $243 million a year to the county.

The county’s homeless population has grown over the last several years and stood at about 47,000 in this year’s count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. There were an estimated 115,738 people homeless statewide in 2015.

Ridley-Thomas said the county will continue to push the governor for more action.

“This is the second time that he is saying no to an effort to address a crisis in the largest portion of the state of California,” he said. “Well, what is he inclined to say yes to?”

A previous, behind-the-scenes attempt by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last year to get a state declaration of emergency on homelessness ahead of the winter’s anticipated El Niño rains also failed. At the time, Brown said it would be unwise to declare an emergency before the rains – which ended up being far less severe than predicted – arrived.

The city is now contemplating placing a bond measure on the November ballot to pay to build more housing for the homeless.

With efforts to pursue a high-earner income tax foundering, the county is also considering a sales or property tax measure on the November ballot for homelessness, but those measures polled less favorably than the millionaires tax, and the sales tax would require a four-fifths vote of the board to put it on the ballot, which means it could be blocked by the panel’s two Republicans.

Twitter: @sewella


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