Californians vote on fate of Newsom's Prop. 1

California voters on Tuesday decided the fate of Proposition 1, a statewide ballot measure that Gov. Gavin Newsom has championed as crucial to solving the state’s mental health and homelessness crisis.

The measure redirects an existing tax on the rich under the state’s 20-year-old Mental Health Services Act to fund services for people with substance abuse disorders and includes a $6.4-billion bond to build more than 10,000 treatment beds.

Newsom campaigned from San Francisco to San Diego in the lead-up to the primary election, urging voters to pass the measure to address the most vexing problem of his governorship and the most visible challenge in his home state, where voters have become alarmed by the number of people living in tents and under freeways in cities large and small.

At rallies and in ads, Newsom portrayed Proposition 1 as an opportunity to correct mistakes of the past when the state shuttered state mental health hospitals in the 1960s without boosting local services, “leading to decades of neglect.”

“Prop. 1 finally writes a new chapter,” Newsom said. “Prop. 1 rights a historic wrong.”

About 181,000 people statewide, including 75,000 in Los Angeles County, are homeless, according to 2023 counts. As much as 82% of unhoused individuals have experienced a serious mental health condition, and nearly two-thirds have at some point regularly used illicit drugs, according to a recent survey by UC San Francisco.

Arguing that the status quo isn’t working, Newsom has pushed a series of policies since he took office to begin to tackle the problem, such as expanding the criteria by which people can be detained against their will to include substance abuse disorders, giving families and authorities the ability to ask courts to mandate treatment for people and expanding the availability of temporary and permanent shelters.

Proposition 1 complements those efforts by revamping the Mental Health Services Act, which was approved by voters in 2004, to include treatment for those with substance use disorders regardless of whether they are suffering from a mental health condition. The act imposes a 1% tax on incomes in excess of $1 million to fund the expansion of mental health treatment options in California, which will be redirected under Proposition 1.

The measure also increases state oversight of county spending on behavioral health at a time when Newsom has repeatedly questioned the resolve of local governments to fix the problem.

But each step Newsom takes receives pushback from the right and the left.

Liberal organizations worry Newsom’s policies, such as CARE Court and expanding conservatorship, could infringe on civil rights, deter people from seeking help for fear of being forced into care and consign people to harsher treatment settings than necessary. Local governments have raised concerns about their ability to fund the governor’s more ambitious policy directives and to quickly train police and other personnel to abide by the new laws.

Meanwhile, voters are frustrated over the lack of progress and Republicans contend that unchecked liberal rule in California caused the crisis.

Opponents of Proposition 1 called out the large price tag as one reason they wanted voters to reject the measure.

“No matter where you stand politically, there’s something in Prop. 1 to hate,” said Paul Simmons, a director of Californians Against Proposition 1, in a statement issued before the election. “Whether it’s the cost, or the track record of failure, or the fact that Prop. 1 hurts people who are getting mental health services now, there are flashing red lights everywhere.”

The California Department of Finance estimates that the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Bond within Proposition 1 would cost a total of $14 billion. Bonds, which are bought by investors, act as loans that the state pays back with interest.

Two bills that sent the measure to the March ballot received rare bipartisan support in the state Legislature, with Republicans and Democrats leaving their party corners to provide voters with a potential solution to an issue plaguing the state. But voters didn’t appear to share the bipartisan spirit by election day.

The measure teetered with only 50% support in a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times that was conducted in late February. A large majority of Republican voters opposed the measure, raising concerns about how Proposition 1 would fare in an election with higher GOP turnout.

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