To many, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors remains a powerful, yet mysterious body. For too long we’ve accepted that it can function a bit like Oz. If, as a county, we aspire to emerge a more equitable and just region after the throes of the pandemic – governance transformation is a critical step.
COVID-19 shone a light on the inherent inequity in how all levels of government have made policy and investments that have intentionally left behind entire communities. Were we blind, blind folded or indifferent to these systemic inequities? Regardless of the impairment, transparency and participation or lack thereof in county governance is a root enabler of these structural and systemic inequities. Currently, County administrative and policy making processes provide limited opportunity for resident engagement, public deliberation, and transparency.
Since 1852, when the population of the Los Angeles County was just above 3,300 people, the Board of Supervisors has consisted of five members. This year, the five member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an over $44 billion budget representing over 10 million residents with services ranging from a public health and hospital system to our social safety net for housing, food, and job-insecure residents.
This same elected body is one that can write new legislation on a Friday, and on the following Tuesday, with two other votes, enact this legislation with only the weekend for public deliberation. Many times, the public is surprised to hear after the fact that new policy has been enacted.
At a time when society is becoming aware of the hundreds of years of systemic exclusion that has been legally perpetuated by government, many municipalities are exploring mechanisms for greater equity. If we really are to increase transparency, expand representation, and make decisions that are in the best interest of the public our decisionmakers are elected to represent, we must explore opportunities for a more inclusive government.
L.A. County has a long legacy of leading and being the first to solve problems and unmet needs in comparison to other regions. Now is the time to recognize that we can be a learner. Learn from other jurisdictions, best practices, and academic research to envision a more transparent, inclusive, and accountable County governance process. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has the opportunity to evaluate a more transparent governance structure on Tuesday, February 28. Before the Board is a motion by Supervisors Holly J. Mitchell and Lindsey Horvath to engage a group of experts to study the County structure and make recommendations for more independent analysis of legislation, a formal committee structure, and a review of the roles and responsibilities of the County’s executive. Additionally, the motion asks for a review of the Brown Act to allow for more forms of public participation in open meetings, as well as campaign finance reforms that would make running for office more accessible to candidates of color and those who are not career politicians.
Calls for governance reform at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors are not new. In 2016 the California State Legislature passed a bill requiring L.A. County to enact an independent citizens redistricting commission, free from any political influence. Yet still, the Board has not advanced a discussion around whether the system set up by five white men for approximately 3,300 people in 1852 still works for the multi-racial, multi-ethnic Los Angeles County of 10 million today. Transparency and accountability to the public have suffered.
Supervisors Mitchell and Horvath’s motion seeks to address this need for transformative change by catalyzing a serious and substantive review and analysis of how it is governing in the best interest of the public. Other counties have worked through these issues and come up with solutions that are right for them and their constituents. L.A. County should too.
Efrain Escobedo, President & CEO, Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management – As the President and CEO of the Southern California Center for Nonprofit Management, Efrain Escobedo leverages nearly two decades of working within the philanthropic, government, and nonprofit sectors to drive positive change.
David Levitus, Founder & Executive Director of LA Forward – David Levitus is the Founder and Executive Director of LA Forward, he has spent 15 years advocating and organizing for policies at the local, state, and federal levels on issues ranging from affordable housing and workers’ rights to environmental justice, immigration, gun control, and healthcare.