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Placer County opposes Gavin Newsom-backed homelessness and mental health measure. Here’s why

Sacramento Bee - 2/15/2024

The Placer County Board of Supervisors has voted to formally oppose Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would reroute $6.4 billion in bonds into spending on homelessness and behavioral and mental health.

Californians will vote on the measure in the March 5 primary election.

The proposition, heralded by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a “treatment not tents” approach to the housing and homelessness crisis in the state, would overhaul the 2004 Mental Health Services Act to become the Behavioral Health Services Act.

The $6.4 million would fund the construction of mental health care and drug and alcohol treatment facilities. It would also be used for more housing for people experiencing homelessness or who have mental health or substance abuse problems. It If it passes, it will go into effect in July 2026.

Prop 1 has plenty of support among Democratic and Republican lawmakers, police, health care organizations, veteran groups, and unions alike. Some organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Disability Rights California, Mental Health America of California, and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, do not support it.

The opposition resolution, approved unanimously by the board Tuesday, would “erode local control and take away the rights of local governments to have separate zoning for substance use disorder facilities” and “reduces flexibility and mandates how counties utilize (existing mental health services law) funds away from services.”

While the board can take a position on a proposition, and even share that position publicly, it cannot, according to County Counsel Karin Schwab, “encourage voters to support your position,” either as a board member or as a body.

In other words, they can take a position but not advocate for that position.

The Bee reached out to Newsom’s office and the Proposition 1 campaign and did not hear back in time for publication.

The Placer County board had heard a presentation about the measure at a Jan. 23 meeting, where Amy Ellis, adult system of care division director, told the board that Proposition 1 would cut county programs by 5%, and those funds would go toward state-led projects.

“Placer Behavioral Health was ahead of the game in using our MHSA funding for housing solutions before it was required,” she told the Board in a presentation.

One concern Ellis has about Prop 1 is that some of the requirements and restrictions don’t fit the county’s needs; Prop 1 dictates that 50% of the money for housing must fund chronic homelessness. But of Placer County’s homeless population, only 37%, according to Ellis, are chronically homeless.

Prop 1 “creates a larger amount of spending on a much smaller portion of our community population, which would then decrease the overall numbers served through behavioral health funding in our county,” she said. Current behavioral health funding comes from the MHSA, and changing it would radically change that funding process.

“It seems to that what you’re saying is, this proposition is going to take away your flexibility, but give you more work,” said Supervisor Jim Holmes, who represents Placer’s 3rd District, which encompasses the towns of Loomis, Rocklin, Penryn, and parts of Auburn.

“Absolutely,” Ellis agreed. “You summed it up right there.”

Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, who represents District 5 in the Tahoe and Truckee areas, said that the proposition is “typical” of California politicians for being focused on “the urbanized areas and forgetting people out in rural communities.”

Outreach and satellite sites need “smaller-scale services” in those rural communities where there are fewer people, many of whom are on MediCal and who receive treatment through MHSA funds. Proposition 1 would affect that funding pool, said Ellis, and those communities, even if they are smaller, rely on services just as much as those in more densely populated areas.

“So many legislators are focused on urban centers of our state, and not looking at a county that has a distribution of population over a geography so large,” said Gustafson.

“You had me at potential state sanctions,” said Supervisor Shanti Landon, whose District 2 encompasses Lincoln and west Roseville. “I would be more than happy to sign a letter of opposition,” she said.

The proposition would indeed authorize the Department of Health Care Services “to temporarily withhold funds or impose monetary sanctions on a county behavioral health department that is not in compliance with the contract.”

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