Transition begins in LA County politics

A county building in the city of Commerce. LAO file photo

Monday is the day when the winds of change sweep through the upper ranks of Los Angeles County politicians. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and former state lawmaker Sheila Kuehl will be sworn into seats on the five-member Board of Supervisors, succeeding Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky. Jim McDonnell will take over as sheriff after a long career in the LAPD and a brief stint as the police chief in Long Beach. And Jeffrey Prang becomes the county assessor, ending the odd and unprofessional run of John Noguez — he was the assessor elected by voters who knew little to nothing about him, and who has been in political and legal limbo now for a couple of years, facing prosecution but with the Board of Supervisors unable to fire him because he is an elected official.

All four of the new officials will be sworn in at individual ceremonies in the supervisors' meeting room at the Hall of Administration. Solis goes first at 10 a.m., then Kuehl at noon, McDonnell at 2 p.m. and Prang at 4 p.m. Once the deed is done for their successors, Molina and Yaroslavsky will be ex-officials. She says she is running (again) for the Los Angeles City Council, and Yaroslavsky says he is going to write a book and work on policy issues in a forum he has yet to disclose.

Yaroslavsky's stamp on the 3rd district will continue, inasmuch as Kuehl has named a senior Yaroslavsky deputy, Lisa Mandel, to be her chief deputy. Joel Bellman, the longtime communications deputy for Yaroslavsky, is also continuing with Kuehl. More staff hires are expected to be rolled out this week. Yaroslavsky did not endorse in the race between Kuehl and Bobby Shriver, but Yaroslavsky and his staff by all accounts have been warm toward Kuehl.

In a sign of cross-jurisdictional friendship, Mayor Eric Garcetti will give the oath of office to Solis and serve as master of ceremonies for Kuehl. I'm told that Kuehl's ceremony on Monday will be short and sweet. She will take the oath of office from her sister, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Jerilyn Borack, who presides in dependency court and has educated Kuehl on child and family issues at the county level. Speakers in addition to Garcetti will include close friends former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rep. Karen Bass, and Yaroslavsky. Torie Osborn will introduce Garcetti. During a lunch to follow at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles will perform. Kuehl's election is a huge symbolic step to the gay and lesbian community in Los Angeles.

When the supervisors meet as a board for the first time on Tuesday, the chairmanship will swing to the board's veteran, Michael Antonovich. Remember, he's the one who likes to be called "mayor" during his rotation in the chair's seat. Antonovich says he will propose that Solis fill the role of vice chair.

Some media coverage

  • James Rainey of the LA Times takes stock of Yaroslavsky's career and writes that "As his nearly four decades in political office and five terms as a Los Angeles County supervisor end Monday, Yaroslavsky…engaged in most major public policy fights in Los Angeles over the last 40 years [and] the onetime student radical came out on the winning side much of the time."
He helped curtail police spying and the sometimes deadly chokehold once favored by Los Angeles police. He greatly reduced high-rise development citywide and joined a successful campaign against oil drilling in Pacific Palisades.

He was at the forefront of efforts to preserve more than 21,000 acres of open space in the Santa Monica Mountains, create a dedicated, 14-mile busway across the San Fernando Valley and convince voters to raise their taxes — to expand light rail, save the county's trauma care network and improve public spaces such as the Hollywood Bowl.

Gruff and sometimes obstreperous, Yaroslavsky never pursued his onetime dream of running for mayor of Los Angeles.

He struck some constituents as being overly cautious, not going far enough to control traffic congestion or to impose civilian oversight on a sometimes violence-prone Sheriff's Department. It took years, and a Los Angeles Times investigation, to finally get him and other county supervisors to confront substandard care of patients at the county's Martin Luther King Jr./ Drew Medical Center.

The Molina grilling became her trademark and in some sense her legacy….

Like Molina, [Yaroslavsky] was frustrated by a five-headed county system that leaves no single person in charge, but he remained protective of his authority over his own district....

If Molina and Yaroslavsky's most enduring legacy will be fiscal prudence in county government, their deepest failures — along with those of their colleagues — may be a result of that five-headed government. They deferred too much and too long over Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center and must share blame for the lapses in management and patient care that led to the hospital's closing. They could not find the right balance between effective oversight of and deference to the sheriff over abuse of jail inmates. They fumbled their attempts to correct the child welfare system following high-profile deaths.

But both supervisors, who leave office Monday because of a term limits law adopted in the midst of their tenure, brought to their notoriously difficult jobs the invaluable experience gained as full-time members of a large city council. Their simultaneous retirements will strip the board of much wisdom and experience, and will probably impact county government, and those it serves, in ways yet to be determined.

Molina has spent the last 30 years working to transform her district, most notably the eastside. While still in the assembly, she fought alongside the Mothers of East Los Angeles to stop a prison from being built in East L.A. She helped get $54 million, including millions from her discretionary funds, to open LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles, whose mission is to “cultivate an appreciation of the influence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture” in Los Angeles and Southern California.

As supervisor, Molina helped bring about the Gold Line Eastside Extension, connecting the eastside to other parts of the county; the El Monte Transit Center; downtown’s Grand Park; La Alameda Shopping Center; LAC+USC Medical Center; The Wellness Center at General Hospital, and the $30.4 million renovation of the East L.A. Civic Center to fruition. She told EGP she is most proud of her work to renovate the civic center, which includes a library, park and county offices.

Also leaving

County CEO Bill Fujioka says farewell too, timing his retirement to the board's changeover. On the way out he told the LA Times that the new supervisors should "expect increased pressure from unions, avoid the tendency to micromanage the staff, and be careful about a proposal by two current board members to scale back the authority of the next chief executive."

In an interview prior to his exit, Fujioka outlined major issues facing the county, including the impending reconstruction of the dilapidated Men's Central Jail, the need to replace the seismically compromised Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the county's Civic Center headquarters downtown, an impending federal consent decree over treatment of mentally ill jail inmates, and continuing reforms in the child-welfare system.

"There are so many things that are happening right now … you can't afford to make a critical mistake," he said.

He asked the new board members to do a comprehensive study and consult with top county managers before making any changes in the governance structure. The majority of the top professional staff reports directly to the chief executive and not the elected supervisors, but before Fujioka came along, it was the other way around.

"If they do it at one board meeting in December or January, I think that would be one of the worst mistakes this county has ever made," he said. "You don't make decisions of that magnitude in a knee-jerk kind of fashion."

Fujioka's goodbye on Twitter:

Post slightly edited after publication

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