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Opinion Editorial

The wrong way to expand the Board of Supervisors

L.A. County needs an expanded Board of Supervisors, but SB 1365 would do it wrong way
A judge could just as easily order that the L.A. County board be expanded to a huge number

The five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is far too small to represent the county's 10 million people, a point to which this page has returned repeatedly. In years past, courts have struck down the board's district lines for having been drawn to deprive Latinos of their constitutionally protected power to select representatives. Even now, under the redrawn lines, a credible argument could be made that Latinos are underrepresented, with voting power in proportion to their numbers so diluted that their influence is felt in only one district, rather than two or more.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) has written, and both houses of the Legislature have passed, a bill that would allow a judge to order the enlargement of a local governing body in California such as the Board of Supervisors if necessary to correct such problems.

A larger board, more proportional representation. What's not to like?

The problem with SB 1365, as is often the case with well-meaning legislation, is that the best-case scenario under the laws it would alter might not be the one that plays out. A judge could just as easily order that the board be expanded to 17 members, or 35, or some other number. The language includes no guideline or limit.

And there is, of course, a more basic problem. The size of a governing body is an essential component of the government, and changing it should be something initiated by, instead of imposed upon, the electorate.

It is certainly true that voting majorities sometimes act to deprive their neighbors of power, and courts can and often should step in to protect voting rights. A fairly large handful of California cities have stuck with at-large elections that allow whites to hold on to power even as minorities make up majorities in parts of those cities. The California Voting Rights Act gives judges the power to impose by-district elections to remedy the problem, and more often than not that's the best solution. Enlarging judges' tool kits to require more districts as a solution is an intriguing notion, but it must include some reasonable guidelines.

California would be better off if Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1365, allowing a more thoughtful bill to be considered in the session that begins next year. Voters should be on notice about the scope of remedies that might be imposed on them, and lawmakers should ensure that their language is crafted carefully so that state remedies do not run afoul of the maximum reach of voting rights laws as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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