California’s Only Statewide Ballot Measure Would Take Money From Counties

There is just one statewide proposition on the March 5 primary ballot. And while it’s meant to address homelessness and mental health, critics say it could lead to reductions in crucial mental health services.

Proposition 1 authorizes $6.4 billion in bonds to build new housing and treatment facilities for those with mental health and substance abuse issues. The plan specifically calls for 11,150 new treatment beds and supportive housing, with $1 billion set aside for veterans. 

The measure also changes how Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds are distributed and spent. It would move around $140 million in MHSA funds from counties to the state. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, counties would see a reduction from 95% to 90%. Counties would also be required to redirect one-third of remaining MHSA funding to housing.

Critics say the loss of MHSA funds at the local level would lead to cuts in mental health programs that are working.

“We are concerned that missing those service dollars might compromise the ability of people to stay in housing once they’re housed, or to get to a place of wellness where they can be successfully housed,” said Lisa Wong, who heads the county’s department of Mental Health. 

“Not only would counties lose a significant portion of the funding for mental health services they are currently providing, they would incur new costs to operate the ‘places’ for treatment that the state chooses to build,” wrote the Orange County Register’s Editorial Board.

Proposition 1 still has broad support. It is endorsed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Blue Shield of California, the California Hospital Association, California Professional Firefighters, the California Chamber of Commerce, the League of California Cities, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness California. The Yes on Prop 1 campaign has far eclipsed opponents in spending, and polls show widespread support for the measure among voters.