Editorial: Give voters a chance to fix L.A. County’s broken government

Lindsey Horvath smiles at Holly Mitchell.
Los Angeles County Supervisors Lindsey Horvath, right, and Holly Mitchell called for overhauling county government early in 2023.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
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It has been a year and a half since the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors instructed staff to examine ways to improve governance structure, transparency, representation and ethics, and come up with recommendations.

The report has not yet been issued. In fact the study hasn’t even begun, nor has a contractor been selected. The official request for bids to conduct the study has not yet been published.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors quickly and quietly rejected a chance to discuss improvements in governance and effectiveness. Bring it up again.

Jan. 27, 2023

That maddeningly plodding pace and mind-boggling process form Exhibit A in support of a motion by Supervisors Lindsey Horvath and Janice Hahn to cut to the chase with a Nov. 5 ballot measure to overhaul county government.


Meanwhile, countless failures and inefficiencies never come to light, because county government lacks even the most basic checks and balances essential to democracy.

The supervisors are a collective executive, implementing their own directives and then purporting to provide their own oversight. It’s as if a state operated without a governor — and L.A. County has more people and a larger budget than most states. Congress operated this way — without a chief executive — for about a decade after the American Revolution, but it functioned so poorly that the nation adopted the Constitution, with three separate branches.

No matter how you slice it up, five people cannot adequately represent the more than 10 million people of Los Angeles County.

Dec. 21, 2021

The Horvath-Hahn motion proposes an analogous fix, although more than a century after Los Angeles County adopted its current charter in 1912, when more cows than people lived here, and before women could vote.

The motion’s marquee items are a larger, nine-member board, which means smaller and more manageable districts; and an independently elected county executive. Just as important would be a new ethics board for investigating government misconduct, a budget and management unit and panels to implement and periodically update county governance. These are all good ideas, and all things The Times’ editorial board has supported for decades.

There would be a provision that ensures no additional costs to the taxpayers from the revamped government. How would that be possible? The county’s budget is nearly $46 billion, almost twice as large as it was a decade ago. There’s enough money.

The City Council’s decision to eliminate key changes to strengthen the Ethics Commission proves, yet again, that City Hall insiders are incapable of making meaningful reforms.

May 15, 2024

Horvath is the newest member of the board, and this motion underscores her exasperation with county dysfunction. Thank goodness for her impatience.


But it’s noteworthy that she is joined by Hahn, who was recently elected to a third and final term following a career that has included Congress, the Los Angeles City Council and before that, a city governance reform commission. Hahn’s roots in the L.A. County government run so deep that the Hall of Administration is named after her father. She has observed the county’s systemic failures up close.

When he was a Los Angeles County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky had a quip about county government that his successor, Sheila Kuehl, likes to quote: A county of 10 million people run by a five-member Board of Supervisors is absurd.

June 14, 2015

But then, so has every board member. Hilda Solis, who likewise served in Congress and was a Cabinet member to boot, joined Hahn’s 2023 effort to get a report on board expansion. Holly Mitchell, the former leader of a children and family service organization and then a member of the state Legislature, got the reform ball rolling 18 months ago with Horvath. Kathryn Barger, who was just reelected to a final term, has the longest tenure in the county, working for her predecessor for nearly three decades.

Yet all the expertise on the board has produced too little progress on homelessness, public safety, economic development, child welfare and many other responsibilities of the county. It’s the biggest, richest county in the nation but is a serial underperformer.

Watchdog groups were deeply disappointed, saying the measure does not go far enough after the City Council watered down a proposal that had more sweeping changes.

May 16, 2024

Government structure isn’t the only impediment, but it’s an important one because it shields county leaders from painful but necessary scrutiny.

Voters rejected board expansion decades ago in the belief that government doesn’t get better by having more of it. But the point here isn’t to have more government; it’s to have a more effective government.

Horvath and Hahn are right to launch their overhaul, and the rest of the board would be right to join them. The details matter, and there are many unanswered questions, but the board and county staff have about a month to approve final ballot language, and voters will have another three months before weighing in.

The task now is to get the process moving — the shorter, quicker process, not the one that still hasn’t selected a contractor to study a problem that has already been studied to death.