L.A. County leaders vote to block city health agency ballot measure
Los Angeles County officials voted this week to try to block a ballot measure that would create an independent health agency for the city of Los Angeles.
The move puts the county in line with the Los Angeles City Council, which has also voted to go to court to stop the June ballot measure.
For nearly five decades, the city has been served by the county’s healthcare agency, and city and county leaders believe creating a separate agency for the city along would be costly and harm services to the public.
The voter petition that put the measure on the ballot was organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a health advocacy group based in Los Angeles, amid concerns that city residents were not getting a fair share of the public health dollars spent by the county.
The foundation, which contracts with the county to provide its services for patients with HIV and AIDS, has been in conflict with county officials for years. The chairman of the county Board of Supervisors said the foundation was driven by a vendetta because county officials have accused the group of overbilling.
“We run the risk to spend quite a lot of taxpayer money on an election that’s completely uncalled for and driven by a vendetta that stands to compromise public health,” board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I think we have to act.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that if the measure were to pass, city residents would immediately be left without healthcare services, including immunizations and restaurant inspections. It would take the city months to create its own health department, he said, but the city would be precluded from contracting with the county health department during any transition period.
“This initiative is draconian and it will put at risk the public health of this region, especially in the city of Los Angeles,” he said.
Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the board’s decision was undemocratic, and noted that other cities in Los Angeles County, including Long Beach and Pasadena, have their own health agencies.
“How can you tell the people of Los Angeles they can’t have one?” he said. “Their actions by saying they’re going to sue to prevent this says two things — one, they don’t believe they can win in the court of public opinion, and No. 2, they don’t want to hear from the public.”
The supervisors unanimously opposed the ballot measure, but were split over whether to fight it legally, voting 3 to 2 on Tuesday in closed session. Supervisor Don Knabe joined Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas in supporting litigation, while Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Gloria Molina opposed going to court.
A spokesman for Antonovich said that although he opposes the creation of a separate city health agency, he supports “the people’s right to vote.”
City and county officials have been silent about their legal strategy for challenging the June ballot measure.
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