Supervisors Take a Step Toward Expanding Board
Prodded by a state legislator who is intent on creating more electoral opportunities for minorities, possibly including himself, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved reluctantly Wednesday toward expanding from five members to nine.
The legislator, state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), had already secured Senate passage of a bill that would have set up a statewide vote to expand the board. To preempt him, the supervisors voted 3 to 2 to instruct the county counsel to draft an expansion measure for November’s county ballot.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. July 7, 2000 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 7, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Supervisors’ vote--The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1, not 3 to 2 as reported in Thursday’s Times, to ask the county counsel to draft a measure to expand the board. In addition to Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky voted for the measure.
Some of them said they were acting in the name of giving local voters exclusive control over the shape of local government. “I don’t support expansion,” said Supervisor Don Knabe. “But . . . the citizens of this county should at least have the opportunity to dictate their own form of government.”
Polanco, who had said for months that his preference was to have only county voters decide the shape of county government, agreed to stop pushing his bill.
Knabe was joined by Supervisors Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in voting to ask the county’s lawyer to draft a measure. Like Polanco’s proposal, their measure would contain language assuring voters that costs will be contained despite the expansion. The county counsel’s draft will be brought to the board for what Knabe said he expected would be final approval next Tuesday.
Voters have defeated board expansion proposals three times since 1960, most recently in 1992.
Advocates of expansion say that it is impractical to expect five elected officials to effectively represent nearly 2 million people each. They argue that creation of nine districts would also give minority communities more representation.
Alan Clayton of the Los Angeles City / County Redistricting Coalition, which has been lobbying hard for an expansion, estimates that Latinos could constitute large majorities in two districts if boundaries were redrawn for an expanded board. Only one Latina, Molina, currently serves on the board.
African Americans would probably be able to remain the majority in one district. Asian Americans in the San Gabriel Valley still might not have enough voting strength to dominate a district, but would surely have greater influence than they do now. Clayton pronounced himself ecstatic over the board’s action.
The board also voted to ask the county counsel to draft language for a separate ballot measure that would create a position of a county mayor. The mayor would exercise some or all of the board’s executive responsibilities.
But the future of the county mayor proposal seems less certain. A different majority of supervisors--Knabe, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich--voted to move forward with the idea. But an Antonovich spokesman said that despite his procedural vote, Antonovich remains firmly opposed to the idea of having a county mayor. He has complained that a mayor would tend to make decisions in secret.
Yaroslavsky, the primary supporter of the mayor idea, said that board expansion without an elected executive would lead to intolerable inefficiency. Most of the board’s actions are administrative, he said. “Whether we’re talking about adding a men’s room or a ladies’ room to the Hall of Administration or rebuilding L.A. County-USC Medical Center, every decision has to be vetted by five people.” With nine, he added, “it’s going to take twice as long to get anything done.”
But there appeared to be no consensus on what powers an elected executive should have. Yaroslavsky’s suggested draft contained vast powers, prompting suggestions from some of his colleagues and their staffs that he might be coveting the job himself.
Burke and Molina have been pushing the idea of impaneling a county charter commission to study county governance questions. On Wednesday, Molina said in an interview: “Let’s put expansion on the ballot and have a commission study the executive.”
Polanco has done more than anyone else to organize an unprecedented surge to statewide clout that Latino elected officials enjoyed in the last decade. Largely because of his organizing and fund-raising abilities, Latinos, though still a minority of California’s population, today constitute a larger share of the state’s Legislature than of its electorate.
But at 49, Polanco is termed out of the state Senate in 2002 and is looking for a local place to land. Allies said he is leaning toward making a bid for a Los Angeles City Council seat but would consider making a supervisorial bid if the board is expanded.
County voters could face an additional choice on the November ballot, to impose term limits on the supervisors.
Christopher Skinnell, a part-time political consultant and research associate at the Republican-oriented Rose Institute, said he has gathered 300,000 signatures to qualify a measure asking voters to impose a two-term limit.
Skinnell said that the signature-gathering effort was funded principally by a pro-term limits group headed by former county Supervisor Pete Schabarum, whose efforts led to the imposition of term limits on state legislators. Skinnell said he expects a ruling from the county registrar-recorder’s office by the end of this month on whether he has enough valid signatures to qualify. He needs 197,000.