Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's plan to ask voters to raise sales taxes for a $325-million crackdown on gang violence suffered a significant blow Tuesday when county supervisors expressed no interest in including the proposal on November's election ballot.
Supervisors listened to Baca's pitch for a quarter-cent hike in the county's sales tax but asked him to return in 45 days with an alternative without added taxes. The board would have to act by Aug. 11 to put a measure before voters in November.
The plan's apparent failure marks the second time in less than two years that attempts to raise taxes to beef up policing services in the county have fallen short. In November 2004, a ballot measure that would have raised sales taxes by a half-cent narrowly missed the two-thirds margin it needed for victory.
Baca had touted his recent sales tax plan as part of a strategy to end gang violence in the county. But none of the five supervisors expressed support.
"We currently have the budget necessary to make gang suppression a top priority without going back to the taxpayer for additional resources," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Supervisor Don Knabe agreed that gang warfare was a significant problem but noted that the Sheriff's Department already is struggling to recruit enough deputies to fill its large number of vacancies.
"It makes it hard to go to the voters if we can't fill the positions," Knabe said.
Sheriff's officials estimate that gang members committed more than 9,000 violent crimes in Los Angeles County last year, including 553 homicides.
The board asked Baca to return with details about setting up a special task force to solve gang-related crimes in unincorporated areas using $25 million in existing county funds.
"I hope that you see this as a two- to three-year ratcheting up of resources to deal with this problem," Baca told the board.
After the meeting, Baca said he was hopeful about resurrecting his sales tax increase for the 2008 ballot but would press for additional funding before then.
"At a later point, two or three years from now, this is something that must be presented to the voters of Los Angeles County," he said. "Voters are just as concerned as I am about the gang problem."
Also Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to allow television production crews to film reality shows that would follow sheriff's cadets and deputies in their training and work. Supervisor Gloria Molina voted against the proposal, expressing concern about whether the county could be held liable for possible legal problems during filming.