By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer

A youth funding measure once again is on the Sacramento ballot with Measure L and proponents hope the third time is the charm.

If passed by a majority vote Nov. 8, the Sacramento Children and Youth Health and Safety Act would allocate 40% of existing cannabis business taxes to youth-related programs, totalling an estimated $10 million. It would not raise existing taxes or create a new tax.

The measure creates a nine-member planning and oversight commission; the mayor and city councilmembers each would make one appointment. It would work with the Sacramento Youth Commission and the city council on a five-year plan to guide spending decisions. The city council ultimately would determine how funds are allocated, according to the plan.

Measure L follows two failed similar measures: Measure Y failed in 2016, missing a necessary supermajority by just .81%, and Measure G was defeated in 2020 by a simple majority, with 54.74% voting “no.”

The Sacramento City Council placed Measure L on the ballot by an 8-1 vote during its July 19 meeting.

Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby was against Measure G in 2020, but voted in favor of placing Measure L on the ballot. While she did not wholly endorse it, she noted several improvements when compared to past measures.

“The five-year council-driven plan is a vast improvement,” Ashby said. She added the most important change was “city council having the final approval.”

Ashby did have concerns, one of them being the measure does not have a recession provision.

“It just goes on into perpetuity,” Ashby said. “No matter whatever is happening in this city, this 40% … would always go to this source.”

The measure defines youth as people under age 25. To qualify for funds, programs must offer mental health services, substance abuse prevention services, youth workforce development, early-childhood education family support services, among other stipulations. A percentage – starting at 20% and declining to10% – can be spent on administrative costs.

Councilmembers Mai Vang and Jay Schenirer championed the measure. Vang explained that public agencies such as school districts and libraries also can apply, but must match city-granted funds. 

“If [a school district] wants to apply for a $5 million grant, they’re going to have to match that,” Vang said to THE OBSERVER.

Project Optimism co-founder Armoni Easley works with students at Katherine Johnson Middle School. “Measure L will be a big part of helping us expand while also keeping the quality of the program,” Easley said. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

Mayor Darrell Steinberg has joined Vang, Schenirer and nonprofits and public agencies in backing the measure. Supporting organizations include Sacramento Area Firefighters, Sacramento City Unified School District, and the nonprofit coalition Sac Kids First, which leads the “Yes on L” campaign.

Proponents say children make up more than 30% of Sacramento’s population, but receive less than 5% of the city’s general fund budget. To demonstrate the need for the measure, the argument cites the homeless epidemic that puts children on the streets and in foster care.

Monica Mares, coordinator of Sac Kids First, said youth programs have relied on one-time funding from the city, including one-time COVID relief funds. “[Youth programs] need sustainable long-term funds in order to build up their programs,” she said.

Vang explained that while 40% of cannabis business revenue tax totals roughly $10 million, it equates to 1.3% of the city’s $1.4 billion general fund.

“For someone who grew up in South Sacramento, $10 million is a lot,” Vang said. “But when you compare that to our entire budget … I actually think this is a very modest ask.”

Project Optimism is a nonprofit mentorship program serving eight schools in the Sacramento area. Co-founder Armoni Easley said the program has provided drug education and has worked with outside agencies to help families find housing. Most of his funding is through district contracts, but he said the organization is “scrambling” to get funding needed to expand.

“We took a leap of faith to go down to fourth grade because of what data shows,” Easley said of the correlation between early intervention and the school-to-prison pipeline. “Measure L will be a big part of helping us expand while also keeping the quality of the program.”

Opponents call Measure L “ballot-box budgeting” that would limit the ability to fund critical programs to combat homelessness and climate change, and to provide basic city services such as repairing parks and infrastructure. Jared D. Childress, OBSERVER

Jeff Harris of District 3 was the only councilmember to vote against putting the measure on the ballot. Former Mayor Heather Fargo, former Mayor Jimmie Yee and Rivkah Sass, the former libraries director, have joined the opposition, co-authoring rebuttal arguments.

The opposition states that 7.5% – more than $23 million – of city funds are already spent on youth services and amending the city charter to allocate another $10 million annually would limit the ability to fund critical programs to combat homelessness and climate change, and to provide basic city services such as repairing parks and infrastructure.

“This will not allow this council to make decisions to spend on climate projects which are youth projects,” Harris said during the July 19 meeting. “Spending on public safety benefits youth. Spending on fire suppression benefits youth.”

Harris called the measure “ballot-box budgeting,” referring to the process of direct democracy determining government budgets. He said the “tax lockbox” could lower the city’s bond rating, decreasing the ability to borrow for essential projects.

“[The city council] can make these decisions to spend on youth on any given Tuesday,” Harris said. “You don’t have to lock up [the funds].”