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Californians will vote on four bond measures in November to fund billions for housing, water and hospitals

Californians will vote on four bond measures in November to fund billions for housing, water and hospitals
The neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

The first four measures Californians will see on their statewide ballot this year ask for permission to borrow lots of money.

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Propositions 1, 2, 3 and 4 call for the state to issue a total of $16.4 billion in bonds to help build housing for low-income and homeless residents, improve the state’s watersheds, natural habitats and water treatment facilities and expand a network of children’s hospitals.

One of the bonds, Proposition 2, would tap revenue from a special income tax paid by millionaires for funding mental health services, while the other measures would rely on the state’s day-to-day operating budget for repayment.

In total, the three bond measures from the state’s primary budget will cost $26 billion over the next four decades to repay with interest, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Here’s a rundown of what each of the bond measures will do and the arguments supporters and opponents have made about them.

Proposition 1: Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond, $4 billion

What it will pay for: It’s no secret that housing is unaffordable for millions of Californians, with low-income renters the hardest hit.

This measure would allow the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to help finance new and rehabilitated apartments for low-income residents, build parks and water infrastructure around housing near public transit, provide down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers and support farmworker housing projects. The state would borrow an additional $1 billion to provide home loans for veterans with recipients on the hook to pay back those loans.

How it got on the ballot: In 2017, state lawmakers passed 15 bills designed to help address the state’s housing crisis. One of the bills, Senate Bill 3, put this bond measure on the ballot.

What supporters say: The bond would provide the biggest injection of state money into low-income housing programs in more than a decade. That money, backers say, is needed given the extent of the state’s housing problems and because funding from previous low-income housing bonds is depleted and another state housing program has been eliminated. A collection of business groups, labor unions and housing advocates are behind the measure.

What opponents say: Those against the measure, including the state Republican Party, are generally opposed to increasing government debt, especially for low-income housing programs.

The bottom line: Combined with federal funding, the bond measure would provide annual housing subsidies for 30,000 families and 7,500 farmworker households, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. It would also provide down payment assistance to about 15,000 homebuyers and home loans to 3,000 veterans. The cost would be $170 million annually for the next 35 years.

Proposition 2: Homeless Housing Bond, $2 billion

What it will pay for: According to the latest tally, there are more than 134,000 homeless residents in California, a number that’s grown considerably in recent years.

The state’s supplemental income tax on millionaires pays for mental health services. This measure would allow the state to borrow $2 billion from that fund to help finance housing for homeless residents with mental illnesses.

How it got on the ballot: This bond wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot. In 2016, state lawmakers passed the $2-billion bond, but that decision was challenged in court in part on grounds that voters needed to weigh in before the state could issue debt. While the court fight continued, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators decided earlier this year to put the decision before voters.

What supporters say: Backers contend the state needs to help pay for new homeless housing projects, especially geared toward those with mental illness, to stem the rising numbers of people on the streets.

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What opponents say: Those against the measure argue that the bond would divert money needed for mental health service programs.

The bottom line: The bond would help finance about 20,000 new supportive housing units for homeless residents, according to the legislative analyst. The annual bond payments would be roughly $120 million a year.

Proposition 3: Water Bond, $8.9 billion

What this is about and what it will pay for: This bond allows for significant new spending on a variety of new and existing water-related programs, including those that would protect the state’s watersheds, boost water and sewer infrastructure, improve fish and wildlife habitats and other upgrades. There’s money designated for specific projects, including $750 million to repair the federally owned Madera and Friant-Kern canals in the Central Valley and $200 million to repair the state-owned Oroville Dam, where storm damage in 2017 prompted the evacuation of 188,000 residents who lived downstream.

How it got on the ballot: Wildlife and agriculture interests ponied up to finance signature gathering so that the initiative would qualify for the ballot, and are funding the campaign.

What supporters say: Upgrades to the state’s water infrastructure are critical to ensuring its long-term viability and will improve the quality of unsafe drinking water facilities, backers argue. They say the money also will help prepare the state for future droughts, including the development of water recycling and desalination technologies. Supporters contend the state should pick up the tab for the federal Madera and Friant-Kern canals because they’re critical for irrigation deliveries to hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland. The Nature Conservancy and some other environmental groups are backing the measure.

What opponents say: Voters have approved $31 billion in bonds for water and environmental projects over the past 18 years, including a separate $4-billion bond that set aside some money for water improvements this June, according the legislative analyst. Roughly one-third of that money is still available to spend. Those speaking out against the initiative, most prominently Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), argue that it’s filled with pet projects to benefit those who put the bond on the ballot and that lawmakers should have input over spending decisions.

The bottom line: The bond would finance dozens of water projects across California. The cost would be about $430 million annually for the next 40 years, according to the legislative analyst.

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Proposition 4: Children's Hospital Bond, $1.5 billion

What this is about and what it will pay for: California has eight nonprofit private hospitals across the state that focus on treating infants and children with severe illnesses and injuries. Under the proposal, 72% of the money will go toward construction and renovations at those hospitals. Another 18% would fund similar efforts at five UC children’s hospitals. Roughly 150 other hospitals in the state provide some dedicated services to children and they’d be eligible to receive grants for the remaining 10% of the money.

How it got on the ballot: The eight nonprofit hospitals, including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, donated money to fund a signature gathering drive to place the measure on the ballot and are the primary funders for the campaign.

What supporters say: Most of those receiving care in children’s hospitals have health insurance through Medi-Cal, the public program for low-income and disabled Californians, which reimburses providers less than other forms of insurance. Backers say the hospitals need additional dollars to finance seismic retrofitting and other vital upgrades. Voters have previously supported two similar ballot measures over the last 14 years and those funds are depleted.

What opponents say: Those against Proposition 4, including the League of Women Voters of California, say the public should not fund improvements at private hospitals.

The bottom line: The initiative would fund upgrades at children’s hospitals at a cost of $80 million annually for the next 35 years, according to the legislative analyst.


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