Bill Boyarsky
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Mendoza plan: sneaky or reform?

bill-300.jpgWhy should a voter in Butte County, deep in the northern part of the state, have a say in how Los Angeles County is governed?

Common sense says no. Residents of largely rural Butte County are happy they don’t have to deal with problems of L.A. County. It doesn’t make sense for these people, or those in California’s other counties, to tell us how we should run our affairs. Or does it?

That’s the issue with a proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) edging its way through the legislature, having already passed two committees. It would, through a statewide vote, add two members to the five-member Los Angeles County board of supervisors and create a new office, county chief executive. It would apply to counties with 5 million or more residents, and Los Angeles is the only one that fits the description. There are other laws on the books written this manner.

I’ve been in favor of expanding the board for years. County voters have consistently turned down the idea.

The Los Angeles board is unreflective of the county’s population. As Alan Clayton, a reapportionment expert and Latino activist, told Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times, Latinos, with 48 percent of the county’s almost 10 million residents, have only one supervisor, Hilda Solis. Board chairman Mark Ridley Thomas is African American. Janice Hahn, Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl are white. Clayton and others have fought for a redistricting plan that would help elect another Latino and hopefully an Asian American but have always been defeated by incumbent supervisors who don’t want to dilute their considerable power.

The idea of a county chief executive, also rejected by county voters in the past, is worthwhile. A single executive, setting priorities in a budget and appointing department heads and commissioners, would be a big improvement over the current opaque system where the five supervisors, isolated on the top floor of the Civic Center county building, make deals and set priorities among themselves in an opaque way. I want someone in charge, not five supervisors who hide from responsibility and blame.

But there’s certain sneakiness about the plan, and voters should question the motives of the sponsors. Creation of two more supervisorial seats would open up two more elected offices for politicians who, because of term limits, are always looking for a new job. And a county mayor would be one of the most visible and powerful elected offices in the state—a stepping stone to the governor’s office and who knows what else.

Another sneaky aspect of the proposal by Mendoza is the statewide vote. He and his supporters know Los Angeles County voters might again turn down board expansion and the county mayor, fearing the cost and too much government.

Backers of the plan would rather put it on a statewide ballot; give it a confusing title: get their legislative contributors to finance an expensive, simplistic, misleading campaign; and sneak their plan into law. I can see the promo ads now: “Clean Up Government, Vote Yes on Measure 12.” That’s why the voters in Butte County might vote yes on something that is none of their business.

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