Is five enough? Some LA County Board of Supervisors propose expanding the board

California

The idea has been trotted out for nearly 100 years.

And it has been rejected by voters eight times.

But on Tuesday, Feb. 28, the notion of expanding the number of members on the powerful, five-person Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be back on the docket during the board’s regular meeting.

A motion from Fourth District Supervisor and Chair of the Board Janice Hahn, co-authored by First District Supervisor Hilda Solis, asks the Office of the County Counsel to research the history of past attempts and recommend how an expansion of the board could increase resident representation.

“Board expansion is something that I have supported for a long time and I am hopeful that the time is right to finally get it done,” Hahn said on Monday in an emailed response.

The idea of expanding the board from five members to nine, 11 or 13 has come up numerous times since 1926. Most recently, in 2021, the Los Angeles County Redistricting Commission said it received numerous calls from residents about expansion, and suggested it be explored.

In 1926, the year of the first expansion attempt, the county had a little more than 1 million residents. Today, the county has more than 10 million. Each supervisor represents 2 million people, more than most members of the U.S. Congress.

Many say this is too large to ensure residents adequate access to government and services. “With 10 million residents but only five county supervisors, these calls are compelling,” the motion concludes.

The redistricting commission redrew lines for each supervisorial district but was prohibited from adding districts. One of its principals was to keep “communities of interest” together in the same district. These are grouped by ethnicity, race, geography or socio-economic levels.

But with the most populous county in the nation, that was not always possible. For example, changes were made to District 3, formerly represented by Sheila Kuehl who retired and now represented by the newest supervisor, Lindsey Horvath. The district includes Malibu, a high-income beachside community where 73% are white, and Pacoima, a part of urban Los Angeles in the east San Fernando Valley, with 91% Latino population, and where about 25% have household incomes of $25,000 or less.

The final redistricting report says the districts are “extremely heterogeneous,” where concerns of smaller or minority communities of interest (COI) are “easily overwhelmed by the concerns of larger COI.” The report goes on to say: “It is difficult to manage a supervisorial district of two million people, particularly given the diversity of Los Angeles County in terms of COI, geography, and infrastructure.”

The redistricting report concluded that “members of the public indicated that they thought increasing the number of SDs (supervisorial districts) would enable: a. supervisors to be more responsive to their communities’ needs and b. individual COI to have greater opportunities to have their voices heard.”

Any change to the number of supervisors would be considered a change in the county’s charter and that would require a vote of the people. In 2000, voters rejected by more than 64% a plan to increase board members from five to nine.

The Hahn-Solis motion calls on the county to reach out to the NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Common Cause and other research institutions for advice.

A similar motion by Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell and Third District Supervisor Horvath asks for numerous governance reforms, including allowing the public to have advance access to board motions, earlier access to budgets, public campaign financing — and restructuring the board that could include adding members.

“By increasing the number of elected representatives on the board, residents will have more access. And the county will have more diverse representation,” said Horvath in a tweet on Monday.

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