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L.A. City Council votes down health initiative

City News Service | 5/28/2013, 8:38 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-1 today to oppose a ballot initiative calling for the creation of a city public health department to replace services now provided by the county.

Earlier this month, a group that includes the AIDS Healthcare Foundation submitted almost 70,000 voter signatures to qualify the initiative.

The foundation was behind an ordinance approved by the City Council last year to require condoms use in adult films shot in the city.

Councilman Herb Wesson, who introduced today's resolution, also asked for a report on the costs of creating a separate public health department. That report is expected June 19, when the City Council will reconsider the ballot measure.

When the city closed its health department in 1964, "it was the opinion of the city leaders, for financial reasons, to try to obtain better service that they work out an arrangement with the county," Wesson said.

Speaking to the council today, County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka said setting up a separate city public health department would create a "very, very difficult and disastrous situation" for Los Angeles.

Fujioka said the public health services is best handled at a regional level, and "when it comes to the diseases that we monitor ... there are no boundaries."

County Department of Public Health's Director Jonathan Fielding said the a city department would have negative financial impacts as well create a "threat" to public health.

Fees could go up, and the city may be ineligible for funding now available to the county, he said.

Fielding said that in 1964, several city health departments chose to combine their services to avoid duplicating services, and to create "economies of scale" and "more robust funding bases."

Councilman Paul Koretz had seconded today's resolution, but cast the lone dissenting vote today against the resolution, saying he "wasn't willing to take a position" before hearing a financial analysis.

Proponents of the ballot initiative said the county is stretched to thin to adequately respond to public health risks.

Michael Weinstein, president of the initiative-sponsor, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said Los Angeles needs a health department that is "nimble and efficient enough to respond in the event of a virus outbreak or epidemic."

He said members of his organization decided that the "best way to go about it was take to it to the voters, start a debate on how to provide public health services in the county."

Proponents said voters could expect to see the measure on the June 3, 2014, statewide ballot.