The "Yes on 1" campaign uses all kinds of pleasant-sounding claims to market Prop. 1 and hide its true impacts.
Don't be fooled. Here's the truth behind some of their main claims.
Prop. 1 "Expands Community-Based Services"
Prop. 1 does not add any new money to pay for new services. It raids mental health funding.
Prop. 1's $6.4 billion in bonds would partly help to build some treatment facilities, but there's no new operational money in this pricey measure.
Instead, Prop. 1 moves money away from community-based mental health services approved by the voters, diverting that money to new purposes, including housing costs and substance abuse treatment.
To be sure, housing is an important add-on for some people needing treatment, but it's not a "service" like the mental health programs that will be de-funded to pay for it. This is clearly a net loss in "community-based services."
When the Yes on 1 campaign claims that "[i]t will expand mental health and addiction services for tens of thousands of Californians each year" (front page of campaign website), they are not being honest about the actual loss of such services that Prop. 1's cuts will require. (See more on Prop. 1's costs here.)
Prop. 1 "Provides Treatment Over Incarceration"
Coercive treatment can become another form of incarceration.
The state of California has begun a series of steps ("Care Court," SB 43, reforms to conservatorship) that all aim to require some people with mental illness to get treatment, whether they want it or not. The issue is highly controversial. Studies suggest that forced treatment is both ineffective and potentially dangerous, with elevated suicide risks.
Everyone agrees that people are better off in treatment than in jail, but Prop. 1 supporters have raised suspicions.
The bond portions of Prop. 1 were debated for months in Sacramento. The governor's own fact sheet on the bill pledged that it would only fund programs that were “all unlocked, community-based settings.” At the very last minute, the bill was changed to allow funding of locked facilities – involuntary institutions.
With the nightmare of past "mental institutions" not yet extinguished, it is fair to ask: What, exactly, will Prop. 1 "treatment" look like?
Prop. 1 "Will Create 11,000 New Units of Housing"
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst states that Prop. 1 would build 4,350 housing units, NOT 11,000 or more.
The campaign for Prop. 1 is overstating the amount of housing by two-and-a-half times!
Frequently, it is the governor himself making this inflated claim. The quote above is taken directly from his Jan. 3 press conference in Los Angeles, where, he said "11,000 new units of housing."
Gov. Newsom said the same thing in a Dec. 15 interview on Fox 11 in L.A. When asked what the bond does, Newsom said, "11,000 units. The biggest issue is, we need more units. We need more housing of all types."
And both the Yes on 1 campaign's ballot pamphlet argument and fact sheet state that the measure would "build supportive housing," explaining, "The initiative will create supportive housing settings where over 11,000 Californians with the severest mental health needs can live, recover, stabilize and thrive."
So how does 4,350 housing units become 11,000?
Maybe the governor's campaign mistakenly added two numbers found in the Legislative Analyst's report. The LAO says Prop. 1 "would build places for 6,800 people to receive mental health care and drug or alcohol treatment at any one time." If you add that 6,800 for treatment slots to the 4,350 actual housing units, the total is 11,150. But 61% of that total represents temporary treatment slots, not housing.
The LAO also states, "The number of housing units built by the bond would reduce statewide homelessness by only a small amount." That is not one of the governor's talking points.
"Requires Strict Accountability"
Many ballot measure proponents will sell you this kind of poll-tested puffery. But who's doing the auditing, and what happens after they do it?
The original voter-approved law that is changed by Prop. 1 included both independent oversight and audits. This new bill neuters the current independent, unpaid Mental Health Oversight and Accountability Commission and seizes authority for one of the largest state agencies instead, the Department of Health Care Services. (The commission is expanded to the point of being unwieldy, while reduced to an advisory role to DHCS, which undermines its previous independence.)
The agency also doubles its share of Mental Health Services Act funds for administrative costs, adding $140 million per year. That money comes out of local services.
The first state audit won't be presented until late 2029, with just two more in 2032 and 2035. (See SB 326, Sec. 109.) That's "accountability?"
County governments probably have the most to worry about from their own audits if they fail to conform to the state's new top-down model for how to operate mental health services. The state will reduce their funds, using audits as a hammer.
"Proposition 1 would allow people with serious addiction to directly access services – something currently prohibited under existing law."
This claim is both bizarre and wrong. Embarrassingly, the Yes on 1 campaign got L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna to repeat it at a recent event.
It is certainly not the case, generally, that people with addictions are "prohibited" from getting treatment. California has robust substance abuse treatment systems, both voluntary and court-ordered, and there is local, state and federal funding available for those who need assistance.
Prop. 1 advocates probably mean to say that the current Mental Health Services Act approved by voters does not pay for substance abuse treatment. That's misleading. People diagnosed with mental illnesses are the population voters intended to benefit from that funding. Those who are "dually diagnosed" (both mental illness and a substance abuse concern) can have MHSA funds used for their treatment, if there are no other funds available.
The terrible trick hiding in this bizarre claim is that Prop. 1 does open the door to using any MHSA funds for substance abuse treatment for anyone. It effectively redefines substance abuse as mental illness – both become "behavioral health" concerns. It is this trick of language that waters down and diverts funds that were previously dedicated for people with mental illness.