Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature are trying to come to grips with the mental-health crisis that, along with addiction, is clearly the cause of much of our state’s tragic scourge of homelessness.
Two cheers for democracy, as Mencken had it, half-praise that so aptly applies to so much of what our elected leaders get up to in the state they run. So much of their time is spent micromanaging the economy and on ensuring that members of the public-employee unions that make their lifestyles possible are also well-compensated, that it can be hard to laser-focus on the actual societal problems that all of us see every day: sick, sad people by the tens of thousands and more living on our streets.
Under the governor’s proposed plan, we the voters will be participating in the hard democratic decisions about how to provide mental-health care. Newsom this spring unveiled a bond measure that, if put on the ballot by the Legislature and then approved by we the people, would raise billions of dollars to build mental-centers, housing and treatment facilities all over the state. His proposed bond measure would raise $3 billion for mental health campuses and permanent housing for the unhoused.
Of course it’s a good idea to finally come to grips with big holes left in the well-meaning but almost entirely unfulfilled promise of mental-health reforms passed by legislators of both parties and approved by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967. But is Newsom’s plan the right one? And does he have the political skill to convince Californians it is?
If it could go a long way to providing treatment for the mentally ill among us, many Californians would probably consider the interest payments on that $3 billion we would all be paying a bargain. But, as always, the devil is in the details.
We do have hope for the governor’s CARE Court, which allows family members and physicians to petition judges to get mentally ill family members into care. In April, the California Supreme Court rejected a challenge to it.
There’s also Senate Bill 43, which would significantly lower the bar on getting distressed people into treatment. Can California find the appropriate balance? That remains to be seen, but at least we’re having these debates.