California Forum

Why the heck does the size of L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors matter so much to these state guys?

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, August 2017: From left, Sheila Kuehl, Kathryn Barger, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Hilda L. Solis.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, August 2017: From left, Sheila Kuehl, Kathryn Barger, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Hilda L. Solis. Photo courtesy County of Los Angeles

Imagine if we asked the voters of Alaska to approve changes to California’s state constitution. Chances are Californians would rise up and say, “Butt out, Alaska!”

Incredibly, Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, is proposing to use the same concept to make changes to Los Angeles County’s governance structure. State Constitutional Amendment 12 (SCA 12) asks the 18 million voters in California’s 58 counties to weigh in on how L.A. County is governed.

It’s hard to imagine that voters in Northern or Central California have the knowledge or even the appetite to vote on a constitutional amendment to change the governance of a county hundreds of miles away.

Were the tables turned, would elected representatives in Kern, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Bernardino, San Diego or other counties welcome the opinion of L.A. voters if we were to propose modifying their local governance structure and compromising their right to local self-determination?

SCA 12, which would expand the number of county supervisors and establish an elected chief executive, represents extraordinary state overreach.

L.A. County has been deliberately targeted by Mendoza and his co-authors. SCA 12 has been written to apply only to counties with 5 million or more residents. There’s only one county in the state that fits that description.

Los Angeles County voters already can expand the number of county supervisors or establish an elected county chief executive officer. They just need to amend the county charter – something they’ve rejected eight times.

The truth is that voters in Los Angeles County already possess the right to expand the number of county supervisors or establish an elected county chief executive officer should they see the need. All voters need to do is amend the county charter through a local ballot measure. Historically, L.A. County voters have overwhelmingly rejected such proposals on eight separate occasions.

SCA 12’s authors – Senators Mendoza, Scott Wilk, Ben Allen, Steven Bradford, Robert Hertzberg, Jerry Hill, Ben Hueso, Scott Wiener and Connie Leyva – also contend that the board could be expanded at no additional cost. A third-grade math student could tell you that the only way to make that happen would be to require current supervisors to slash their policy staff and their district offices.

The county CEO’s office estimates that supervisors’ budgets would need to be reduced to the level of 50 years ago to be budget neutral. That means SCA 12 threatens to weaken, not strengthen, constituent services.

SCA 12 would also create an elected CEO instead of the current board-appointed CEO. At first glance, an elected CEO might seem like a good idea, providing county residents with a single figurehead to hold responsible for county actions.

But an elected CEO is also likely to result in conflict when the objectives of the elected CEO and the individual elected supervisors don’t align, making it more difficult to address L.A. County’s many challenges.

Our colleagues on the board share our concerns and have taken an official position to oppose SCA 12. Many cities in the county also oppose this intrusive proposal that compromises local self-determination.

So why do the authors of this bill think this is a great idea, going so far as to propose a constitutional amendment to achieve it? Is it a way to do an end-run on term limits and expand employment opportunities for soon-to-be termed-out state legislators?

Or maybe there’s another reason. Mendoza claims that one of the arguments for SCA 12 is diversity. Isn’t it strange that at the very moment L.A. County has four women supervisors, an historic first, a handful of nearly all-male state elected officials think this is the right time to dilute the power of L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors?

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl is the Los Angeles County Supervisor for the Third District. Supervisor Kathryn Barger is the LA County Supervisor for the Fifth District. Reach them at sheila@bos.lacounty.gov and kathryn@bos.lacounty.gov.

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