California voters will decide on Newsom’s mental health overhaul. How did we get here?

Fallout from our state’s long history of breaking promises to people with serious mental illness is everywhere.

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It can be found under our overpasses and in our tent encampments, but also inside our jails and prisons, our emergency rooms, our schools, our homes.

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It flashes across our public opinion polls, which repeatedly list mental health as a top concern.

Increasingly, it makes its way into our political discourse. Referencing “our broken system,” Gov. Gavin Newsom in recent years has rolled out mental health policies with dizzying speed.

Now he’s promoting Proposition 1, a two-pronged March ballot measure that would fund a $6.4 billion bond for treatment beds and permanent supportive housing, while also requiring counties to spend more of their existing mental health funds on people who are chronically homeless. 

The measure makes promises of its own. 

“These reforms, and this new investment in behavioral health housing, will help California make good on promises made decades ago,” Newsom has said.

What are the promises that California has made to people with mental illness over the years? And why are so many people still suffering?

Here’s a brief timeline of mental health policies in our state—of promises made and promises broken—during the past 75 years.

1950s & 1960s: An era of institutionalization

In the 1950s, it is relatively easy to force people into state mental hospitals, many of which have horrific conditions. The number of patients peaks in the late-1950s, at approximately 37,000. During that time, the state starts shifting control over mental health services to counties, embarking on the process of deinstitutionalization. This process accelerates in the late 1960s with the passage of the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, a law designed to protect the civil rights of people with mental illnesses.

1954: The federal Food & Drug Administration approves Chlorpromazine (Thorazine), the first antipsychotic drug, to treat people with serious mental illnesses.

1957: The California Legislature increases funding for community mental health under the Short-Doyle Act, aiming to treat more people in their communities instead of in state hospitals.

1963: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy signs the Community Mental Health Act, promising federal leadership to build and staff a network of community mental health centers. Less than a month later, he is assassinated. Many of the clinics are never built.

1965: Congress creates Medicare and Medicaid, allowing people with mental illnesses to receive treatment in their communities.

1967: Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signs the Lanterman-Petris-Short law limiting involuntary detention of all but the most gravely disabled people with mental illness and providing them with legal protections.

1970s & 1980s: California tax revolt leads to austerity

As state mental hospitals close in the 1970s, many people with serious mental illnesses are moved into for-profit nursing homes and board and care homes. Their numbers on the streets and inside jails and prisons begin to rise. The 1980s sees significant funding cuts for mental health services at both the state and federal levels.

1978: The Community Residential Treatment Systems Act seeks to create unlocked, noninstitutional alternatives for people with mental illness throughout California.

The same year, voters pass Proposition 13, capping property taxes and reducing the amount of money available to counties for a variety of services, including mental health.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters


  1. The democrats that run our state have the mental issues.

  2. Quite correct, JP………..socialism and liberalism IS a mental desease that’s practically incurable!!

  3. If the Howard Jarvis Tax Assn and the Coalition of California Mental Services is against this bill, Newscum is for it, and other shills blabbing for it on TV I’m convinced. It’s another CA Bond Boondoggle.
    A few years ago,
    A Stockton area farmer Cortapossi spent millions alerting Californians to the financial dangers of bonds and their indebtedness issues. In his research of bonds passed in Ca over the previous 30 years, the largest percentage of funds used for that bond purpose was on 33%. The rest is likely siphoned off by politicians and used for other boondoggles, maybe this bond will pay for medical care for illegal aliens.
    Don’t give this absolutely insane legislation and executive branch of CA government burden the taxpayers with more debt and corruption. I’m sure that the benefactors to build this out will receive a hefty sum to complete (or not) the work while sending gobs of bucks back to the democrat coffers as a payback.
    Vote No!

  4. Otis R. Needleman says

    Already voted no. Too much money wasted.

  5. The answer is very simple: VOTE NO ON PROPOSTION 1.
    * Any proposition that takes 60+ pages in the voters guide to explain has a lot of pork loopholes embedded in it for misuse by politicians and bureaucrats.
    * $6.4 Billion at 1% interest is one thing. At 6+% interest the payback over 30 years is horrendous.
    * With the state $73 Billion in debt (not to mention $ Trillions in unfunded retirement and medical benefit plans) another $6.4 Billion in debt is the last thing CA taxpayers need.
    * Prop 63 (2004) distributed Mental Health funds to the counties. Prop 1 shifts 30+%, some $140 Million, ,back from the counties to the state to be squandered by state bureaucrats. (EVERY. repeat EVERY, person I have pointed this out to says they will vote NO.)
    * This is simply a question of who do you trust more to better manage Mental Health funds, your local county or state bureaucrats and politicians?

  6. Leo of Sacramento says

    The writer, someone named Jocelyn Weiner wrote:” The same year, voters pass Proposition 13, capping property taxes and reducing the amount of money available to counties for a variety of services, including mental health.”

    WTF? How dare you try to compare, putting people OUT of their homes, by an endless, non-stop effort to PROPERTY TAX them into oblivion, with a sad tale of loss of funding for mental health. Seriously?
    You ended your column as if Prop 13 was a diabolical thing voted on by the public.

    1978 forward, what exactly DID Demo’s do for this State, when it came to funding? Jerry Brown was too busy chasing Linda Ronstadt’s skirt during these times. Prices were going up, causing Prop 13, but what did they DO with the monies? This article almost smells like you’re blaming the public for the MISmanagement of the Legislature over the Mental health issues.

    Prop 1 is Garbage legislation. It helps no one, under the GUISE of helping anyone. It’s a boondoggle attempt to snatch away MORE money from people already taxed to near maximums. That newsom put his name to it, is ALL it takes to let voters know, It Stinks!!! Newsome is the very Epitome of Failure; he has single handedly given failure a new definition: Failure is success and success is failure.

    If you believe anything about this garbage piece of paper (Prop 1) is meant to help folks, shame on you.
    If you vote for this garbage, shame on you.

    VOTE NO, on PROP 1.



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