Advocates Eager to Find Youth Development Funds in California’s Forecasted Cannabis Boom

With high rates of poverty among youth in Los Angeles, a new report prepared by civil rights advocacy group Advancement Project California called on the city to ramp up youth development efforts by drawing on revenue from legalized cannabis.

This isn’t the first time the city has turned its focus to programming for young people. In 1995, L.A. established a Commission on Children, Youth and their Families (CYFF). In 2008, the city looked at creating a dedicated youth development department. When the Great Recession hit, though, these plans and projects fell by the wayside, according to report author Asad Baig, a budget analyst with Advancement Project California, a subsidiary of the national Advancement Project organization.

“Previous efforts that had been made were sort of in a time when the city was losing a lot of revenue,” Baig told The Chronicle of Social Change. “Now we’ve recovered extremely well and there are new revenues with cannabis coming in. It makes sense now to figure out how to make smart investments with that revenue.”

The “Blueprint for Youth Development” highlights the city’s impending need for a skilled workforce as the Baby Boomer generation ages into retirement, and it raises concerns around the preparedness of young Angelenos to fill that role.

A quarter of the city’s 800,000 youth are living in poverty, and 68,000 of them are “disconnected” — meaning they’re not working, actively looking for work or attending school – according to the report. These trends are concentrated in the areas of L.A. — namely South L.A. and Eastside neighborhoods — that also happen to have the highest share of the city’s youth population.

“The districts that produce the best outcomes for youth tend to be either stagnant or declining in their youth populations,” specifically, Hollywood and West L.A., the report reads. “This means that Los Angeles is increasingly relying on the communities that have seen historically low levels of investment to build the city’s future workforce.”

The report calls for targeted spending focused on the parts of the city with the highest need, focusing on metrics like youth arrests, school dropout rates, and number of youth living below the poverty line.

Consolidating existing youth-centric programs into one office is the report’s other major recommendation, on the grounds that this will allow for more effective and efficient spending and programming.

“In the annual budget process there is no specific hearing on youth initiatives,” Baig said. “It’s kind of piecemeal.”

Alongside the call for consolidation is one for coordination between the city and county governments and the Los Angeles Unified School District. All three entities have jurisdiction over youth development as well as independent governing boards.

In November, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan for a countywide juvenile diversion program. That includes establishing a centralized Office of Youth Diversion and Development (OYDD) to coordinate countywide youth diversion efforts and contract with community-based organizations for diversion services. The Advancement Project’s report fails to mention this department, but Baig said this omission is “by no means exclusionary,” and that they would be open to including OYDD in long-term discussions.

“One of the challenges is of this discussion is that youth are the responsibility of a lot of different political actors,” said Michael Russo, associate director of equity in public funds at Advancement Project California. “We wanted to keep the focus as tight as possible on the city level.”

When it comes to investing in youth development, L.A. spends far less than other major cities in the U.S., according to the report. In fiscal year 2017-18, L.A. spent just $75 per youth on development strategies, which come from a number of departments. In the same year, New York City spent $541 per youth in the city; San Francisco spent $1,909, according to the Advancement Project report.

Neither of these cities uses marijuana revenue to pay for this programming. San Francisco draws from property taxes to fund its Department of Children, Youth, and their Families; the city and county governments work in close tandem on youth initiatives. New York gets 20 percent of its funding for the Department for Youth and Community Development through intra-city funds, or transfers from other departments, and received more than $60 million in federal grant funds.

Using cannabis revenue to fund L.A.’s department would provide sustainable funding for ongoing programming, Baig said. But, there are other ways to fund it if the pot tax plan goes up in smoke. The city could follow San Francisco’s lead and look to property taxes and “carve outs” or look to other new revenue streams in the city, like taxes on AirBnB rentals.

The important thing, Baig said, is that the conversation is just starting and the budgetary and funding frameworks are part of the discussions. It’s not just the youth themselves who stand to gain from youth development — the city they live and work in benefits, too.

“We’re now in this new globalized economy where there’s competition not just locally, but regionally,” Baig said. “The city needs to make smart investments if it wants to stay competitive.”

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 124 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.