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Endorsement: Four more years for Supervisor Kathryn Barger

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
(Los Angeles Times)

Although she is nearing the end of her first term, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger is one of the board’s most experienced members because of her many years as an aide and ultimately chief of staff to her predecessor, Michael Antonovich.

Antonovich was a conservative who sat on the relatively moderate Board of Supervisors for more than 30 years. He helped provide fiscal responsibility, but also blocked the county from doing much to improve the delivery of services to some of the county’s most marginalized residents, or to correct flaws in the administration of juvenile and criminal justice.

Things changed in 2016, when Barger succeeded her former boss and joined what had become the most progressive board in L.A. County history.

Barger remains a conservative counterweight when compared with her colleagues. Compared with her predecessor, though, she’s a pragmatic moderate — on most things. She deserves to be reelected.

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The difference between Antonovich and Barger reflects, in part, changes to the Fifth Supervisorial District, a huge swath of geography that includes the desert cities of the Antelope Valley, the mountain and foothill cities in the San Gabriels and the northernmost segments of the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. This region remains the county’s most politically conservative district, but many sections of it now elect Democrats to Congress, the state Legislature and local government positions.

Progressive activists and voters hoped to “flip” the nonpartisan seat four years ago with Darrell Park, an entrepreneur with a suggestion-box-caliber set of answers to solving the county’s most intractable problems. But Park was not suited to the complex job of representing 2 million constituents, ending homelessness, fixing delivery of foster care services and reorienting the county’s massive and costly system of criminal punishment by focusing more on mental health care, drug treatment and other more efficient and effective human services.

Park is running again. He’s still not the right person for the job.

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Also running is attorney and Sierra Madre Mayor John Harabedian, who is a worthy challenger to Barger. But when we looked to him for well-informed critiques of the incumbent’s performance and a well-formed vision of improved county services, we were disappointed.

Although Harabedian has potential, his record of success in his small city remains too limited and his take on the challenges facing the county too incomplete to make him ready to step into the shoes of a county supervisor.

That’s a shame, because there are times when Barger also falls short.

She describes herself as an advocate of criminal justice reform and a supporter of California’s shift from the lock-’em-all-up stance of the Antonovich era to more enlightened polices that emphasize reducing recidivism, diverting the mentally ill from jail to treatment when feasible and responding to crime with prevention and rehabilitation rather than strictly punishment.

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Yet she often pushes in the opposite direction. She sharply criticizes key reforms like Proposition 47 (which reduced drug possession and some thefts from felonies to misdemeanors) and AB 109 (which reassigns responsibility for some offenders from the state to the counties).

After a Whittier police officer was slain in 2017, Barger quickly blamed changes in criminal laws — without any evidence supporting her case. She set in motion a task force to study those reforms and to point out flaws in Proposition 47 and AB 109, but when the group could find no connection between the reforms and a short-term crime increase, Barger failed to acknowledge the findings or to bring them before the board.

More recently, she has blamed Proposition 47 and AB 109 for homelessness. She’s not alone; other elected officials make the same assertion, although with no better argument than hers. In essence, they say, “We just know.”

There is nothing sacrosanct about any policy, and no law or initiative should be beyond review or reconsideration. But neither should they be undermined based on hunches or ideology. Barger has been too quick to criticize policies that rub her the wrong way without offering sufficient data to back up her assertions.

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To her credit, though, Barger is far more open to constructive change in other county policies and has provided valuable insight on issues such as homelessness and public safety, even when she’s on the losing end of a 4-1 vote. Barger generally serves her constituents and the rest of the county well, and should not be unseated absent a candidate who is likely to do better.


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