L.A. County Measure J seeks to shift 10% of unrestricted funds toward social justice

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The Los Angeles County sheriff’s Men’s Central Jail in L.A.’s Chinatown is seen on May 12, 2020. (Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images)

The Los Angeles County sheriff’s Men’s Central Jail in L.A.’s Chinatown is seen on May 12, 2020. (Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images)

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Los Angeles County voters will weigh in on a charter amendment placed on the Nov. 3 ballot by the Board of Supervisors amid a national reckoning over systemic racism.

Measure J would allocate money from L.A. County’s general fund to alternatives for incarceration. If passed, the Board of Supervisors would be required to put at least 10% of the county’s locally generated revenues — this year it would have been between $360 million and $496 million — toward programs that “address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice through community investment and alternatives to incarceration and prohibiting using those funds for carceral systems and law enforcement agencies,” according the measure’s language.

The money would go to social programs like counseling and mental health, affordable housing, jail diversion, job training and other services. The funds could not be used for jails, courts or law enforcement.

It would be implemented in phases — fully by 2024. And if a budget emergency arises threatening mandated programs, county supervisors could vote to reduce the amount deferred.

Proponents say:

Voting yes on Measure J, or “Reimagine L.A. County,” is intended to help bring “structural change,” proponents say. It will address inequities suffered by Black, Latino and low-income communities by taking funding from the criminal justice system and putting it toward programs meant to address the “root causes” of crime, according to the campaign for the measure.

Multiple labor unions and some 100 progressive groups are backing the measure, which was put on the ballot by a 4-1 vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Opponents say:

Critics, including current Supervisor Kathryn Barger, say the measure ties supervisors’ hands in budgeting. And in a county already struggling to provide existing services, the measure would take away $5 million in funding from emergency response workers, nurses, 911 operators and others, opponents argue.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who’s been in an ongoing power struggle with the supervisors, has railed against the measure, saying it’s intended to cut his department’s budget and amount to “defunding the police.”

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