Should L.A. Have Its Own Health Department? Voters Likely to Decide

A ballot measure cleared to appear in the next election will ask Angelenos if the city should create its own public health department, a service currently contracted out to the county. The group behind it is argues that the county agency is too big and inefficient.

"Part of our reason for spearheading this ballot initiative was to open up a frank public conversation about the shortcomings of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: a calcified institution layered with too much bureaucracy that gives short shrift to city residents," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in a statement.

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County officials have opposed the measure, stating that the establishment of a new public health department would create redundant services and that the measure is based on the false premises that a viable public health department could be created through fees and grants alone.

"The financial cost to the city would exceed $50 million annually, excluding start-up costs," noted Jonathan E. Fielding, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

In a symbolic move last month, the Los Angeles City Council also voted to oppose the initiative, saying the county -- with about 10 million residents and 88 incorporated cities -- was the logical entity to handle public health.

With 69,480 voter signatures submitted, proponents of the ballot initiative got enough to qualify for an election. Just 41,138 were needed to qualify to be placed on a ballot. That means the measure will now come before the city council, which has the option of either adopting the measure outright as submitted or allowing it to proceed to a formal citywide vote in the June 2014 election.

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