Just Say No
Youth, homeless measures bleed city budget
By R.E. Graswich
City voters have an important job this month. They can save the municipal budget. Or they can trash it.
Two ballot initiatives floated by special interests are poised to burn holes in Sacramento’s finances. The City Council disarmed one, a disjointed homeless plan called Measure O.
As for the second scam, voters must save the day. Welcome to Measure L, a cash gusher for youth programs.
Let’s start with the youth program money heist, laughably named the “Children and Youth Health and Safety Act.”
The title is shrewd, cynical and misleading. Measure L isn’t about health or safety. It’s a sucker’s play.
Designed by service providers to line their pockets, the plan carves out about $10 million a year from the general fund. It would finance privately operated nonprofits, allowing them to help themselves while they help young people.
Voters should spot the hustle. They rejected two similar schemes in 2016 and 2020. But youth service providers won’t give up. They love easy money.
The “Children and Youth” plan lets dozens of nonprofits forego fundraising. Instead, they get to support their programs with guaranteed city subsidies and minimal supervision. The initiative carries no end date. It runs forever. Oversight is a joke, conducted by nonprofit insiders.
The measure was engineered to benefit the industry that provides counseling and recreational services for foster kids and youth with mental health and drug problems. The $10 million annual gift arrives without performance benchmarks.
The city will create a commission to write benchmarks. But Measure L lets youth-program insiders dominate the commission. The industry polices itself. A bad joke.
The Measure L campaign speaks to voters and insults your intelligence. The pitch: The money comes from cannabis sales taxes, so why worry about the details? It’s for our children!
Here’s why voters should worry: $10 million in annual cannabis taxes go into the general fund and pay for essential services including fire, police, parks and pools.
Every dollar handed over to sketchy youth services providers is a dollar removed from the city budget. Critical services will disappear.
City Manager Howard Chan fears the consequences. He says, “At some point I will be coming forward with staff to say, ‘What programs and services do you want me to cut in order to facilitate this?’”
Chan could have said the same thing about the second special-interest ballot initiative, Measure O, the “Emergency Shelter and Enforcement Act.”
Like the youth giveaway, this plan, cooked up by a political consultant named Dan Conway and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, misleads from the start.
Measure O solves no emergencies. Connections to enforcement are minimal. It requires the city to spend millions on homeless shelters and encourages residents to sue the city (that is, sue themselves) if the city fails to house sufficient numbers of people, some of whom prefer to live free and without rules or responsibilities.
Thankfully, Mayor Darrell Steinberg neutered this mess before it could do harm. The mayor and City Council added an amendment that suspends the measure until the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors agrees to support and pay for the city’s folly.
Making the county responsible for Measure O means it will never get off the ground.
Not to pick on the Chamber of Commerce, but frustration drove its members to support Measure O. Small businesses are victimized daily by robberies, burglaries, fires and drug crimes associated with homeless camps.
Measure O exposes Sacramento to unknown legal liabilities. It requires the city to coax homeless people out of tents and into shelters. It ignores the fact that many don’t want to live in shelters. And those shelters don’t exist.
The “Emergency Shelter” plan is disliked by people it purports to help. Homeless advocates fear tents will get swept away. City Manager Chan saw the original plan as extortive. He negotiated a watered-down version before the City Council gutted the final edition.
Taken together, Measure O and Measure L are textbook examples of misguided ballot-box legislation. Toss them on the “civic self-harm” trash pile.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.