The City of Los Angeles is arguing that a ballot measure to force creation of a new city health department “would result in a devastating reduction in public health and safety.” The city on Monday asked a judge to declare the initiative invalid.
The measure, backed by the AIDS HealthCare Foundation and scheduled to go before voters in June, would shift health services now delivered by the L.A. County Department of Public Health to the city. For years, AHF officials have lambasted the county’s health department.
It is “a calcified institution layered with too much bureaucracy that gives short shrift to City residents,” AHF President Michael Weinstein said in a statement earlier this year. “With this measure we wanted to spark a public conversation on public health, and now we are going to have it.”
But in its complaint, the city said the initiative would require L.A. to create its own health department “within a mere 120 days” and prohibit the city from contracting for health services with the county.
“A newly-established City Public Health Department simply would not be equipped to serve adequately all of the public health needs of the City’s entire population,” the complaint said. The initiative would “immediately disrupt critical public health services,” according to the complaint.
City officials argued the measure is unlawful because it would threaten the delivery of state-mandated healthcare programs, including communicable disease and public health laboratory services. The measure also “unlawfully encroaches on the administrative functions of a city,” according to the complaint.
The complaint said a new city department of public health would cost at least $261 million annually to operate, “just for minimal services,” and argued various health fees referenced in the initiative would fail to adequately fund the department. It warned the city would either have to raise taxes or “severely reduce other services.”
The city’s complaint called the county’s health programs “well-established,” and pointed out they currently provide services to 85 of the 88 cities in the county. The county has provided such services to the city since 1964.
Weinstein said the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena have health departments, "and I see no reason LA should not have one too." He argued the city's effort to keep the issue off the ballot was "undemocratic." Weinstein declined to address specific issues about public health raised in the complaint.
County officials also oppose the initiative. They have said AHF’s initiative is payback for a county audit that found the private agency owed the county $10 million for improper billing. The AIDS HealthCare Foundation provides AIDS services to the county on a contractual basis. AHF has disputed the audit’s findings.
[10:45 p.m. This post has been updated to include Weinstein's reaction to the complaint]