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Governor Gavin Newsom Responds To Big City Mayors’ Call For More Homelessness Funding

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio
Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, discusses the homeless problem facing California after a meeting with the mayors of some of the state's largest cities held at the governor's office.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says the mayors of California’s largest cities have persuaded him to rework his budget proposal for emergency homelessness aid.

“We need to step up our game,” the governor of the state said after meeting with mayors of its 13 largest cities.

“We haven’t been doing enough to support cities,” he said. “And that means we need to invest more resources — and we need to provide the resourcefulness that is the spirit of innovation that drives this state.”

In fact, Newsom said the meeting was so “important” that he added, to the delight of the mayors: “The budget just changed.”

“I did not just listen,” he added. “I took notes. And I’m taking direction!”

The governor’s January budget proposal included $500 million to address homelessness — for programs that include shelters, resource centers, transitional housing and rental subsidies. That’s basically what former Gov. Jerry Brown approved in last year’s budget deal.

The mayors said that money didn’t last long.

“We had that check,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “It was an $85 million, $87 million check. I’ve never held a check that big, and I’m glad the state still sends checks — not a transfer. We spent that the next day, $6 million of that.”

Now, Garcetti said, Los Angeles has spent half of its funding, and has laid out exactly how it will use the other half.

This year, the mayors want $1.5 billion — three times Newsom’s January proposal.

They want more flexibility on when they can spend it, too.

“For those of us who are making our own capital expenditures to specifically build new structures or invest in new facilities, the idea that we would have a longer window in which we knew we had funding for services also can help us leverage this money in a much more effective and impactful way,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said.

And they want more money to bypass counties and go directly to big cities. Under last year’s budget deal, roughly a third of the $500 million went straight to cities. The rest is being distributed to counties through what are known as “continuum of care” programs that coordinate housing and services for homeless families and individuals.

The governor’s office declined to elaborate on how his budget has changed, saying only that he would take the mayors’ recommendations into consideration. But two people in the room said Newsom was open to the proposals.

Walking a fine line, the mayors acknowledged last year’s agreement with Brown but made clear they believed Newsom would be more forthcoming with state aid.

“Homelessness needs to be seen by the state — as well as all of the local governments and our communities — as the state of emergency that it is,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, “and that the resources and the law changes need to be commensurate with that crisis.”

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio