State Sen. Tony Mendoza
Culver City Edition East Edition Herald American Lynwood Press Northeast Edition The Press West Edition

State senator proposes expanding Board of Supervisors

LOS ANGELES — On a day when the county Board of Supervisors voted to change the organizational structure of the county government, giving themselves more power, a measure that would increase the number of elected county supervisors from five to seven was approved by a state Senate committee.

The proposed Senate Constitutional Amendment 8, approved by the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee July 7, will now go to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It will need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and then by a majority of voters during the November 2016 statewide general election.

State Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who authored the measure, said the change would create a more representative and responsive county government.

“California’s population and demographics have changed significantly since the formation more than 165 years ago of representative governmental entities known as counties,” Mendoza said. “Residents of California’s largest counties deserve a more representative and responsive government at the county level.”

State Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Santa Clarita, said she typically opposes government expansion, but she co-authored the amendment.

“A mountain range and over 60 miles of driving separate the communities I represent in northern Los Angeles county from the main county offices,” Runner said. “Increasing local representation for our area is necessary.”

Only the largest California counties — Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino — would be affected by the measure.

The five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors represent 10.4 million residents spread out over more than 4,000 square miles.

In 1992 and 2000, bids to increase the number of Los Angeles County supervisorial seats from five to nine were rejected by voters.

Mendoza pointed to a lack of diversity and Latino representation in particular, noting that only two of 25 board members in the largest California counties are Latino. In Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, Latinos make up almost half of the population, while in San Diego and Orange counties, the Latino population is nearly one-third of the total.

“Expanding the number of supervisorial seats … will provide the opportunity for these bodies to be more reflective of the people they represent and serve,” Mendoza said.

Calling the proposal non-partisan, Mendoza, who represents many cities in Southeast Los Angeles County in the Senate, said increasing the number of seats would also increase the number of candidates competing to serve.

Supervisors Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich will both term out of office in 2016.

The race to replace Antonovich in the Fifth District has already drawn seven candidates, while three contenders are looking to take Knabe’s Fourth District seat.

Knabe has said increasing the number of board seats would add bureaucracy and increase taxpayer costs. Mendoza’s proposal requires that costs remain the same, something Knabe called unrealistic.

“I really see no need for more bureaucracy,” Knabe told the Los Angeles Daily News in May. “People have asked me for more libraries, more sheriffs, more firefighters. No one has ever asked me for more politicians.”

The Board of Supervisors July 7 voted to undo an organizational structure that has been in place since 2007 that almost immediately created tension between supervisors’ staff memers and the county’s chief executive office.

Interim county CEO Sachi Hamai, who stepped into the shoes of retired CEO William Fujioka last December, told the board that the new structure “sends a clear message about the need to be flexible, transparent and collaborative” in managing the county’s business.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who reportedly feuded with Fujioka over the current system, had long been “discussing the dissatisfaction, the perceived dysfunction of the old governance structure.”

The new plan formally eliminates five deputy CEO positions in favor of new policy-centric positions that can change in sync with board priorities.

Cutting out that old layer of bureaucracy makes it easier for board deputies to reach out directly to content experts in various departments to get the information they need and saves nearly $2 million annually, Hamai told the board.

The CEO will continue to provide budgetary and administrative oversight, including running performance reviews for department heads, but department heads will report directly to the board.