A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has declared that Measure J, which county voters approved last year to set aside public funds for social services and jail diversion programs, is unconstitutional.
In a proposed ruling Thursday, Judge Mary Strobel said the amendment to the county’s charter improperly restricts the L.A. County Board of Supervisors from deciding how and where to spend county funds. Strobel said at a court hearing that she expects to make the ruling final in coming weeks.
The measure, which passed easily, requires that 10% of locally generated, unrestricted county money — an estimated $300 million each year — be spent on services such as housing, mental health treatment and investments in communities harmed by racism. The measure prohibits the county from using the money on prisons, jails or law enforcement agencies.
The current board or any future board, the judge said, could adopt a budget with those spending priorities — but it can’t be forced to.
“The only question presented is whether the ballot process can be used to take this budgeting choice out of the hands of the current and future elected boards,” Strobel wrote in her proposed ruling. “The court concludes it cannot.”
The challenge to Measure J was brought by the Coalition of County Unions, a group of labor unions that includes the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents rank-and-file deputies.
Attorneys for the union coalition contended that voters did not have the authority to adopt the measure and argued it impaired the board’s ability to manage the county’s finances. The Board of Supervisors, which chose to put the measure on the ballot, countered that the county charter could address budgeting issues and thus the amendment to it was legitimate.