U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn said Monday that if elected to the seat being vacated by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, she would consider dipping into the county’s rainy day fund to pay for initiatives to reduce homelessness.
The comment, at a candidates forum in Torrance, drew quick criticism from one of Hahn’s rivals in the race for Knabe’s seat.
Knabe, who has been on the Board of Supervisors for two decades, will be pushed out by term limits at the end of the year. He is one of two Republicans on the five member board.
Hahn (D-San Pedro), a former Los Angeles City Council member and the daughter of former longtime supervisor Kenneth Hahn, is giving up her congressional seat to run for a spot on the low-profile but powerful county board. She is runing against Knabe aide and former Manhattan Beach Councilman Steve Napolitano and Whittier school board member and pastor Ralph Pacheco.
Monday’s forum, hosted by the Torrance Chamber of Commerce, provided a rare chance to see the three candidates face off on issues including public safety, transportation and balancing the county’s $28-billion budget.
The county’s homeless population has swelled to more than 44,000, and the city and county of Los Angeles have been grappling with how to pay to address it, including considering asking voters for a tax increase.
Napolitano took issue with the suggestion that reserve funds should be put toward the problem, saying that the county needs to leave the fund untouched in case of another economic downturn.
“The thing about homelessness is, it’s not going to be solved tomorrow,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to get to where it is. It’s going to take a long time to solve it.... Rainy day funds are one-time funds. Homelessness is going to be an ongoing cost to the county.”
Asked to elaborate on the use of the rainy day fund after the forum, Hahn said she thought the fund should generally be reserved for an emergency, but that county leaders “should look at whether homelessness has risen to the level of an emergency.”
“If we had a natural disaster that caused this many people to be living on the streets, we would look at it differently,” she said.
Hahn is widely seen by political observers as the front-runner in the race. Her election would tilt the county board further to the left.
Napolitano, the lone Republican in the race, and Pacheco, sought to portray themselves as careful fiscal stewards.
Napolitano pointed to the county’s record of fiscal restraint, which allowed it to get through the recession without major cuts.
“The county did not lay off or furlough a single employee, compared to the city of L.A. and others, which laid off many ... because they gave away too much to begin with,” he said.
The candidates also differed on the question of mandatory paid sick leave. The Los Angeles City Council has moved toward implementing a law that would require employers to give workers six days of paid sick leave a year. The county has not taken up that question for unincorporated areas.
Napolitano said he thought the economic impacts should be studied before the county takes any action. Hahn said she would back a sick day policy like the one the city is pursuing.
“I think if we have happy, healthy employees, I think ultimately that’s better for our businesses and better for our economy,” she said,
The candidates largely agreed on other issues, including the need for more public safety resources and support for an amendment to the state’s prison realignment, which shifted responsibility for jailing and supervising lower-level felons from the state to the county.
They were also united in criticizing the allocation of regional transportation funding, which many in the smaller cities of Los Angeles County see as unfairly benefitting the city of Los Angeles over other areas.
Napolitano referred to “the sucking sound” of “the city of Los Angeles taking all those dollars and putting them toward the subway to the sea and to their projects.” Hahn said she would push to extend the Metro Green Line train to the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport.
In addition to the race for Knabe’s seat, the seat currently held by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is up for grabs.
The field running for Antonovich’s seat is more crowded, with eight candidates who have qualified for the ballot.