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A note to L.A. County's supervisors: Stop naming things after yourselves. It's obscene

A note to L.A. County's supervisors: Stop naming things after yourselves. It's obscene
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, center, gives a speech in Los Angeles on Dec. 13, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

Hey, here's an idea: Let's rename the L.A. Convention Center for Mayor Eric Garcetti. Right now. And how about a magnet school for L.A. Unified board member Kelly Gonez, now in her seventh month of service? And Doug Jones, that new U.S. senator from Alabama — he ought to get at least a library or a garage or something.

Well, why not? That's how it's done, right? You get elected to public office and you name stuff after yourself. This isn't like the old days when such honors went to politicians only after they died, or the not-quite-so-old days when they at least had to leave office first. No, this is an era full of self-aggrandizement and devoid of shame or decorum. All the old rules go out the window.

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This is different from all those regional parks like Bonelli, Schabarum and Debs, or the John Anson Ford Theatres or the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, named by previous boards as going-away presents for retiring supervisors after long and distinguished (or in some cases just long) tenures. Kuehl may have a long and distinguished record as an activist, attorney, lawmaker, performer and ceiling shatterer, but that's hardly the point. This is no parting gift.

It’s crass for elected officials to name things after one another while they are still in office.


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For heaven's sake, Kuehl hasn't even completed her first term as a supervisor. She is raising money for reelection. She just assumed the board chairmanship a few weeks ago. Since when do boards of supervisors name things after members who just got there?

The only thing more absurd would be to, say, erect a statue to Supervisor Hilda Solis.

And that, by the way, would be Item 13 on Tuesday's agenda: "Authorize the Acting Executive Director of the Arts Commission to accept a donation of a sculpture of Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and civil rights leader, Dolores Huerta, by artist José Sacal…."

Seriously. A statue. Members of the Arts Commission, by the way, are appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

That outdoes even Michael D. Antonovich, who takes the legacy prize for greatest number of public assets bearing his name — a courthouse, a wilderness area, a park, a trail, etc. Yes, many of those things were named for him while he was still in office (he served 36 years). But that's a singular pattern that ought to have been term-limited along with the supervisor himself.

Instead of a motion to name a building for Kuehl or to accept a statue of Solis, the item that ought to be coming before the board Tuesday is a policy against ever doing such things, at least until a successor has been elected. Metro had such a policy until 2014 — when it abandoned the prohibition in order to name stations after departing Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina.

It's crass for elected officials to name things after one another (and just bizarre to accept statues of themselves) while they are still in office. It's also rather shortsighted, because the person's legacy has yet to be set. Remember the Richard M. Nixon Freeway, for example, which became the Marina Freeway after the president's resignation.

Granted, sometimes a naming can endure even criminal charges. Supervisor Pete Schabarum's colleagues renamed a county park for him many years ago — before his no-contest plea on charges of felony tax evasion. But the charges ultimately were reduced to misdemeanors, so what the heck? Schabarum Park remains.

And although the political name game is played to excess, the prize is sometimes earned. Supervisor Janice Hahn walks daily into a building named after her father, who served on the board even longer than Antonovich did.

On the other hand, it was Hahn herself who, while in the L.A. City Council, introduced the motion to name part of City Hall after her brother, former Mayor James K. Hahn. If you were on the council at the time, what were you going to say? "No"? That would be a nastygram to both Janice and Jim, and there could be some legal or political comeuppance down the road. Or at least the appearance of it. So the only real option was to vote "yes."

Kuehl's prize for simply doing the job to which she was elected may be only a name on a mental health center, but why her and not, say, Mark Ridley-Thomas or Kathryn Barger for public assets in their own districts? Don't they now have to keep up, and won't their colleagues feel compelled to vote "yes"? And how will they top themselves when Kuehl really does leave office? Will she get something already named after some other supervisor assigned to her? Will, say, a portion of the John Anson Ford Theatres be renamed the Sheila Kuehl Amphitheatre?

What's that you say? It already happened? Last October? We missed that one. In the political ego name game, it's sometimes hard to keep up.

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