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Californians Face November Decision on $2B Spending Plan for Homeless Housing

Gov. Jerry Brown is seen at a June 27 budget-signing announcement in Los Angeles (Credit: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown is seen at a June 27 budget-signing announcement in Los Angeles (Credit: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Californians will decide in November whether to borrow $2 billion to fund new housing for homeless residents.

Gov. Jerry Brown authorized the ballot measure Wednesday when he signed the state’s annual budget and related legislation. The measure would draw funding from dollars generated by Proposition 63, a 1% income tax surcharge on millionaires passed in 2004 that funds mental health services. Housing built or rehabilitated under the plan would be designated for mentally ill residents living on the streets.

This is the second try at a spending plan for Brown and state lawmakers, who first tried to approve the money without a public vote in 2016. But a Sacramento attorney and mental health advocates challenged the effort in court, arguing that the money shouldn’t be diverted from treatment programs and that legislators needed a vote of the people to authorize the funds. That case is still in litigation and the November ballot measure, if successful, would free up the money.

“I think we were right to try it and we might have gotten away with it, but we didn’t,” Brown told reporters in May when he announced his support for the ballot measure. “Now, we’ll do it through the election.”

The $2-billion homeless housing bond is one of what could be five housing-related measures on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot. Last year, lawmakers agreed to ask voters to support a $4-billion bond to help finance new low-income housing and provide home loans for veterans.

Initiatives that would expand rent control, eliminate paint companies’ liability for cleaning up lead paint in homes and increase property tax protections for older homeowners all have qualified for the ballot. Proponents of each ballot measure have held discussions with lawmakers about potential deals to avoid a fight in November, but no compromises have emerged in advance of Thursday’s deadline to remove initiatives from the ballot.