The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors is the nation’s largest county government. On it, only five people represent over 10 million residents and manage a budget of over $26 billion. This puts a great deal of power in few hands and, to make matters worse, the supervisors are farfrom being representative of Los Angeles’s demographics, where almost half the population is Latino.
This concentration of power among few elected officials, who fail to reflect the demographic profile of those they represent, is also a problem in other Southern California counties, such as San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego. Of the 25 supervisors in all, only two are Latino, despite the fact thatin San Bernardino and Riverside half the population is Latino, while one third of San Diego and Orange counties are Hispanic.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts to expand the number of seats on the Los Angeles board. It can’t be forgotten that the majority-Latino district now represented by Supervisor Hilda Solís was the result of a suit under the Voting Rights Act. While the federal authorities do not seem interested in resolving this pending injustice, a measure has come up in Sacramento to rectify this situation.
Senate Constitutional Amendment 8, introduced by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), requires counties with overtwo million residents, according to the 2020 census, to add two more seats to their boards of supervisors. The measure, in response to criticism of increased county spending, keeps funding at the pre-expansion level. Successful passage of the amendment will not be easy. It must be approved by two thirds of the Legislature and then by a majority of Californians in the next state election in 2016.
Boards of supervisors have great power in directing and overseeing the majority of state services for county residents in many areas that impact people directly, including health and public safety.
It makes no sense today to maintain an antiquated system created, in Los Angeles for example, in 1852. It is essential to bring a vitally important governing body up to date in order to bring the elected officials closer to the people they represent, and to give voters a greater presence on the board. That is democracy.