Over the last several years, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has taken a number of bold steps to improve essential services for the county’s most vulnerable people.
It has worked to beef up mental health services and to divert people who should be in psychiatric care away from the criminal justice system. It has mobilized to address homelessness, although its efforts have been insufficient given the scope of the challenge. To increase accountability and transparency at the Sheriff’s Department, it has created an inspector general and a civilian oversight commission. It has halted cruel and needless solitary confinement for youths held in probation camps, curbed abuse of pepper spray in juvenile halls and restructured Probation Department oversight.
2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a central figure in many of those efforts, will be termed out in December, leaving a seat to be filled by a new supervisor who could either accelerate the county’s steps toward more enlightened and cost-effective services, slow them down — or reverse them altogether. Voters would be best served by a supervisor with the vision and drive to move things forward.
Of the 10 candidates in the race, the standout is Holly Mitchell, an impressive state lawmaker who has focused her work on justice, equity and fiscal issues. 2nd District voters would be well-served by her.
The district includes some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest parts of the county. It runs from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Miracle Mile south to Willowbrook, Compton, Lynwood and Carson. It includes Culver City, Inglewood and Exposition Park, taking in some of the county’s leading sports, entertainment and educational institutions. It includes much of the under-construction Crenshaw Metro line, a wealth of tidy single-family-home neighborhoods and underdeveloped commercial corridors. It offers the county’s last frontier for affordable housing, with vacant and underdeveloped lots not often found in L.A. It includes the historic heart of African American Los Angeles amid neighborhoods of Latino and Asian immigrants.
The district reflects the poles of L.A. County’s mission: Operating famed cultural and environmental programs that are well-known to all county residents and providing human services for those in greatest need.
Mitchell grew up in the district, near Exposition Park. She spent much of her early career working to advance the interests of children and families, eventually becoming CEO of Crystal Stairs, a well-regarded child and family service and advocacy organization. After winning a seat in the Assembly in 2010, she’s now in the state Senate, where she chairs the Senate Budget Committee.
Mitchell has served as the Legislature’s conscience, sponsoring bills to restore funding to child care and education programs that were gutted during the state’s last budget crunch. Her measures also reversed many of the excesses of earlier, discredited legislation that treated 14- and 15-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system and ensnared children as young as 11 in the juvenile justice system. Those bills were good for public safety and for taxpayers too, reducing incarceration costs and recidivism.
Her background and experience have put her in the best position to carry on the county’s work in improving justice and human services.
Other candidates include Jan Perry, a former Los Angeles City Council member who advocated for fiscal prudence at a time her colleagues were misspending. After her council tenure she led economic development and infrastructure agencies.
Herb Wesson was Los Angeles City Council president for eight years and previously served as Assembly speaker. He has roots in the county, having once served as chief of staff for Supervisor Yvonne Burke.
Both are appealing candidates but fall short of Mitchell’s accomplishments and vision for the district. Many of the others in the race have something to offer but are not ready to be supervisors. Especially in this county, where each supervisor represents 2 million people and where the board oversees a $30-billion budget and essential services for the most vulnerable, these seats are not entry-level positions. They require experience, vision and a record of success.
Wesson might be considered the front-runner, having amassed the largest campaign war chest and endorsements from much of the political establishment (although Mitchell is backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Jerry Brown and the leaders of both the Assembly and the state Senate). But he has a backroom style better suited to a previous decade. On the council, he has been heavily criticized for limiting public participation. L.A. County’s best steps forward over the last several years were results of the supervisors and others in power recognizing the importance of community leadership in shaping many county programs, especially juvenile probation.
Mitchell’s style is cooperative, collaborative and open. She is the best choice for the county’s 2nd District.