The 2020 passing of Measure J promised to reallocate millions of dollars away from systems of harm and into LA County’s communities. Two years later, Angelenos are still waiting.
In 2020, Los Angeles County voted Measure J into law with 57% of the county in support. The historic measure advocated for a major county budget shift, reallocating money away from the carceral system (jails, prisons, etc.) and directly toward community-based organizations (CBOs) and county resources. Per the measure, 10% of the county’s unrestricted funding would go toward community services annually, reaching $1 billion in funding by June 30, 2024.
These services cover the most vital forms of care for the county’s communities including career pathway programs, mental health services, housing services, pretrial services, mobile medical care, and more. However, two years after Measure J — now referred to as Care First Community Investment (CFCI) — was passed, little material impact has been seen.
Multiple factors point to why there has been so little activity on Measure J.
In June 2021, County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ruled that Measure J was unconstitutional, claiming that the measure restricted the County Board of Supervisors’ budget-setting abilities. While this ruling does call the long-term presence of Measure J–style budgeting into question, as future boards will not be required to maintain CFCI funding, nothing stops the current Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from allocating 10% of the budget toward community services if they choose to. The ruling has since been appealed and the board voted to allocate 10% of the unrestricted funding toward community resources.
However, this does beg the question: why is the current Board of Supervisors, the same one that adopted Measure J, not doing anything? Why are we not seeing any movement if proponents of Measure J are still in positions of power? Between county bureaucracy and politics, a political agenda of “do the least possible” is the one that prevails, even when Los Angeles County voters demand change.
One of the most glaring yet rarely talked about reasons for the slow implementation of Measure J has been the immensely drawn-out process of assigning a third-party administrator (TPA).
The budget shift that Measure J calls for comes in two parts: first, reallocation of funding away from jails, and second, dispersing money into community-based organizations. This redistribution process, while ultimately decided by the county CEO’s office, is advised in part by a 24-person advisory committee called the Care First Community Investment Advisory Committee and administered by a TPA.
The CFCI Advisory Committee is composed of Board of Supervisors appointees, county department leads, community advocates, and labor representatives. The CFCI Advisory Committee assists the county CEO through each year’s budgeting process, providing budget allocation recommendations that prioritize resource-scarce communities.
The TPA position was established to facilitate the distribution of funds to CBOs, expediting access to funding and (theoretically) resolving the long and convoluted contracting process that funding access usually entails when working with county departments.
According to the most recent TPA solicitation, the assigned TPA issues out $17 million of CFCI funding each year directly to community-based organizations and will continue to do so for the next three years. It is possible that the TPA could distribute additional funds depending on the finalized budget for a given year. The remaining CFCI funding will be distributed through county departments.
The county CEO’s office only finalized the contract with the chosen TPA, the Amity Foundation, in March 2022, a year and a half after Measure J passed. Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI), the county office responsible for overseeing the TPA solicitation process, announced on October 7, 2021, that a TPA had been identified and would be officially appointed by the middle of the month. Toward the end of November 2021, ATI stated that there had been delays due to an abrupt stop in the appointment process.
Prior to Amity, Los Angeles County was in negotiation with a consortium of nonprofits led by the California Community Foundation; however, the county fully stopped the negotiation process after announcing that the solicitation they sent out was drastically different than what was being asked within the negotiation process. This consortium included the Liberty Hill Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Community Partners, and Community Health Councils. Due to this disagreement, the CEO’s office issued a new solicitation in December 2021.
CFCI Advisory Committee members reported that some of them were not officially made aware of neither this abrupt switch nor the changes to the solicitation until the following committee meeting on January 6, 2022. “Some of us just kind of found online that they canceled,” said Megan Castillo, Re-Imagine L.A. County Coalition Coordinator and CFCI Advisory Committee member. “No notice, no email, or anything of that sort.” This lack of communication highlights a larger issue of transparency between the county CEO’s office and its advisory boards.
Without the official assignment of a TPA in the first year of Measure J, county bureaucracy has stopped funding from getting directly to community-based organizations. CBOs have had to go through contract proposals with county departments rather than working with a TPA to receive funding, exactly the situation the TPA was created to avoid.
Although county reports claim that the CEO’s Office had CFCI funding available by October 2021, organizations confirmed that they did not gain access to that funding until March 2022. Smaller CBOs who are dependent on a TPA for funding received no money during FY21-22, as they are not eligible for county grants and funding streams due to their size.
Now in the thick of year-two planning, when the CFCI Advisory committee is making recommendations for the FY22-23 budget, contract negotiations are still slowing down funding access, meaning CBOs cannot provide services to the communities they are committed to serving.
And while a number of CBOs are still waiting on funding from 2021, the full funding amount of Measure J is being called into question. In the recommended budget for FY21-22, the CEO’s office wrote that $100 million would be allocated for CFCI “as first-year funding for Measure J while we continue to build up the full set-aside amount by June 2024 — an amount which has not yet been determined.”
Since then, the Board of Supervisors claimed that full funding for Measure J would be $300 million, based on that initial $100 million number. On the contrary, groups that advocated for Measure J in 2020 argue that sticking to 10% allocation means that full funding would be no less than $900 million by 2024. In November 2020, Supervisor Kuehl stated that total funding could range anywhere from $600 million to $900 million, depending on the unrestricted budget for a given year.
Given that the Board of Supervisors is no longer legally required to stick to Measure J budgeting, it is up to community members to hold the Board of Supervisors and CEO accountable for following through on budget agreements they agreed to in 2020. So far, public pressure has led the CEO’s office to invite community advisory groups to play a role in budget recommendations.
Unfortunately, this was followed by the CEO’s office completely disregarding those recommendations, as can be seen with the county budget since Measure J passed. “The CEO takes those recommendations and ultimately does what the office wants to do,” said Ivette Alé-Ferlito, director of policy and advocacy at Dignity and Power Now, who currently serves on both the Public Safety Realignment Team and Gender Responsive Advisory Committee for the county.
This disregard is not uncharacteristic of the CEO’s office which, at the end of the day, has no obligation to adopt the community’s recommendations and historically defaults to current bureaucratic systems even when they are proven to be inefficient.
As a bureaucratic entity, the CEO’s office does not have to be accountable to the community. Outside of the board, there are no systems in place to make sure the CEO’s office follows through on its promises. Because of this, “it’s become common practice for the board to defer to the CEO, rather than significantly challenge the status quo budget and fully realize our collective Care First Vision,” Alé-Ferlito said.
As a result, the CEO and Board of Supervisors have dismissed their duty to local communities who are dependent on county funding for jobs, services, mental health support, and other resources, thus far failing to properly enact this budget shift. The result is a “status quo budget,” one that looks upsettingly like those before Measure J was passed.
Despite the promises of Measure J to divest from the carceral system, more money is being pumped into law enforcement budgets, with the sheriff’s office receiving over $3.6 billion this upcoming fiscal year (functionally the same as last year), while CFCI receives roughly $200 million, or 5.5% of that number.
Even with huge efforts from Angelenos, county bureaucracy is laced with politics that make change a frustrating and uphill battle. “We’ve heard time and time again that budgets are a reflection of our moral values,” said Ms. Castillo. “Currently, the recommended budget does not reflect the values of the people. It reflects the values of the few.”