Gov. Brown won't declare homelessness crisis an emergency

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In a blow to Los Angeles officials grappling with the county's growing homeless population, Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday he will not declare a state of emergency on California's homeless crisis.

"A gubernatorial declaration is not appropriate," Debra Hoffman, the governor's deputy press secretary said in an email to KPCC. "We recognize the importance of addressing homelessness in our cities and will continue to support local governments, which remain best positioned to tackle challenges like this and tailor solutions to the needs of their communities."

The statement comes a day after the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to encourage state lawmakers to seek out a state of emergency.

Officials said the move would open up $500 million in state funds for cities and counties struggling to serve and house large homeless populations. 

“If an earthquake or flood suddenly left tens of thousands of individuals homeless, the county and state would not hesitate to act swiftly and decisively," the supervisors wrote, saying the unsafe conditions for homeless living in tent cities, cars, and under bridges is no different. 

There are roughly 47,000 homeless in Los Angeles County on any given night, a large chunk of California's 115,000 estimated homeless. 

Both L.A. County and the City of L.A. have passed elaborate plans for providing temporary shelter and permanent housing for the current homeless and preventing more impoverished Angelenos from losing their homes. But large swaths of the plans remain unfunded. 

The City of L.A. had also toyed with asking the governor to declare a state of emergency.

With the governor unwilling to utilize funds generally reserved for disasters like earthquakes, floods, and fires, lawmakers will be looking elsewhere for revenue.

Al Naipo, a spokesperson for Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who led the charge for the board of supervisors’ action, said the board would continue its pursuit of a so-called “millionaires” tax measure for the November ballot.

The tax measure would also require Brown's sign-off. 

Naipo said the window for the tax to be approved for is narrowing.

"We're getting down to the wire,"  said Naipo. "At this point, there's still not the money that the county is looking for." 

Thomas’s office estimates the tax would affect about 15,000 county residents and bring in about $250 million in revenue.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates L.A. County needs about $450 million a year to effectively serve its homeless.

Supervisors had hoped the estimated $200 million gap could have been covered, at least in part, by state emergency funds.

Naipo said the county's also looking at increasing sales tax and parcel taxes as a potential revenue source.

The state budget, passed Wednesday, includes spending increases on affordable housing, including a $2 billion plan to fund housing for homeless mentally ill in California. 

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